Nikon D3200 Beginner DSLR: Guided Tour

What you need to know to start taking great pictures with this camera right now

Whether you've just bought the Nikon D3200 or are seriously considering it, this Guided Tour takes you on a deep dive into the camera's key features and the nuts and bolts of how it works.


Welcome to your Guided Tour of the Nikon D3200. In this tour, you will learn how to get great photos using this APS-sensor DSLR. Even better: You'll also learn some tips and tricks that will help you get the most out of this powerhouse camera. The great thing about the Nikon D3200 is that it is truly geared towards first-time DSLR users. Its Guide mode holds your hands through the picture-taking process. If you've stepped up from a compact camera, welcome to a new world, where you can swap out lenses for different effects and points of view, add flashes, and shoot movies. Thanks to the big, highly-rated 24MP APS sensor, you will get outstanding image quality that will outshine any compact camera's results.

In this Guided Tour, you'll learn how to access the Nikon D3200's unique and most frequently used features for both first-time DSLR users and more experienced photographers. I'll also suggest accessories that will help you get the most out of this camera, and help you customize the camera to help you fulfill your creative potential.


Inside the box you'll find the camera and a lens (which lens depends on which kit you order), a battery and a charger, and a neck strap. You'll also find a USB cable so you can plug the camera directly into your computer to download images, although I recommend purchasing an inexpensive SD card reader such as the Lexar Workflow Professional USB 3.0 Card Reader, which will transfer files faster, and won't drain your camera battery. There's also an audio video cable connects the camera to a TV set for big-screen playback. There are caps for the lens and the camera body, a cover for the flash hot shoe, and a pair of  CD-ROMs with the full user's manual and Nikon's View NX2 software, an image editing program that gives you basic image adjustment abilities.

An SD card is not included, but you'll need one. Since the Nikon D3200 produces larger image files and high-definition video, I recommend a Class 10 memory card; a lower-class card might cause hiccups in the video, and slow down the camera's performance slightly. Also, I recommend getting a card with at least 8GB capacity—more (16-32GB) if you plan to shoot shoot a lot of HD video. You can find appropriate SD memory cards at the Adorama Memory Card department.


Did You Know...

The Nikon D3200 was the first beginner-level DSLR to have a 24MB sensor? Most starter DSLRs at the time it was released had 18MP or less resolution.

Setting Up the Nikon D3200

The first time you turn on the camera, you'll be prompted to set the date, time, and time zone. Once you've completed that, look through the viewfinder and press the shutter release halfway down until you hear a double-beep confirming that the lens has focused. Turn the diopter dial (upper right corner of the viewfinder) until the image you see is sharp. Now you're ready to start shooting.

If you are a first-time DSLR user and the many buttons, dials and knobs are freaking you out, simply turn the Mode dial atop the camera to the green Auto setting, and relax! In this mode, the camera will automatically calculate the best exposure for any given scene. This is a great way to get used to the camera. Turn the large zoom ring on the lens to zoom it in and out; look through the viewfinder to see the change in the angle of view.

While the Green Auto mode is great for all-around shooting, eventually you'll want to take control of the camera and set it for specific shooting situations. Take a look at the Mode dial and you'll see PSAM (Program, Shutter, Aperture, Manual) modes, which are great for more experienced photographers, seven icons indicating different shooting situations, and a GUIDE mode. Let's look at each of these modes.

The Flash-Off mode is ideal for shooting in situations where flash may not be permitted, such as a museum or a concert. If the light is really low, a focus assist lamp will briefly illuminate the scene so the camera can find focus, which it will confirm with a double-beep.

In Portrait mode, the camera chooses the best exposure and color balance for natural-looking skin. It also chooses the largest aperture so the background is pleasingly out of focus.

Landscape mode forces the camera to focus to infinity. This is useful when riding on a tour bus and shooting through windows. (Tip: Avoid shooting through windows as much as possible, because there will be annoying reflections.)

The Child/Baby mode sets the camera for quick snaps of fast-moving kidlets.

The Sports/Action mode is designed to freeze action. The camera chooses faster shutter speeds and burst mode in order to capture fast-moving subjects. Hint: The camera only uses the center focus spot in this mode, so be sure your subject is always centered in the frame.

Macro mode is ideal for photographing flowers or other subjects up close. It is best used with a dedicated macro lens such as the Nikon 40mm f/2.8 G AF-S DX NK4028UV to get truly 1:1 close-up photos.

Night Portrait mode combines flash to illuminate the person you're photographing with an accurate exposure of the background. This combination of flash and long exposure gives your photos a more natural look. Hint: The background “ambient” exposure may be too long for a sharp hand-held photo. In these situations, you will need to find a way to support your camera either by placing it against a wall or table, or using a tripod.

What if you're not sure which mode is right for you at any given time? That's what the GUIDE menu is for. Move the dial to GUIDE and you can scroll through the basic or advanced options. Nikon has provided a brief description of what each mode can do. If you see the mode you want to use, just hit OK and the camera's set. Change your mind? Hit the Menu button to return to the Guide menu, then use the up/down arrows to move around. It's that easy!

Operating The Flash

As with most cameras, you can easily override the flash's default settings. Here's how to do it with this camera.

1. Press the Info button (located right behind the shutter release). A screen will appear on the LCD monitor with showing all of the camera's current settings.

2. Press the “I” button, located on the lower left corner of the LCD. Using the four-way arrows surrounding the “OK” button, move until the flash mode (a lightening bolt icon) is highlighted in yellow.

3. You have five options: Flash always on (even in bright daylight), red-eye preflash removal, flash and slow exposure with red-eye removal, flash and slow exposure, and rear-curtain flash. If  you're a snapshooter, the anti-red-eye mode will be useful when using the camera's pop-up flash.

4. Once you've set the flash, press the Flash On button, located just to the left of the flash, and the flash will pop up.

Hint: You have fewer flash control options when shooting in Auto mode. That's fine, since the camera will probably choose the appropriate flash mode for you.



Focus and Vibration Reduction

The kit lens that came with your Nikon D3200 has auto and manual focus modes, as well as Vibration Reduction (VR), which can be turned on or off using switches on the lens itself. The A/M switch lets you choose between autofocus and manual focus. Below that is the VR on/off switch. You can keep VR on at all times—except when the camera is mounted on a tripod. If the camera is on a tripod, VR should be turned off.

The advantage of VR is that it lets you hand-hold the camera in lower light while reducing the likelihood of camera shake. Other factors—from the aperture chosen to whether you're using a wide-angle or telephoto lens, and even how much coffee you recently consumed—can also affect stability but VR improves your odds of getting a sharper photo in low light without flash, or when shooting in flash and slow exposure mode.

If you are shooting in Guide, Auto, or any of the scene modes, the camera will automatically select which focus points (those little squares you see in the viewfinder) are active. If you are a more advanced shooter using P,S,A or M mode, you can select either one focus point or multiple points by going into the Shooting Menu and selecting AF-Area Mode. You will have a choice of single-point AF, Dynamic Area F, 3-D Tracking AF (ideal for sports and other active subjects) and Auto-Area AF (the camera's default setting).

Shooting Videos

The Nikon D3200 is an excellent camera for shooting digital video. By default, it will record 1,920x1080 resolution HD video at 30p, but it can be changed to 720p at 60 or 50 fps. There's also a 24 and 25 fps setting, which gives videos a more cinematic look. The camera has a built-in microphone, but there is also an external microphone jack. If you plan to shoot a lot of video, I highly recommend investing in an external mic such as the Nikon ME-1 Stereo Microphone, a "shotgun" type of mic that will isolate the sounds better and reduce other background noise.

To shoot a movie, first hit the “Lv” (Live View) button, to the right of the LCD monitor. The mirror moves out of the way so the sensor can record the video directly, and a live image will appear. Then press the small red dot button next to the shutter release, and you're recording. Press it again to stop. To get out of movie mode, press the “Lv” button again.

To change the frame rate or resolution, press the Menu button (second button down to the left of the LCD monitor), select the shooting menu (Camera icon), and scroll down until you see Movie Settings. Select that and you will be able to change frame size and frame rate, image quality, sound levels on the microphone, and control the camera's exposure and focus manually while shooting movies.


What Do The External Controls Do?

Lets take a quick tour around the camera, starting with the top. The five little holes on the left side is the camera's speaker, so you can hear sound from videos. There's a pop-up flash and a hot shoe, which can accommodate a more powerful external flash, microphone, or video light. The mode dial, to the right of the viewfinder/flash housing, as mentioned before, puts the camera's key picture-taking modes at your fingertips. It's divided into PSAM modes for more advanced photographers, Scene Modes, and Auto Modes and Guide for snapshooters. Atop the camera grip are the shutter release, surrounded by an on/off switch, the red Video Record button, the Info button, which turns on the information screen on the LCD monitor, and the +/- Exposure Compensation button, which adjusts exposure.

On the left side of the front of the camera, at the base of the lensmount, are three buttons: The semicircular lens mount lock (press it and twist the lens left to remove the lens), the flash control button (turns on flash, and controls flash intensity), and the Fn button, which we'll get to later when talking about customizing the camera. Nestled between the grip and the other side of the lensmount is the focus confirmation light, which goes on when it gets so dark the camera can't see the subject, to help it focus.

On the left side of the camera you'll find four useful output ports. From top they are: Microphone jack; USB connector, which tethers the camera to a computer; HDMI mini-pin connector, which links your camera to an HDTV set, and an accessory terminal for a remote control, Wi-Fi or GPS module.

Now let's look at the back of the camera, starting on the left side of the LCD monitor. The top button, with the right-facing arrow, is the image preview button. Use this button to view photos and videos you've shot. The Menu button accesses the Nikon D3200's features and controls. As you get more comfortable with the camera you may want to explore the many rich feature picture-taking and editing options available to you. The button below that is the magnification button; use it to zoom in on an image when previewing it. The next button, with a question mark above it, lets you zoom out or view multiple thumbnail images at once. Keep pressing this button in preview mode and you can view images based on the calendar date when they were shot. This is a great way to help you keep your work organized.

The bottom “I” button displays all the key camera settings at once on the LCD monitor. Double-click this button and the display becomes interactive. Use the four-way control switch to navigate; active modes turn yellow. Hit “OK” to adjust these settings. This lets you avoid rummaging through the menu items to find the setting you're looking for and saves a lot of time.

One of the advantages of the Nikon D3200's LCD display is that when you are in “I” mode, it will automatically change orientation if you rotate the camera. So, if you're shooting horizontally and turn the camera for a vertical, the display will change to a vertical version so you can still read it.

Now let's look at the right side of the camera's back. The AE-L/AF-L button locks in either focus or exposure. This is important because as you move the camera and change composition, focus and exposure can change. Use this button to lock in the exposure and focus you want; then you can re-compose the image without worries. Note: This button can be customized; see below for details.

The unmarked Command dial on the upper right corner of the camera back controls aperture or shutter speed when you are shooting in Manual, Aperture, Shutter or Program mode. When shooting in M or P, press the +/- button near the shutter release to activate aperture settings, then adjust them by turning the dial.

The Lv button activates the Live View mode; the camera's reflex mirror locks in the up position and the live image appears on the LCD screen. The camera has to be in this mode in order to shoot videos.

The four-way Multi-Selector switch is used to navigate the menus, and the OK button approves any changes you make to camera settings. There's a multi-frame button that controls capture speed, including single frame, multi-frame and self-timer modes—as well as the Quiet Shutter Release setting. The button with a garbage pail icon is the delete button.

Custom Settings, Change Defaults: Make This Camera Your Own

As you get to use the Nikon D3200, you may find there are some features you prefer to use in specific ways. Fortunately, there are ways to change the camera's default settings. Lets look at some key changes.

Save power! You can increase battery life, allowing you to take more pictures per charge. Go to the Setup Menu and turn off Auto Info Display, and turn the Auto Off Timers setting to Short. This will reduce the use of the LCD, which can drain battery power. (Also when using the camera, only use Live View when when absolutely necessary, and try to keep image previews to a minimum. The less you use the LCD, the longer the battery will last.)

Shhh: You can quickly and easily disable the camera's warning and status noises. Press the same button used to access the self-timer and multi-frame modes. Navigate to the last item, and select Quiet Shutter Release. This will turn those sounds off.

Remember that the Menu button is your friend here. It will allow you to dive into all of the D3200's features and adjust them at will.

Reassigning buttons: You can easily assign specific functions to up to four buttons on the camera. Press the Menu button, go to the Setup Menu (indicated by the wrench) and scroll down to “Buttons.” You can then assign the Fn, AE-L/AF-L and the Shutter Release button to do different things.

The Fn Button can be assigned to quickly access White Balance (the overall color cast of the image), change ISO (light sensitivity), change image size and quality, and activate D-Lighting (increasing details in the shadows of high-contrast scenes.

The AE-L/AF-L button can be assigned to lock down either exposure or focus. The Assign Buttons feature lets you choose which of these you wish to activate.

The Shutter Release Button can be programmed to lock in exposure when pressed halfway down. This is useful when you need to meter a portion of a scene then re-compose without changing exposure. By default this feature is turned off.


The D3200's 5 Most Important Features

1. The “I” Button Is Your Friend! Press the “I” button for a quick look at all of the camera's current settings at a glance. Press it a second time and you can navigate through each of these settings using the four-way toggle switch. When a setting is highlighted in yellow, hit “OK” to bring up your choices. For instance, the “S” option lets you choose single exposure, burst rate, or self-timer options.

2. Super flash control! You can independently control flash strength and ambient exposure. In the “I” menu, you can decrease flash output to -3 stops, or increase it to +1 stop. You can also increase or decrease the ambient light using the Exposure compensation button. This control increases or decreases exposure by up to 5 stops in either direction. This control applies to both the built-in flash and any shoe-mounted Nikon Speedlight flash.

3. Guide mode makes it super easy for beginners to navigate the camera's features. Want to grow as a photographer? Choose the Advanced Operation option.

4. There's extensive in-camera image editing: You can retouch images right in the camera. You can crop, correct for red-eye, turn color images into monochrome, apply any one of seven filter effects (including cross screen, warm filter, and soft focus), adjust color balance, combine multiple images, and more.

5. Outstanding high-ISO performance. According to independent lab tests conducted by, you can expect clean images at up to ISO 1600, and well-controlled digital noise at ISO 3200. That's pretty impressive. Noise will be noticeable at ISO 3200, but if you're only making up to 5x7-inch prints it should be acceptable. At lower speeds you can make big prints and they'll look great!

Heads Up! When you're ready to buy additional lenses...

Nikon has two classes of autofocus lenses: AF-S lenses, which have internal focus motors, and will work with any Nikon DSLR and all other AF lenses, which will only autofocus on DSLRs with onboard focus motors. Since the Nikon D3200 lacks an onboard focus motor, older Nikon F-mount AF lenses can only be focused manually. This is a very simplified overview and there are exceptions, so when considering buying a Nikon F-mount lens be sure to check the specifications carefully and make sure it is compatible with the D3200.


 Learn More: 5 Ways to Customize Your Nikon D3200

Share this: 
Related Articles: 

Discussion Box

After I press the shutter my large viewing screen is filled with information, such as "white balance" "color space" "picture control" etc. How do I remove this?

Subscribe to our email updates

Subscribe to Comments for "Nikon D3200 Beginner DSLR: Guided Tour" is top rated for customer serviceHACKER SAFE certified sites prevent over 99.9% of hacker crime.