Master Your Camera

In all the excitement of waiting for my new camera to arrive, I never went back and actually did the assignment where I explained its features.

I bought a Nikon D3200, as I showed in my unboxing post and the one before it.

The main feature, the one that differentiates the D3200 from a lot of the cameras around it, is its extraordinarily high-resolution at 24 megapixels. It might even seem like overkill except for the possibility of some incredibly sharp images possible with some of Nikon’s better lenses.

The camera has a quick processor in it, the fastest generally available at this price level, and I’ve had some terrific experiences so far just blasting through one shot after another. It’s a tad slower when shooting in RAW format, and even slower than than when shooting in the RAW+JPEG format, where it saves both formats at once. When I set it to just shoot in JPEG format, I can keep firing rapidly for a few seconds before having to wait for the SD card to catch up. With the 4 fps continuous shooting mode, I can load up the card with images to choose from.

The camera has a decent built-in pop-up flash that will come up automatically in full program mode, and apart from some red-eye when shooting at a distance, it works well, and recharges quickly.

The shutter speeds range from 1/4000 down to a full 30 seconds, meaning I can shoot incredibly fast action or do a very long exposure. My old Canon AE-1 Program, by contrast, could only go from 1/1000 down to 2 seconds. When I wanted to shoot any longer than 2 seconds I had to screw in my shutter release cable and gaze at my wristwatch.

It has a “guide mode” that will choose all the settings needed to get good shots under a variety of conditions and of a number of different kinds of subjects, but I don’t see myself ever using it. I’d prefer to succeed or fail using my own intuition. My thought is that if one is going to use an in-camera guide, why bother with a DSLR at all? But it is a consumer-level camera, not a pro model by any means, so I just accept that the guide mode is there and opt to ignore it.

I generally most often use the camera on full manual (if I’m doing an assignment) or on full program (if I’m just shooting away at a gathering without the external flash). If I’m using my external flash, I’ll manually set the shutter speed to 1/200 (the max flash sync speed) and the aperture to around f8 or f11. I’ll usually do a few test shots of a gray wall to see if I’ve got an acceptable exposure level, and will make minute adjustments to the aperture or the power level on the flash before proceeding to make the rounds. There is a full program mode with no flash that I will sometimes make use of, if I feel there’e enough light but the camera doesn’t. Definitely annoying having the built-in flash pop up when it’s not wanted.

There’s an HD video recorder in the camera, and it works great. Trouble is, I have to dig into the manual (which I’ve downloaded from Nikon’s website and copied over to the iBooks app on my iPhone) to remember how to actually turn it on. I look forward to putting together a video sometime using both my D3200 and my Kodak HD camcorder, using iMovie to edit the footage into a compelling whole. There is a limitation, however, with the D3200, in that the sensor will overheat after about twenty minutes of continuous shooting, after which it shuts down to allow the sensor to cool. That’s a limitation I’ll have to learn to work around.

The autofocus on the camera is great. It can find subjects quickly and zero in on them nearly instantly. It’s rare that I miss a shot waiting for the camera to focus, even when a subject is moving. The focus can also be set manually to any one of the eleven focus points visible in the viewfinder. When in auto mode, the focus points light up red to indicate where they see a subject to focus on.

The auto metering is also terrific and very accurate. And when shooting in RAW mode I have even more latitude for making corrections after the exposure is made.

The ISO on the camera, as I showed in the ISO assignment, can be set manually from 100 to 6400, allowing for flash-free photography in nearly any lighting conditions. If I get my hands on a fixed-length, high-speed lens such as the 35mm f1.8 Nikkor lens I’ve been eyeballing from afar, I will have tremendous latitude for the conditions under which I can shoot. I may take up my old hobby of visiting my musician friends at their dimly-lit local pub gigs, this time around not limited to just shooting whatever film I was able to pick up on the way, and not having having to fret (no pun intended) about using up that film before the perfect shot comes along. With a capacity of 2,000 images on the 32GB card I just installed, I’m more likely to run out of battery power than frames.

A feature I’ve made a lot of use of, and have been very pleased with, is the self-timer. It can be set to fire up to nine times at a preset interval, and for taking family portraits it proves to be most handy.

There are some optional devices for the camera, too, such as the wireless remote control and the WiFi adapter, both of which I’m looking at as future purchases.

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