[Editorial] Why Nikon Built the D3200

[Editorial] Why Nikon Built the D3200

I have seen a lot of remarks and questions as to why Nikon released a 24 megapixel consumer camera. Why did they pack so many megapixels into a crop sensor? The ISO performance is likely to suffer (though we won’t know for sure until we test it out). The smarter move? Keep the megapixels the same and increase the ISO performance. So why didn’t Nikon do this?

Because ISO performance doesn’t mean anything to the consumer market. Nikon was going for a sticker-shock of sorts. Nikon didn't build this camera because it was the photographic tool the world needed or was asking for. No, Nikon built and released this camera for one reason only: to take down the Rebel.

Before I continue, let me again state, for the record, that I am a Canon boy. I love Canon. I’ve been shooting with a Canon for over 10 years. I shot with a Nikon FN back when I was using film, but when I transitioned to digital I was and have since been all about Canon.

Canon’s top selling camera line for years has been the Rebel series. Rebel is a great success story. For a small, cheap, light digital SLR, it’s fantastic. Its price point is perfect, and beginners and soccer-moms alike have flocked to the Rebel for years. Its pricing made it perfect for a new model every year, giving Canon consistent revenue. The Rebel is the last Canon camera to hold fast in the top 5 sellers spot on Amazon.com. It is a thorn in Nikon’s side, and Nikon is tired of it.

Nikon knows how consumers think. Big numbers, flashy videos, and low prices (and maybe Ashton Kutcher) sell cameras. To take down the Rebel, they would need to beat it at its own game. In order to do that, they slapped a crazy (and arguably unnecessary) 24 megapixels into a $700 package that includes a lens. That’s not only cheaper than the Canon T3i, but the numbers on the surface make it look like a much better camera. Sure, aside from the megapixels, the actual specs aren’t that different. But think of it this way: You’re a beginner without a lot of money and you want what appears to be the best you can afford. That, in this case, would be the Nikon. For an entry-level shooter or soccer-mom, there isn’t a very compelling reason to choose the Canon now, especially if the impending Rebel T4i doesn’t look to hold up in the sticker-shock-megapixel race:

“Other unconfirmed specs show the camera to be 18.1mp and running DIGIC 5, which should improve noise performance and overall image quality. I’m told we won’t see a new APS-C sensor until the 60D and 7D replacements are addressed.”
-Canon Rumors

Canon looks to be doing the right thing, which is increasing the actual quality of the image. However, many consumers are under the false impression that megapixels mean everything. That said, Canon touting a better sensor can easily be overshadowed by the “mine is 24 megapixels and yours is only 18” people.

I have no doubt that the D3200 will fly off the shelves at Best Buy like hotcakes. But what remains to be seen is if those sales can unseat the Rebel.

If you want to be one of the first to get your hands on this camera, you can pre order it from B&H Photo and Amazon.com now.

What do you guys think? Do consumer cameras matter?

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36 Comments

Consumer cameras definitely matter.  Nikon and Canon make most of their money off consumer cameras and lenses.  The pro market that spends thousands on lenses once and a few thousand every 4 years to upgrade the body is dwarfed in size by the market of people that buys the consumer models.
That being said the consumer models at least help advance technology a bit and the mass production helps lower prices. If parts are shared between consumer and pro lenses or bodies it can help bring prices down or new features to bear.

I'm sorry to burst your bubble but, as far as I know, Nikon and Canon make most of their profits from industrial equipment like micro-steppers and other microchip technology equipment - that means machines that make other products, including cameras. Sure, consumer cameras might be important for their photo division, but it's not what's making the big bucks.

Lol Matei, that's not really what he's saying. 

OBVIOUSLY they make more money from their diverse optical endeavors; this entire article, however, hinges around the discussion of their CAMERA sales.

Philip's point is entirely on purpose, and matches the argument completely.  Saying "Aha! But not as much as their other optical and technological equipment!" is a bit of a red herring, since it has nothing to do with the rest of the article.

It isn't whether Nikon's Microscopes, or Canon's industrial printers have anything to do with eachother, but their low end SLRS.

IN the context of THIS article, Philip is correct.  Try not to muddy it next time please.

I thought it was a good marketing ploy. MegaPickles will get the average punter in with more MP. Good luck selling old stock entry level Nikon's.

It would be an even better article if it goes into the details of the possibility that Sony produced the sensor (so not many sensors to choose from?), and also the implications it has on the new DX cameras - D7100 and D400 (which are to be refreshed later this year).
But ultimately, why did Nikon choose to slap a new sensor on an entry-level camera (and possibly use the same sensor for D7100 and 400) instead of trickle it down like how they used to before? I think you have, to a certain extent, answered this question.

Matt, Im about to upgrade to D7000, but I can hold on until November-2012, do you think that by then there will be a D7100??.  Thanks

The D7000 is arguably the best APS-C camera on the market, if you can pick one up on the cheap, rather than pay full price for a new model, I'd go for it.

The D3200 looks better.  If you don't need 6 FPS, or slightly higher AF points, go for it. 

Because that is most of their sales.

Unless you are planning on buying many D400s this year.

shawnsandy's picture

"
Because ISO performance doesn’t mean anything to the consumer market" 
From all reviews / reports (exception of scott bourne) the D800 ISO performance has been pretty solid maybe the tech at nikon figured it out, I'm surprised how many photogs are expert at conjecture! 

 When added by Canon, they are.

When done by Nikon, they deliver.

Tam Nguyen's picture

Great post like usual, Jaron. I was too busy thinking about the ISO performance and other technical stuff to think about the soccer moms and uncle Bobs, which play an essential role in generating revenues.

Thanks Tam! Yeah, it's easy to forget that most of the money generated for these companies comes from the consumer market. The brand is held up by the flagship models, but financed by the consumer models. 

till recently canon has been the one with the 18 mp sensors in there consumer cameras while nikons only had 12, just saying...

 hence, "To take down the Rebel, they would need to beat it at its own game."

Patrick Hall's picture

It's interesting to see where the market is going.  I remember when Canon owned the high ISO market, the Image Stabilization Market, and the Megapixel market.  Now it looks like Nikon excels with High ISO, arguably Video (with D4, HDMI out, video crop modes, etc), megapixels with D800, and their Autofocus has always been more accurate (ask sports illustrated guys who all left canon with the 1D mark III fiasco).  

The only area I see Canon currently "winning" is FPS since they have 14 on the 1Dx.  Obviously the two companies are very close but it wasn't log ago that Nikon was trailing in everything except AF.  It's an exciting time to be a photographer but also an exciting time to see Nikon FINALLY leading in some of the most important camera elements.  

I think it's safe to say Nikon will never beat Canon's powershots though :)

Pixyst's picture

There is Nikon 1 for that, remember?

 If the Nikon 1's job was to beat an S100 for example, I have to say it might be overpriced.

If the S100 could mount a 70-200 lens and shoot it as a super telephoto, then in that alternate universe, you might be 1% right.

If the S100 was completely silent (which it isn't), shot over 5 fps (which it doesn't), and was capable of adding a flash, I'm sure that would be a reasonable comparison.

Nikon 1 should be pokcetable...

The S100 is. any of this things like mount on 70-200 or adding flash, just doens't make sense.
If have to carry a bag with you DSLR is a better option.
Nikon 1 fails with the purpose of been pocketable, just like the Sony NEX, but is even a more fail because the IQ is not near to an APS-C. nikon 1 is for a niche of nikon fans.
I have a D7000, great camera, but one series is...

Obviously the 1dx C will be king for higher end productions, but for everything else, people will likely be going Nikon (new purchasers, that is). Some will likely sell old 5ds for D800 landscape and portraiture quality, though. 

Myself I have been in the market for a dslr lately. Coming from p&s cameras and having read dozens of reviews of the current crop of Nikon and Canon dslrs I find that I don't get caught up in the megapixel wars. I've gone as far as going to stores and holding each dlsr from both companies to see what fits me the best. I know that with either manufacturer I would be able to get a quality product. Between the Nikon and Canon bodies Canon fits me the best. The ergonomics, among other features like video, just feel comfortable in my hands hence why I am looking to get a Canon dslr. Nikon just feel to darn small for me and don't sit well in my hands.  If budget wasn't an option I would certainly be getting myself a new 5DMKIII, but since it is for me the Canon 60D is my best fit.

 If you have a given body, and some new but small sensors, you're gonna experiment and have a new camera based on something that's already apparent. So... 24p consumer DSLR. It's cheaper to make a camera with parts at hand than a totally new platform with what we are all wanting.

george washington's picture

funny how the canon fanboys criticize nikon cameras for having a sony fabricated sensor. the sensor is engineered and designed with nikon together and thats what matters. we dont see people going around congratulating foxconn for giving us ipads and iphones.

Nikon announced the 36,6 mp D800 and long before the 1st tests were done Canon users were laughing out loud about how badly the ISO must be @ so many pixels,... Now, clearly those were nervous laughs like "Ow shit, what if,..." 
And yep Nikon did it,.... they came up with a 36,6mp camera WITHOUT losing big time on the ISO race,... 
Ok, the mark III handles the highest ISO a bit better, but @ ISO's far above the most commen used ones the D800 preserves even more detail than the III due to the high mp count.

Now,.. the D3200 is announced,... and yet again we have a lot of people laughing and complaining about the ISO performence before even before the 1st test is done.Given this camera is an entry-level camera the ISO doesn't have to be like the ones we see on the camera's above,... a good handled ISO 1600 or maybe even 3200 is imo good enough for this kind of camera and it's users.
So people, let's not laugh that hard,.... What if,.... Nikon has done it again (and i think they will) and still let's the D3200 have good usable ISO's
That would (in my eyes) be a real big punch to Canon in this round of releases.

Kind regards,

a Canon shooter :(

Agreed.  Few people have the depth of perspective you do, Martin.  Bravo, sir.

2/3 fanboys agree, NIKON SUCKS!

Nikon's strategy has always been to take the high ground making top quality, excellent cameras. Their marketing has also been along these lines: "I'm a pro, I use Nikon, the rest use Canon". That hasn't worked out so well as Canon still outsell them in every area, so they're shamelessly pitching at the masses. Soccer mums (and I'll try not to take offence at that, lol, as most of my friends are SMs) don't even see noise, it's hilarious. They won't care.  As someone pointed out, the money earned from these sales drives research and results in better stuff for us. (us Nikon users that is) woo hoo.

From a signal processing stand point there is a term called signal to noise ratio.  I think Nikon has figured out that if you increase the number of pixels (signal) you have a better chance of filtering out the noise.  Since the noisy pixels are much smaller compared to the rest of the image, they are easier to process out.

consumer cameras can be a gateway drug for the harder stuff. It is good to lock the potential addict in early.

blehk's picture

canon is making all the right move for the discerning audience but nikon is also well aware that micro four thirds cameras are catching on the megapixel as well as iso performance. it's just trying not to lose that market.

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