Nikon D3100 Review
The D3100 is Nikon's latest entry-level DSLR camera which brings full 1080p HDTV video recording with autofocus to DSLRs. This is a relatively compact DSLR camera with a 14 megapixels sensor, a Nikon electronic-only lens mount and most features usually found among such entry-level cameras.
The Nikon D3100 is targeted at people upgrading from a fixed-lens camera that do not want to lose video functionality while obtaining image quality and performance benefits of a basic DSLR. As such, the D3100 is also designed to be an introduction to Nikon DSLRs, with classic Nikon styling, reputable build quality and an interface which would be familiar to most Nikon owners.
This detailed digital camera review takes a close look at the Nikon D3100's features, ergonomics, usability, image quality, performance, photographic controls and all-new video recording features.
This DSLR has the following major features:
- 14 Megapixels image sensor, 1.5X crop-factor.
- Automatic and selectable ISO from 100 to 12800.
- 1/4000s to 30s shutter-speeds, plus bulb mode.
- Metering modes: multi-segment, center-weighed and spot.
- Standard PASM full manual controls.
- Fully automatic mode and 7 additional scene modes.
- Exposure compensation: -5..+5 EV in 1/3 EV steps.
- Flash compensation: -3..+1 in 1/3 EV steps.
- Standard flash modes: normal, redeye, slow, slow with redeye and rear-curtain sync.
- Automatic and preset white-balance, all fine-tunable along 2 axis in 13 steps..
- 7 sub-types of fluorescent white-balanceSodium-Vapor, Warm White, White, Cool White, Day White, Daylight and Mercury Vapor..
- Custom white-balance using immediate capture or reference image.
- Focus modes: single-shot, continuous, manual and auto.
- 11-point auto-focus system.
- Single shot, unlimited 3 fps continuous drive mode and 2s or 10s self-timer.
- 1920x1080 @ 24 FPS 1080p HD video recording with mono sound.
- Partial Live-View with Subject Tracking and Face-Detect autofocus.
- Contrast detect autofocus available during HD video recording.
- 3” LCD 230K Pixels with eye-start sensor.
- 95% coverage viewfinder with 0.8X magnification.
- Image review with magnification and luminance histogram.
- Built-in flash and hot-shoe.
- Auto-Exposure/Auto-Focus Lock button, selectable AEL & AFL, AEL, AFL, AEL Hold and AF On function.
- Customizable sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue.
- Customizable function button.
- JPEG and RAW modes.
- Rangefinder manual focus assist.
- Adaptive D-Lighting for high-contrast situations.
- Hardware dust-reduction to reduce the need to clean the image sensor.
- Lithium-ion battery.
- Secure Digital High Capacity memory support.
Note that as the Nikon D3100 is extremely similar in ergonomics and features to the D3000, large portions of this review are taken from the Nikon D3000
Nikon D3000 revuiew. For performance and conclusion, go directly to page 3. Differences are highlighted in the text below for those who wish to know what they all are.
Suitability - What is it good for?
The Nikon D3100 is a simple DSLR, yet it is versatile due to its selection of lenses, wide ISO range and full manual controls. It is suitable for most photographic subjects, although it is not ideal for action photography due to its limited speed continuous-drive. The Nikon D3100 is fully compatible with Nikon lenses with built-in focus-motors and Nikon Speedlights. See Nikon and third-party lenses with built-in super-sonic motors to view compatible models.
This entry-level DSLR is one of a small number which can record 1080p HD video. More importantly, it is the only such DSLR which which can autofocus while filming. It provides standard continuous autofocus as well as single-shot autofocus which can be activated on-demand during video recording.
For specific photographic subjects, lens versatility is quite important. The Nikon lens lineup covers a wide variety of focal-lengths from the ultra-wide to the super telephoto. Most 3rd party manufacturers produce lenses for Nikon mounts too. With Nikon, image stabilization is provided by VR (Vibration Reduction) lenses which is not available on all lenses.
Being one of the smallest DSLRs currently available, the D3100 brings more discretion than is afforded by typical DSLR cameras. While this is a feature that professionals can appreciate, the D3100 is not made for changing settings quickly and often. Advanced users should also note the lack of features such as bracketing, depth-of-field preview and critical customization.
Capability - What can it do?
As noted in the introduction, the Nikon D3100 has all basic DSLR capabilities. It also has a built-in dust-reduction mechanism which is now standard. This Nikon DSLR features a lens mount with no mechanical coupling for driving non-CPU auto focus lenses.
This limits the D3100's choice of lenses to recent Nikon and third-party offerings. Lenses using a mechanical coupling still work but only in manual focus mode. The D3100 includes a Rangefinder mode to help focus manually. This mode swaps the exposure indicator in the viewfinder with a focus direction indicator.
The Nikon D3100's power-switch surrounds the shutter-release and works in the most obvious way. The shutter-release on this DSLR is a standard 2-stage release with a distinct halfway point. By default, pressing the shutter-release halfway locks focus and exposure. There is an option to disable exposure-locking.
There is also a combined AE-L/AF-L button which can be set to lock both exposure and focus, to lock either focus or exposure, to lock and hold exposure or to activate the auto focus Setting this button to trigger auto focus has the unexpected side-effect of disabling AF activation when pressing the shutter-release halfway. For people who like to be able to lock focus and exposure independently and to lock both without changing settings, you must set the AE-L/AF-L function to AE-L Only and lock exposure first when desired.
Exposure modes on the Nikon D3100 are controlled by a typical mode-dial. The available modes include the four ubiquitous exposure modes: program (P), shutter-priority (S), aperture-priority (A) and full manual (M) mode. In Manual mode, the shutter-speed selection includes a Bulb mode that keeps the shutter open as long as the shutter-release is pressed. The mode-dial also includes 7 scene modes and an Auto mode.
The Auto mode almost completely automatic. Specifically, only 3 flash modes are available and focus modes are limited to AF-A and MF. Auto mode disables ISO settings, white-balance, exposure-compensation, flash-compensation, program-shift, metering options and image parameters. This is more limited than on the D3000.
The Auto-ISO behavior of the D3100 is a little strange, except in Scene-Modes where it behaves as usual. Users normally select between Auto and a set sensitivity. The camera then honors the selected ISO or, in the case of Auto-ISO, selects an appropriate ISO for the subject. With the D3100, the normal metering modes require a specific ISO to be chosen. The selected ISO is honored when the Auto ISO option is set to OFF in the Camera Settings menu. Otherwise, the selected ISO becomes the default and the camera is free to choose a different ISO.
The Nikon D3100 has detailed control over white-balance including automatic white-balance, preset white-balanceIncandescent, Fluorescent, Sunlight, Flash, Cloudy and Shade., and custom white-balance. All white-balance options except custom white-balance can be fine-tuned in 13-steps from magenta to green and blue to amber. There is a single custom white-balance register which can be set by taking a picture of a white object or by using an existing picture as reference.
Exposure compensation can be adjusted in 1/3 EV increments using the exposure compensation button combined with the command dial. The range of exposure compensation is -5 to +5. This is more range than most digital cameras. The exposure steps are always fixed at 1/3 EV though. It would be really nice if 1/2 EV steps were allowed too because they produce distinct aperture and shutter-speed choices. This is the sort of price to pay which is expected from an entry-level DSLR.
Next to the EC button is the Info button. This one normally invokes or dismisses the status screen. It also appears when touching certain buttons like EC. This is unfortunate as it adds glare right bellow your eye when composing a photograph. In Live-View mode, the Info button cycles through different display modes. The Status screen itself is well-designed and navigatable. Just press the the lower-left button to activate navigation and use the 4-way controller to operate the screen. The same options are much longer to change through the normal menu system.
The placement of this button is a prime location because it is easily reachable and usable in conjunction with the control-wheel. Seems it would have been better used if it controlled ISO instead and that the Info-screen would be automatic like on the D60 which had an eye-start sensor to activate it automatically.
Active D-Lighting is Nikon's automatic image contrast correction feature. This feature brightens darker areas to produce a less contrasty image. For high contrast scenes this can produce an image with more detail while adding noise to shadows. Low contrast scenes are generally unaffected by D-Lighting. Medium contrast scenes are a little hit-or-miss with Active D-Lighting because they lose their punch when the contrast is reduced too much.
This Nikon supports the standard drive modesSingle, continuous and self-timer. and quiet shutter. There is a dedicated lever to chose the drive mode. This was not present on the D3000 and makes using the D3100 more efficient, however the D3000 had remote-trigger options too. In continuous drive mode, the D3100 can shoot an unlimited number of JPEGs at 3 FPS. The self-timer be set to either a 2s or a 10s delay.
The Nikon D3100 supports JPEG and RAW images. JPEG images are available in 3 quality levels. There are also 3 image sizes available. A combined JPEG+RAW mode is also selectable and always produces basic JPEG files. The image sensor is protected by a moving plate which serves to shake off dust, reducing its accumulation. While we have not measured its efficiency, these systems are generally not 100% effective and they only remove light dust-particles. Any significantly stuck particle requires manual cleaning.
Nikon D3100 Highlights
Sensor-Size: 24 x 16mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|14 Megapixels DSLR||ISO 100-12800|
|Nikon F Mount|
|Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|Built-in Dust Reduction||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|3 FPS Drive, 16 Images||Spot-Metering|
|1920x1080 @ 24 FPS Video Recording||Hot-Shoe|
|3" LCD 230K Pixels||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
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