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This review got off to a bad start: the DX format camera arrived just before a long holiday break… without a battery and fitted with a less than ideal (for review purposes) f4.5/55-300mm lens (equivalent to 82.5-450mm on an SLR). So it just sat on the review bench for nearly two weeks, uncared for and bereft of admirers.
But once the power cell was fitted and the Nikon D3100’s neurons started surging through its circuitry, the little beast rapidly assumed a compelling appeal.
First up, the price: I figure it would tickle the tendrils of newcomers to the DSLR level of photography, those who have tired of compact digicams and their limitations but who don’t want to be bamboozled by the hard edged technicalities of upper level reflex models.
So what you get is a responsive camera that can fire its first shot barely a second after startup. And heh! It’s small! Whilst only a few mill smaller than its earlier sibling the D3000, its stocky body sits well within an average male hand. Weight? With battery and card it tips the scales at a measly 500 grams.
The 14.2 megapixel CMOS sensor captures a maximum image size of 4608×3072 pixels. That means a print of 39x26cm can be made at 300 dpi.
In the movie department it can shoot at levels up there with the best: 1920×1080 at 24p in MPEG4 with mono sound; maximum shooting time is 10 minutes. Movie mode is well served in that you can select continuous auto focus while you shoot; in this I was a bit hampered by the 55-300mm review lens, with its narrow depth of field band and the challenge of using it handheld, but patience eventually triumphed.
The D3100 also offers in-camera movie editing that lets you save a single frame as a still image or delete unwanted slices from either end of movie clips. Note: when shooting movies you do get a fair bit of handling noise if you move the zoom in the middle of a recording.
If you want an alternative to the reflex finder, you’ll enjoy Nikon’s Live View mode, accessed by single-touch lever. In still capture mode it is live for only 30 seconds.
What sets the D3100 apart from most other DSLRs is its opening LCD screen which displays a guide that, in some ways, resembles an instruction manual built into the camera. For example: select Program AE for your exposure mode, then revolve the command dial, a graphic display shows how the lens aperture diminishes as the shutter speed increases… and vice versa. The really neat thing about this guide is that, when you revolve the camera, so the display pivots 90 degrees!
On the mode dial is the usual selection of Program, shutter and aperture priority plus manual and auto exposure options. Scene modes include portraits, landscapes, macro etc.
A novel Guide setting opens the door to suggestions as to how to shoot subjects in a more adventurous manner: challenges such as softening backgrounds, freezing motion are explained on screen… IMHO an encouraging way to advance your photographic skills.
The flash variations include auto, red eye reduction, flash forced off as well as the choice of front or rear curtain sync.
If you’re into mass portraits, hang onto this: the camera’s face detection system can pick up 35 faces!
You can shoot a burst of stills at a rate of three per second, the setting easily accessed via a four position lever that also silences the shutter sound for single frame shooting.
And here’s one I haven’t seen before! If you’ve shot an image and want to match the white balance in a subsequent shot, you simply select the stored shot and capture a new one that matches.
Sat nav-ready: an optional GPS unit can be attached which records the camera’s current position.
A pretty good performance up to ISO1600, with sharp image and low noise. At ISO3200 noise is slightly up. At ISO6400 even more so but not objectionable. AT ISO12,800 noise is up even more and definition is well down: ideal for night shooting.
A good idea of the camera’s low light performance is this shot taken at ISO12,800. Aperture: f4.5 at 1/4000 second.
Prowling through the 200 plus page manual, I found a number of other features that I consider are photographer friendly helpers that would be of prime use to the enthusiastic, novice photographer. And not just for the sake of clever technology.
And that just about sums up the camera itself: it’s photographer-friendly! I have rarely come across a DSLR that was easier to use, immediately after opening the box. Go! Enjoy!
Why you would buy it: you hanker for an entry level DSLR; you’re keen but a bit lacking in skills; you crave Full HD video capture.
Why you wouldn’t: you’d like a tilting/swivelling LCD screen.
Image Sensor: 14.2 million effective pixels.
Metering: Matrix, centre-weighted metering and spot.
Effective Sensor Size: 23.1×15.4mm CMOS.
A/D processing: 12-bit.
35 SLR Lens Factor: 1:5x.
Compatible lenses: Nikon F mount (with AF contacts).
Exposure Modes: Auto, Program AE, shutter and aperture priority, manual.
Shutter Speed: Bulb, 30 to 1/4000 second, Bulb. Flash sync: 1/200 sec.
Memory: SD/SDHC/SDXC cards.
Image Sizes (pixels): 4608×3072 to 2304×1536. Movies: 1920×1080 to 640×480 at 24/25/30fps.
Viewfinders: Eye level pentaprism, 7.5cm LCD (230,000 pixels).
File Formats: NEF (RAW), NEF (RAW)+JPEG, JPEG, MPEG4.
Colour Space: Adobe RGB, sRGB.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 100 to 12,800.
Interface: USB 2.0, AV, HDMI mini, DC input, remote.
Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery, AC adaptor.
Dimensions: 124x96x74.5 WHDmm.
Weight: Approx. 500 g (with memory card and battery).
Price: Get a price on the Nikon D3100 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens at Amazon.