A generally good point-and-shoot performer, the 3-megapixel Nikon Coolpix 3100 is small enough to take almost anywhere, and its 38mm-to-115mm zoom lens sufficiently handles most scenes. The camera's 14 shooting modes and effective automation amply compensate for the lack of manual controls. If you're new to the digital-photo game, you'll appreciate the 3100's LCD overlays, which help you frame portraits and landscapes so that you can compose impressive pictures. These perks aside, this Coolpix's overall image quality and performance--while good--can't match that of some competitors.
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Nikon fit most of the shooting-mode options on the top dial.
The ultracompact 3100 weighs just 7 ounces with the batteries and the CompactFlash card installed. While the silver, plastic camera is attractive, it does have a few bulges that will keep you from pocketing it as easily as some of its slimmer competitors. Controls are intelligently placed and large enough for users who fumble with more diminutive models. The 3100 loads all the most frequently needed shooting modes on the top dial for quick access, an unusual design for a point-and-shoot. The zoom switch cradles your thumb, making for easy one-handed shooting. An integrated cover protects the retractable lens.
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|/sc/20856903-2-200-DT3.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" />||The control layout is logical and efficient.|
Menu navigation is easy; all the options are clearly spelled out and accessible with just a few presses of the four-way pad. Symbols help you make sense of the various shooting modes and image-enhancement selections. The Framing Assist function overlays a head-and-shoulders outline on the LCD to help you properly compose portraits.
As with many point-and-shoot cameras, the 3100 won't let you manually adjust aperture or shutter settings. In the so-called manual mode, you can tweak white balance, exposure compensation, and image sharpening--that's it. But Nikon makes up for this shortcoming with a whopping 14 scene modes, including presets optimized for capturing fireworks, shooting in museums (indoors with no flash), and preserving colors under dusk and dawn lighting. The 3100 is primed for just about any shooting environment.
In situations where you're likely to end up with a blurry shot, such as in a dim room where flash is prohibited, the Best Shot Selector can be a lifesaver. You hold down the shutter button, and the camera grabs up to 10 shots. It then analyzes these images and saves the best of the bunch.
You can't save uncompressed files, but you do get a choice of two JPEG-compression levels at the maximum resolution. You can fit just nine best-quality shots on the included 16MB card, so remember to leave room in your budget for a higher-capacity CompactFlash card.
You can resize and crop photos, as well as apply a monochrome or sepia filter to them, right in the unit. Unlike its little brother, the 2100, the 3100 also provides control over in-camera image sharpening: you can choose one of three presets, switch it to automatic, or turn it off. Since the red-eye-reduction flash works only occasionally, be sure to install the accompanying NikonView software, which has an effective red-eye-elimination feature.
The 3100 supports slightly longer movies than the 2100, but otherwise the two cameras have the same rudimentary video capabilities, and they're disappointing for a higher-end model. You can shoot QuickTime video clips without sound; they're fixed at either 20 or 40 seconds, depending on the selected resolution.