The entry-level digital SLR market has been fairly even over the past few years, with the two big names producing good but unexciting cameras (see Canon'sand Nikon's ).
The limitations of a low entry price restricted both companies from innovating too much on these models, but Nikon's D3100 is now the exception.
Design and features
The D3100 is light and portable, weighing 455 grams for the body only. Attach a non-kit lens to the camera, such as the excellent, and away you go with lightweight shooting. The D3100 now has a CMOS sensor and its resolution hits 14.2 megapixels. The image processor has undergone some Botox too, upgraded to Expeed 2.
Familiarity is key to Nikon's design, which uses a similar chassis and layout to the D3000, with a few extra tweaks. The most significant exterior changes come in the form of the shooting mode selector switch, now integrated into the mode dial, which changes between single, continuous, timer and quiet mode shooting.
For beginners, the D3100 is equipped with Guide mode, just like the D3000, but it has been refined to make it easier to use. Guide mode provides an interface to help new users achieve specific looks from changing aperture and shutter speeds, but without using the photographic terminology. There's also the standard PASM shooting modes accessible from the mode dial, and a range of scene modes suited to portrait, macro and landscape work to name a few.
An example of the screens used in the D3100's Guide mode. (Credit: Nikon)
At the back is a 3-inch LCD screen with a resolution of 230,000 dots, a directional control pad, control wheel and a Live View switch along with the standard playback and review buttons. Live View is a much-needed addition from the D3000 and the D3100 does it brilliantly with this implementation. Simply flick the switch to the right of the screen to activate, and back again to deactivate. Video recording, which is in full 1920x1080 pixels at 24fps, is activated using the instant-on record button nestled in the Live View switch.
To the side, the D3100 has a host of connectivity options, including mini-HDMI and USB out, AV out and a port for connecting an optional GPS unit to automatically geotag photos. There is no external microphone jack though, which is disappointing for videographers.
The D3100 is easy enough for a first-time user to pick up and start shooting with straight away, either using the Guide mode or full automatic, but there are plenty of other options for more advanced photographers. One notable exception is automatic bracketing; sure, it can be done manually but it is a nice feature for those who enjoy HDR or gaining the correct exposure in tricky lighting situations.
The viewfinder is bright and clear though it's not particularly big and only covers 95 per cent of the field of view.
|14.2 megapixels||10.1 megapixels||12.3 megapixels|
|3-inch, 230,000-dot LCD||2.5-inch, 230,000-dot LCD||2.7-inch, 230,000-dot articulating LCD|
|HD video (1080p, 24fps)||No HD video||HD video (720p, 24fps)|
|11-point AF||7-point AF||11-point AF|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Time to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
- Nikon D31000.40.810.4
- Nikon D50000.20.40.50.3
- Canon 1000D0.20.40.70.4
Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)
- Nikon D31002.9
- Nikon D50004
- Canon 1000D2.9