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Nikon D3100 Review

Highs

  • Terrific 14.2MP stills
  • Noise well under control at high ISOs
  • Good ergonomics, menu system

Rating

Our Score 7.5
User Score 6

Lows

  • Mic picks up lens noise when shooting videos
  • Jelly effect when panning
  • No USB cable supplied
Old-school photographers will embrace the Nikon D3100’s sharp stills and classic design, but noisy video keeps it out of the big leagues with competing models.

What’s In The Box

The D3100 body, kit lens, rechargeable battery rated a solid 550 shots using the CIPA standard, plug-in charger, lens/body caps, neck strap and two CD-ROMs. One has ViewNX 2 to handle files while the second has a full 224-page Reference Manual. Surprisingly, the camera does not come with a USB cable. This seems like a chintzy move—or does Nikon assume everyone has a card reader? We can understand passing on an analog A/V cable (definitely use the optional mini HDMI connection) but this seems low rent. Whatever. You’ll also find a Quick Start Guide and a 70-page User’s Manual that covers most of the bases.

After charging the battery, we popped in a 32GB SanDisk Extreme Class 10 card; a minimum of Class 6 is recommended.

Performance

The Nikon D3100 was initially set to best resolution JPEG (4608 x 3702) and tops for video (1920 x 1080 at 24 fps). From there we moved through the mode dial and used JPEG+RAW where appropriate.

It’s Fall in the Northeast so there’s little difficulty getting shots with strong colors. And how do you think a $699 Nikon with a 14.2-megapixel APS-C sensor handled them? Outstanding. Our 8×10 prints were right on target with very natural-looking colors which included macro close-ups and sweeping landscapes.

The D3100 has a great feel and it’s a pleasure to use. The 11-point auto focus system easily took care of even difficult focusing situations. The camera has a burst speed of 3 fps which is typical for affordable DSLRs. That said we didn’t feel like we missed much since we weren’t shooting horse races or car chases. Would we have like more? Sure, but the relatively similar Canon Rebel T1i is just a shade better at 3.4 fps.


Nikon’s D3100 next to Sony’s Alpha SLT-A55V

The camera really excelled handling high ISOs. The basic range is 100-3200 but it reaches 6400 in Hi1, 12,800 in Hi2. As you’d imagine, 12,800 is pretty bad but amazingly 6400 was reasonable, and 3200 was excellent. You’ll have few problems shooting in low light with this DSLR.

We wish we could say the same for shooting video—no matter what the ambient light. We put the D3100 into Full-time servo AF mode so the camera focused continuously during movie recording. We pressed the red button after flipping the Live View lever, recording video clips, zooming in some instances, other times not. We then played them back via HDMI on a 50-inch plasma and the results were disappointing. Although it focused relatively quickly, there were some jelly effects when panning. That’s a drag but what was worse the mic picked up the noise of the lens motor, adding an unwelcome soundtrack. Ouch. Camcorders simply do not do this. The Sony SLT-A55V remains supreme in this category.

Conclusion

As a pure camera, the D3100 is an excellent choice. Unfortunately DSLRs are now rated on their ability to capture high-def videos—for better or worse. In this case, it’s worse. If you just want a solid 14.2-megapixel DSLR and aren’t concerned with video clips, by all means choose this camera. Fortunately, your options are much greater now if movie quality is important. Now there are models like the 14.2MP Sony NEX-5 ($699) that shoot 1920 x 1080 60i AVCHD videos and stills at 7 fps. Granted you don’t have the same number of lens options, the form factor is very different and not as beefy as a true DSLR. It’s a tough choice you’ll have to make (handle them both) but entry-level DSLR buyers can’t go wrong with the D3100 for taking photographs. People who want quality videos should look elsewhere.

Highs:

  • Terrific 14.2MP stills
  • Noise well under control at high ISOs
  • Good ergonomics, menu system

Lows:

  • Mic picks up lens noise when shooting videos
  • Jelly effect when panning
  • No USB cable supplied

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