Nikon D3100

The D3100 is the best entry-level digital SLR currently available. A host of features and excellent image quality sends this camera to the top of the pack.


8.4
CNET Rating
8.0
User Rating

About The Author

CNET Editor

Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.


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's EOS 1000D and Nikon's D3000).

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 35mm f/1.8 DX model, 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.

Nikon D3100Nikon D3100Nikon D3100Nikon D3100Nikon D3100Nikon D3100Nikon D3100Nikon D3100Nikon D3100Nikon D3100

Click through for a complete photo gallery. (Credit: Nikon)

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.

D3100 Guide Mode

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.

55-300mm DX

Announced at the same time as the D3100, the 55-300mm DX lens. (Credit: Nikon)

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.

Compared to

D3100 vs. 1000D vs. D5000

Nikon D3100 Canon 1000D Nikon D5000
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
3fps 3fps 4fps

Performance

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

Nikon rates the battery life for the D3100 at 550 shots.

Image quality

It's little surprise that the D3100 produces very nice images given the quality produced by the D3000. Alongside the kit 18-55mm lens, and our other review lens, the 55-300mm, the D3100 is an impeccable performer in most conditions.

Low light performance up to ISO 800 is good, so too is the natural colour tones found on JPEG images captured at default settings. Automatic white balance performance is one of the best we've seen on a digital SLR of this class, and delivers consistent results according to the ambient lighting. RAW performance is also good, and at the time of writing the latest release candidates for Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom can read the NEF files produced by the D3100, on top of the software provided with the camera.

RAW vs. JPEG

D3100 RAW vs. JPEG

A comparison of the RAW and JPEG processing from the D3100. The in-camera JPEG processing copes well with reducing noise without smearing or losing too much detail, an excellent result for a digital SLR of this class. The shot above was taken at ISO 1600. (Credit: CBSi)

Video quality

Videos recorded using the D3100 are limited to a maximum of 10 minutes (there's a little countdown timer at the top right when recording). Rolling shutter is slightly noticeable on video files produced by the D3100 when moving the camera but for most users it won't present any issue. There is full manual control provided though with no audio tweaks, the sound quality is very much down to what the in-built microphone can do.

Continuous autofocus is provided when shooting video, which is an excellent addition for a consumer digital SLR aimed at the entry-level user, but it does need a lot of work before it can provide as seamless an experience as a dedicated camcorder. You activate it by entering into the menus while in Live View mode and choosing AF-F. When filming, the camera will continually hunt for focus and adjust as necessary, but the sound of the autofocus is very clear on the sound recording and sometimes the camera is just too slow at finding its focus point.

Image samples

Exposure: 1/250, f/8, ISO 800

Exposure: 1/25, f/5.3, ISO 800

Exposure: 1/500, f/11, ISO 3200

Exposure: 1/200, f/7.1, ISO 800

(Credit: CBSi)

Conclusion

The D3100 is the best entry-level digital SLR currently available. A host of features and excellent image quality sends this camera to the top of the pack. There are some half-baked ideas though, like the difficult full-time AF in video implementation, but this is something that can hopefully be worked out in future iterations.

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subuh81 posted a comment   
Australia

Couldn't agree more Nikon D3100 is one of the best entry level dslr.
I've try it and as a newbie to dslr camera, the Guide Mode function helps me alot without concern so much about aperture and shutter speeds setting.The photos look superb!

I've created a review at http://www.squidoo.com/nikon-dslr-d3100-price-and-review. Do please drop some comment if you have any :).

 

roeljohn posted a comment   
Australia

Can't imagine life without cameras around. Best things in life are to capture every moments of it. I am so glad I found this blog. I'm thankful that there are certain camera stores here in Australia that could let us choose and buy one.

 

emma1212 posted a comment   

I have this camera. I do find it easy to use, but have had trouble in low-light situations where I'm shooting at 1600 or 3200. I'm not sure if it's something I am doing or if this is a limitation of the camera.
Recently I 'm having trouble with the shutter sticking particularly in low light. The shutter won't release at the aperture that it seems would give the clearest shot. Again not sure if I am doing something incorrectly.

If you have any helpful info or resource, please let me know.

 

RogerC posted a reply   

does the shutter click open and stay open while in aperture priority? if so, then its thinking it needs a very long exposure cos of the low light.

the other situation i can think of is that the camera is in autofocus and wont let you take the shot because it cant get a grip on your subject.

I'm sorry if this is very basic and not helpful, I found this stuff out the hard way when i started is all :)

 

techcrazy posted a comment   
Australia

hi, i currently have an old sony cybershot DSC-H1 digital camera and was wanting to step up into something that i can have a little bit more control over, like manual focusing etc, but still quite easy to shoot with. i like landscape, nature and macro photography and the sample photos look like it would be good for that. thanks in advance to anyone who can help.

 

nemana posted a comment   
Australia

I am looking at purchasing my first DSLR camera. I would like to take mainly home / family / travel photos at outdoor / indoor and also sometimes at concerts with dark seating but bright lighting on stage, some short videos (just in case I am caught without video camera). For such general purpose I notice that NIkon d3100 would be a good choice. However, they come with lens options. Can you give me some guidance on these options: 18-55mm VR lens, 18-105 mm lens, 55-200mm. What do all these mean and what sort of utilisation might these have for my needs?

TrevorA Facebook
8
Rating
 

"Excellent value for money"

TrevorA posted a review   

The Good:Great features suitable for beginners allows for learning

The Bad:Only the video recording a bit dodgy in auto...

I have owned this camera for about 12 months now, and for all intents and purposes it is excellent value for money. As an amateur photographer I find the automation suitable in most situations producing great photos. Lately I have been experimenting with manual control based upon some basic shutter speed vs. aperture vs. iso knowledge and this is where it really is fun. The video recording component works best in manual function as the auto function seemed to have some difficulty in keeping a constant focus when shifting subjects.....I need to experiment more with the auto control settings of video perhaps I think.

 

Shippers posted a comment   
Australia

Just wondering if this camera is any good at shooting fast moving things like kids, sports etc. I'm on the market for a good camera but nothing overly expensive.

RogerD1 Facebook
8
Rating
 

"Great entry level DSLR"

RogerD1 posted a review   

The Good:Easy to use.

The Bad:Nothing thus far.

I bought this camera for my daughters 16th Birthday and gotta say its fantastic. Its her first DSLR. The battery life is grat so far, so Im not sure on the battery comment. Picture quality is superb and its easy to use in both auto and manual mode. I would reccomend it highly. Bought it from camera house who matched JB

 

MichaelM11 posted a comment   

I'm trying to find out about image stabilization. Does the D3100 have it? What about white balance?

 

bella_rose posted a comment   
Australia

Hi, just asking what lense was used in the photos in the Nikon D3100 review?
thanks
:)

 

Lexy Savvides posted a reply   
Australia

Hi Bella,

It was the kit lens (18-55mm) :)


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User Reviews / Comments  Nikon D3100

  • subuh81

    subuh81

    "Couldn't agree more Nikon D3100 is one of the best entry level dslr.
    I've try it and as a newbie to dslr camera, the Guide Mode function helps me alot without concern so much about aperture a..."

  • roeljohn

    roeljohn

    "Can't imagine life without cameras around. Best things in life are to capture every moments of it. I am so glad I found this blog. I'm thankful that there are certain camera stores here in Australi..."

  • emma1212

    emma1212

    "I have this camera. I do find it easy to use, but have had trouble in low-light situations where I'm shooting at 1600 or 3200. I'm not sure if it's something I am doing or if this is a limitation o..."

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