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Raw

Supplied software

The D3100 comes with several pieces of software but the key one is ViewNX 2 - a generally capable raw conversion platform. ViewNX 2 is not as sophisticated as Nikon's Capture NX 2 (available separately for �160/$180), but it offers most of the key functionality that a beginner will require when starting out on the DSLR road, including the ability to crop and straighten images, and change white balance and exposure in NEF files. More advanced tools include D-Lighting and highlight/shadow recovery sliders, plus lateral and axial chromatic aberration correction. Basic video editing functionality is also available. In a nice touch, many of these parameters can be built into presets using the Picture Control Utility, meaning that presets you find yourself regularly applying can be uploaded to the camera. Inexplicably absent, however, are any noise reduction options.

As well as being free, ViewNX 2 has another advantage over Capture NX 2 in that it is a small program that does not require a huge amount of computing power to run. It's far from being as slick as Adobe's Camera Raw plug in for Photoshop, but much more forgiving of older, slower computers than Capture NX 2. As well as raw conversion, ViewNX 2 also allows you to geotag photographs using Google Maps (automatically if you use the optional GP-1 GPS unit), and to rate and label images with stars or colors for ease of organization. You can even modify the names of the color tags so that they show up as 'Work,' 'Holiday,' 'Portraits' or whatever best suits your needs.

Although it doesn't give anything like the flexibility or functionality offered by Nikon's Capture NX 2, the bundled ViewNX 2 software is a huge improvement over the earlier generation Picture Project, and it easy to make basic adjustments to both raw and JPEG files from the D3100. The thumbnail view does exactly what it says on the tin - it arranges all of the images in a particular folder as thumbnails, for easy navigation.
When adjusting raw files, you can either apply an existing Picture Control preset (Standard, Vivid, etc.) or create and modify your own, which can be uploaded onto the camera for JPEG shots. ViewNX 2 allows you to geotag your images by using Google Maps to find and record where you took your your photos. If you use Nikon's GP-1 external GPS unit with the D3100, geotagging is automatic.
Creating video projects is a simple matter of opening the new video editor program, and importing clips into a playlist. From here you can add transitions between clips, and audio files.

When you're ready to export your video project you can name it and specify the precise type of output that you want.

 

RAW conversion

As is normal in our digital SLR reviews we like to compare the supplied RAW conversion software, any optional manufacturer RAW conversion software and some third party RAW converter. In the case of the D3100 we used the supplied ViewNX 2, DxO Optics Pro v6.5, and Adobe Camera RAW 6.3.

  • JPEG - Large/Fine, Default settings
  • VNX - ViewNX 2.0.3
  • ACR - Adobe Camera RAW 6.3 (at default 'Adobe Standard' setting)
  • DxO - DxO Optics Pro v6.5

Sharpness and Detail

As we often see, careful raw conversion can bring out a much more convincing rendition of ultra-fine detail that the slightly unsubtle sharpening of the camera's JPEGs. In the crops below, both ACR and DxO are able to describe the finest feather detail with more finesse than either ViewNX or the camera JPEG (which are near-identical to each other). Of course this only really matters if you regularly view your images at 100% on-screen or print really large - these crops are roughly equivalent to looking at a print that 48" across.

Adobe ACR 6.3 RAW -> TIFF (Default output settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crops
DxO Optics Pro v6.5 RAW -> TIFF (Default output settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crops
Nikon View NX 2 RAW -> TIFF (Default output settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crops
JPEG out of camera, High quality setting, manual WB (all other settings default)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop

Resolution

The differences between ACR and Nikon's ViewNX 2 are minimal when resolution shots are compared, as you can see. We'd stick our necks out and say that ACR gives fractionally better detail rendition than ViewNX 2 as the lines on our chart approach Nyquist, but there's very little in it. Both raw conversion engines have produced slightly better resolution than is possible from in-camera JPEGs, and both describe some lines up to and after Nyquist (although this is not 'genuine' detail).

Adobe Camera RAW 6.3 DxO Optics Pro v6.5
ViewNX 2 JPEG Large/Fine

Real-world advantages

The example below illustrates the kind of real-world advantages you can get from shooting in raw. The camera JPEG is somewhat cool in tone, with the brightest whites blown through slightly over-enthusiastic positive exposure compensation, and some of the finest detail has disappeared while the rest is a little crudely-drawn. The RAW conversion employs a more appealing, warmer white balance, a touch of highlight recovery, and more subtle sharpening to bring out the finest detail.

Camera JPEG RAW + ACR 6.3, then USM*
100% crops

*Unsharp mask in Photoshop, Amount 220, Radius 0.3, Threshold 0

Of course the exposure compensation and white balance issues here could have been addressed by more careful parameter setting while shooting, but that's not really the point - what's more important is the way raw offers a safety-net if you do get things slightly wrong. (It's probably also worth pointing out that the D3100's small closely-spaced buttons are near-inoperable while wearing gloves in cold weather, something that's equally true for almost all small cameras.)

RAW files for download

Here we provide RAW files from the sample shots we take, to allow you to apply your own workflow techniques and see

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Comments

Total comments: 3
sarath cp
By sarath cp (1 month ago)

nikon d3100 is an intermediate dslr? right? i saw a post about guides for buying a dslr on www.know4u.com
actually they says that there is too much to investigate before buying one... is that true always..? the link is http://know4u.com/dslr%20photography/How%20to%20Choose%20a%20DSLR%20Camera/How%20to%20Choose%20a%20DSLR%20Camera.html

0 upvotes
whodat101
By whodat101 (5 months ago)

Looking at the comparison, it appears to my novice mind that the d3100 has in most areas slightly better specs than the d5000. Since I am looking at both of these cameras, would appreciate comments. The 3100 is on sale at the local camera shop; the 5000 is available on Craiglist at a considerably lower price, but is of course used.

Also; packed away I have two nikon entry level cameras from the early 1980's with quite a few E series lenses. The E series lens was standard on the two cameras. Will these work on the 3100 and 5000, and if so, are there problems in compatibility such as auto-focus, etc.

0 upvotes
Flight815
By Flight815 (3 months ago)

D3100 is a great camera. i bought another one recently new from Target..dont need anything newer or more $$$ this thing is just perfect.I think it only auto focuses with Nikon AF-S..you'll have to read up on 3rd party lenses for af.

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Total comments: 3