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Nikon D3100 Review

December 2010 | By Andy Westlake, Richard Butler
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Review based on a production Nikon D3100, Firmware A 1.00, B 1.00, L 1.002

Nikon has developed a habit of making very attractive entry-level DSLRs, which are rarely the best specified but cleverly designed so that they're easy and enjoyable to shoot with. The D3000 fitted this pattern perfectly, a gentle refresh of the D60 (which was itself a slightly updated D40X), it added ease-of-use features to make it a pleasant little camera to use, despite a specification that was beginning to look rather out-of-step with the rest of the market.

The D3000 sold well, despite its rather aged 10 megapixel sensor and lack of both live view and video. However, there's only so long that clever product design and feature integration can make up for a specification that looks dated. So with this in mind, Nikon has announced the D3100 - probably the biggest refresh of its entry-level offering since it really attacked the low end market with the original D40.

The D3100 is built around a 14.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, bringing not only live view but also Full HD video capture to Nikon's entry-level model for the first time. In fact, this made it the first Nikon DSLR to offer 1920x1080 movie recording. It can only record clips up to about ten minutes long (due to a 4Gb maximum file size limitation shared by all DSLRs), but this still counts as an impressive feature addition at this level.

The body gets a slight refresh from a basic design that essentially dates back four years to the D40, gaining an extra button to the left of the screen, a drive mode switch at the base of the mode dial, a sprung lever to engage live view and a direct record movie button. Revisions have also been made to the feature-teaching, hand-holding 'Guide Mode', and an additional autofocus mode that's designed to allow better focusing in live view and autofocus during video shooting.

All of this adds up to a DSLR that incorporates all of 2010's 'must have' features but looks like the product of evolution, rather than dramatic innovation. And 2010 has been a year during which the rest of the market hasn't devloped along such predictable lines, not least during the expansion of the large sensor, mirrorless interchangable lens camera crowd.

Camera makers always try to stress that mirrorless cameras are creating an entirely new market, rather than competing with entry-level DSLRs, but it's pretty clear that many people planning to upgrade from their point-and-shoot compact will consider both types of camera when making their decision. So, while the D3100 is unequivocally a DSLR (in a time where the line between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras is becoming increasingly hazy), its beginner-friendly guide mode puts it squarely in competition with several of the mirrorless models that are equally eager to welcome point-and-shoot upgraders.

Many of these cameras, such as Sony's NEX-3 and 5, Olympus' E-PL1 and Panasonic's GF2, offer similarly accessible interfaces in a smaller, competitively-priced packages. They also, by eshewing the conventional DSLR design, are able to offer a shooting experience that is much closer to that of a compact camera - which even the best DSLR live view implementation can't easily mimic at the moment.

So, while the D3100 offers an improved feature set when compared to a camera we really liked, it remains to be seen whether these additions will be enough to make it stand out as well as its predecessor did.

Nikon D3100 Key Features

  • 14.2 megapixel DX-format CMOS sensor
  • 3.0" LCD monitor (230,000 dots)
  • Image sensor cleaning (sensor shake)
  • 11 AF points (with 3D tracking)
  • IS0 100-3200 range (12,800 expanded)
  • HD movies (1080p, 720p or WVGA)

Nikon D3100 vs D3000: Key Differences

The D3100 substantially refreshes the D3000, taking a rather outdated-looking specification and turning it into one of the most competitive in its sector.

  • Higher resolution sensor (14.2MP vs. 10MP)
  • Ability to shoot Raw + Fine JPEG
  • Socket for connecting Nikon GP1 GPS unit
  • Optional wired remote via GPS socket
  • No wireless remote option
  • Live view
  • 1080p HD movies
  • HDMI output
  • Wider ISO range
  • Full-time AF mode (AF-F in live view)
  • Revised focus screen (different AF point illumination)

Compared to the Nikon D3000 and D5000: major feature and specification differences

As you can see from the table below the D3100's specification not only exceeds that of its predecessor, but also in some respects that of its more expensive bigger brother.

 

Nikon D3100

Nikon D3000

Nikon D5000
Sensor • 14.2 million effective pixels
• 23.1 x 15.4 mm CMOS (DX format)
• 10.2 million effective pixels
• 23.6 x 15.8 mm CCD (DX format)
• 12.3 million effective pixels
• 23.6 x 15.8 mm CMOS (DX format)
Image sizes • 4608 x 3072 (14.2 MP)
• 3456 x 2304
• 2304 x 1536
• 3872 x 2592 (10.0 MP)
• 2896 x 1944
• 1936 x 1296
• 4288 x 2848 (12 MP)
• 3216 x 2136
• 2144 x 1424
Movie mode Yes
1080p24
720p30/25/24
424p24
No Yes
720p24
Live View Yes No Yes
Sensor cleaning • Image Sensor Cleaning
• Airflow control system
• Image Dust Off reference data (optional Capture NX 2 software required)
• Image Sensor Cleaning
• Airflow control system
• Image Dust Off reference data (optional Capture NX 2 software required)
• Image Sensor Cleaning
• Airflow control system
• Image Dust Off reference data (optional Capture NX 2 software required)
Autofocus • 11 area TTL
• Nikon Multi-CAM1000
• 11 area TTL
• Nikon Multi-CAM1000
• 11 area TTL
• Nikon Multi-CAM1000
In-body focus motor • No • No • No
AF area modes • Single point
• Dynamic area
• Auto area
• 3D Tracking (11-points)
• Single point
• Dynamic area
• Auto area
• 3D Tracking (11-points)
• Single point
• Dynamic area
• Auto area
• 3D Tracking (11-points)
AF drive mode • AF-A
• AF-S
• AF-C
• MF
• AF-F (Live view only)
• AF-A
• AF-S
• AF-C
• MF
• AF-A
• AF-S
• AF-C
• MF
Live view AF modes • Face priority
• Wide area
• Normal area
• Subject tracking
N/A • Face priority
• Wide area
• Normal area
• Subject tracking
Sensitivity • ISO 100 - 3200
• To ISO 12800 with boost
• ISO 100 - 1600
• To ISO 3200 with boost
• ISO 200 - 3200
• ISO 100-6400 with boost
Continuous • 3 fps • 3 fps
• 25 / 7 frames (Fine JPEG / RAW)
• 4 fps
• 63 / 11 frames (Fine JPEG / RAW)
Viewfinder magnification • 0.8x • 0.8x • 0.78x
Viewfinder Frame coverage • Approx. 95% • Approx. 95% • Approx. 95%
LCD monitor • 3.0" TFT LCD
• 230,000 pixel TFT
• 3.0" TFT LCD
• 230,000 pixel TFT
• 2.7" TFT LCD
• 230,000 pixel TFT
• Articulated
Dimensions 124 x 96 x 74.5 mm (4.9 x 3.7 x 3.0 in) 126 x 94 x 64 mm (5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in) 127 x 104 x 80 mm (5.0 x 4.1 x 3.1 in)
Weight • No battery: 455 g (1.0 lb)
• With battery: 505 g (1.1 lb)
• No battery: 484 g (1.1 lb)
• With battery: 534 g (1.2 lb)
• No battery: 560 g (1.2 lb)
• With battery: 611 g (1.3 lb)
Image processing engine • Expeed 2
• 12 bit
• Expeed
• 12 bit
• Expeed
• 12 bit
Active D-lighting On/Off On/Off Auto, Extra high, High, Normal, Low, or Off
Automatic chromatic aberration correction Yes No Yes
In-camera retouching • D-Lighting
• Red-eye reduction
• Trimming
• Monochrome & filter effects
• Color balance
• Small picture
• Image overlay
• NEF (RAW) processing
• Quick retouch
• Straighten
• Distortion control
• Fisheye
• Color outline
• Perspective control
• Miniature effect
• Edit movie
• D-Lighting
• Red-eye reduction
• Trimming
• Monochrome & filter effects
• Color balance
• Small picture
• Image overlay
• NEF (RAW) processing
• Quick retouch
• Color outline
• Miniature effect
• Stop-motion movie
• D-Lighting
• Red-eye reduction
• Trimming
• Monochrome & filter effects
• Color balance
• Small picture
• Image overlay
• NEF (RAW) processing
• Quick retouch
• Straighten
• Distortion control
• Fisheye
• Color outline
• Perspective control
Bracketing No No Yes

Foreword / notes

If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read some of our Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / recommendation / ratings are based on the opinion of the author, we recommend that you read the entire review before making any decision. Images which can be viewed at a larger size have a small magnifying glass icon in the bottom right corner of them, click to display a larger image in a new window.

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Dpreview use calibrated monitors at the PC normal gamma 2.2, this means that on our monitors we can make out the difference between all of the grayscale blocks below. We recommend to make the most of this review you should be able to see the difference (at least) between X,Y and Z and ideally also A, B and C.

 
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Nikon D3100

Comments

whodat101
By whodat101 (3 weeks 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