Operation and Controls (cont.)

The D3100 uses the main LCD monitor for camera information display and the changing of most shooting parameters. The status screen is displayed as soon as you turn the camera on (turning off again if you press the info button or after a user-definable period of inactivity). If the screen has switched itself off, it can be woken up from 'sleep' by pressing any button or with a light tap of the shutter release.

Rather frustratingly though, the D3100 (like its predecessor the D3000) lacks the neat automatic LCD switch-off feature of its precursor, the D60, which detected that your eye was being held to the viewfinder.

Status Screens

Via the Setup menu you can select the information display format you prefer - Graphic or Classic (with a choice of three color schemes for each). The information shown on these displays provides an overview of pretty much all camera settings, and direct access to any of the parameters shown here is provided via the 'i' button on the camera's rear.

Graphic display Classic display

Quick Menus

In both Graphic and Classic screens, pressing the 'i' button makes the various shooting parameters editable (although if you're in Graphic view the display will jump to Classic in the process). The D3100 has a few more direct access points than the D3000, but these info screens remain the main interface for adjusting some key shooting parameters such as focus mode and white balance.

The graphic view aims to inform the novice photographer, as well as simply showing the camera's status. To this end, an aperture blade graphic illustrates the change as you alter the aperture. The info screen is the easiest way to get to and change certain key shooting parameters. Settings are navigated using the 4-way rocker switch to the right of the LCD, and set with the 'ok' button.

Guide Mode

Introduced in the D3000, and now adapted for the D3100 is a 'Guide' mode designed to simplify the operation of the camera for the benefit of those new to DSLRs, without taking all of the control away from them. When the camera is used in 'Easy Operation' mode, the photographer chooses settings based on the requirements of the situation as they understand it - such as 'distant subjects', or 'sleeping faces'. At this point they are directed towards one of a the D3100's generic 'vari-program' exposure presets. The 'Advanced' setting basically just nudges the photographer towards either aperture or shutter priority mode, although both are skinned with a simplified interface.

The Guide mode splash page appears when you first select the mode or when you press the Menu button from within the mode. It lets you choose to shoot images, view the ones you've shot or change camera settings. From the splash page you can select easy or advanced operation. In 'Easy operation' mode you are essentially just guided towards the D3100's various pre-defined scene modes.
In 'Advanced' operation the D3100 basically presents a different graphic 'skin' to its aperture and shutter priority modes. New in the D3100 (but rather difficult to see clearly here) is small image which simulates the effect of the different settings. Within the advanced option you are presented with one final choice: 'More settings' allows control over other shooting parameters such as flash, AF and continuous shooting modes.

Other Shooting Screens

The D3100 inherits the D90's AF system, including 3D AF tracking, which uses color and luminance information to automatically track subjects across its 11-point AF array. New in live view is face detection and 'subject tracking AF' which does the same thing using contrast-detection. This can track across the entire area of the frame and, when combined with the new AF-F mode, will continuously attempt to refocus the lens to shorten the focus time.
The D3100 features the joint highest resolution movie shooting of any current Nikon DSLR, with sound recorded using a built-in monaural microphone. Recordings are limited to 10 minutes.
First introduced in the D60, the D3100 features in-camera RAW processing. Using this interface, NEF files can be adjusted and converted to JPEGs, which are then saved alongside the originals on the memory card. Two of the D3100's buttons can be customized - the 'Fn' button to the lower left of the flash housing and the AE-L/AF-L button. The latter can be assigned to a limited range of related options, including 'AF-ON'.

Live View/Movie Displays

Unlike its predecessor the D3000, the D3100 offers a Live View mode, which (on paper at least) matches and in some respects surpasses Nikon's higher-end models for functionality. New to the D3100 is 'AF-F' full-time AF mode in live view, which will attempt to track a moving subject. When shooting under certain artificial light sources, there's even the option to change the sampling rate of the live view image, to reduce screen flickering.

In the PAS shooting modes, the live view image will darken or brighten to reflect any exposure compensation you set, although sadly there's no live histogram to help judge the optimum exposure. In manual exposure mode, though, the display makes no attempt to reflect the currently-set exposure level at all, and there's no on-screen exposure level meter either - a serious omission in our opinion.

This image shows the AF tracking target (in green, on the left) which is designed to follow a designated subject across the frame, based on its color and contrast. There's no means of previewing movie framing though. The D3100's live view image can be magnified in five steps, to greater than 100% (equivalent). Unfortunately though this appears just to be upscaling of a low-res sensor output, so isn't very useful for critical manual focus.
In movie mode, the live view screen is automatically cropped for accurate framing, and a countdown timer shows how many more minutes of footage can be recorded until the memory card is full. Flicker reduction is designed to avoid the 'rolling' effect that certain artificial light sources can have on a live view image. Usually, swapping to the other of these two options is enough to reduce the effect if you see it.

Record review & play displays

There are five display modes available in image playback, which collectively offer a comprehensive amount of information. By default, only the plain screen and luminance histogram - the first two screens shown in this selection - are made available, but shooting data, separate RGB histograms and a highlight clipping display screen can be activated individually in the playback menu.

1. Large image with key shooting information 2. Small image with histogram and additional shooting information
3: Large image with shooting data overlaid 4: Large image with flashing highlight warning
5: Small image with RGB histogram The Nikon D3000 has eight levels of review magnification, (although in common with most digital cameras, at the most extreme magnification the image is visibly pixilated). Zooming is performed using the two zoom buttons to the left of the LCD screen.

Play thumbnail index

The D3100 offers four thumbnail display screens, the final one, shown here at bottom right, being a calendar view that groups images according to the date on which they were taken. Caution is called for here though, because pressing the delete button in this mode deletes all of the images taken on whichever day is highlighted. Movie files are distinguished from stills by a film sprocket-style border.

Help Screens

As a camera aimed squarely at DSLR novices coming from compacts or even camera phones, the D3100 has to be as user-friendly as possible, without compromising on functionality. One of the ways that Nikon has approached this goal in the D3100 is by including a comprehensive database of help screens. when a menu option or setting is highlighted on the LCD screen, the ? button to the left of the LCD screen brings up a page of text, explaining the purpose of the particular setting.