August 19th 2010 1:59 am

Heads up! A newer version of this product is out!

81
8.0
final rating

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Criteria Comments Rating
  • Image quality Exceeds what you can expect out of this price range. Colours are very realistic, and pictures are very sharp... even with the kit lens it comes with! great!
  • Video quality 1080p at 24 fps video is very good. However, I would have liked some manual control over the video like its big brother D7000 and rival Canon T2i/550D offers. so-so
  • Battery life At 550 shots, you can shoot stills all day without charging. However, shooting movies takes a lot of juice, because liveview has to be on. good
  • Design and form factor Light weight and ergonomic. What more can you want? All the controls are located in reasonable spots. great!
  • Durability Sturdy body. It will survive a few drops, but I wouldn't test it. good
  • Speed (start-up time, lag) It's quick, but not the quickest. Takes under one second to boot and shoot. However, when you want to film video, you have to turn it on and switch to liveview. good
  • Ease of use Inclusion of 'Guide' mode really helps with learning the controls on this camera. Even without that, camera's menu system is very intuitive. Controls are easy. great!
Detailed review
Pros
- good image quality
- ease of use
- light weight, good ergonomics
- easy to shoot video

Cons
- no manual control during video
- AF in video is practically useless
- no mic input
- no support for remote liveview on computer

This is a very suitable camera for someone starting out on DSLR. All of the controls are laid out in a reasonable manner, and it is not daunting for someone like me - who is used to no frills Point-and-Shoot and cellphone cams - to learn to shoot in manual mode. You can shoot up to 12800 ISO, but you will get usable images only up 3200 ISO. Nikon includes a decent 18-55mm kit lens, and you can get sharp results with the lens. Of couse, it will do better with more expensive lenses. D3100 is compatible with all Nikkor lenses.

Controls are very intuitive. Thumb operated directional buttons as well as the liveview switch are easy to access. Guide mode will be helpful for those just starting out.

It's not the fastest camera, but it will do okay for the intended market. The burst speed of 3fps is not fast enough to catch the action, but will be okay for moving animals or children. The view finder is okay, but I find it to be a bit small. I with this camera had D5000's flipout LCD. That would make getting tricky angle shots easier, as well as make it easy to shoot video of yourself.

Overall, photo side of this camera is satisfactory.

The only disappointments are on the video side. Two big flaws, to be specific: Lack of manual control and jumpy autofocus.

Nowadays, shooting video on DSLR is a very attractive option, with large sensors and shallow depth-of-field providing very eye-pleasing results that are comparable to video cameras that cost ten times what DSLRs cost. Canon T2i/550D is a very popular choice among bloggers, the camera offers manual controls (aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc.) over the video. However, Nikon D3100 only offers control over aperture. Shutter speed is chosen automatically, and so is ISO. There is an option to lock ISO, so that it doesn't change drastically during the duration of filming, but you have to let the camera set it first. Lack of manual control in D3100's movie mode is a glaring omission, and a maddening one considering its bigger brother, D7000, has all of that.

Another disappointment is the autofocus during video. D3100's autofocus system is decent when shooting stills, with its 11 point AF system finding your subjects swiftly. However, during video it constantly hunts and does nothing but makes the video blurry. Worst of all is that you can hear the autofocus motor through the internal mic, and there is no option to connect an external mic so you cannot escape that horrible noise. You're better of manually focusing, which is an option. This is just an inherent flaw in all video capable DSLRs using contrast AF. The only cameras of this class that have decent auto focus are Sony's Alpha A55 and A33. However, those are SLTs with translucent mirrors, and they suffer from overheating and short battery life. Nikon should have nicked AF during video and included manual control and/or mic input.

Aside from video, another issue is that Nikon has yet to add D3100 support for Camera Control Pro 2. CCP2 is a program that allows you to do tethered shooting with you computer while seeing the liveview on your computer screen. Canon includes a similar program with all of their DSLRs, including the T2i. I don't see why Nikon didn't do so with the D3100.

Overall, Nikon D3100 is a great entry DSLR with a lot of features that were previously unavailable for the camera of its class. The issues have been dealt with on the D7000, so I remain hopeful that Nikon will bring that to the D3100 with a firmware update.

As you can see in this review, I do not have anything to complain about the photo side of this camera. However, If you are looking to shoot short films with a DSLR, look to Nikon D7000, Canon T2i, or more expensive models.

I will still rate this camera at 4.0, because most people buy DSLRs for photo, not video.
review history
2011-01-08
Updated detailed review
Updated detailed review
Updated detailed review