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Box Photo

The D3100 comes kitted with Nikon's standard 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR AF-S lens, which provides a 3x optical zoom range. For those stepping up from a point-and-shoot experience it will offer a wider angle of view than you typically get from a compact camera, though it won't bring subjects as close. There are generally plenty of combination zoom lens kits that offer longer zoom lenses at a discount with the D3100, as most DSLR makers provide regular rebates on entry-level lenses.

The D3100 uses a 14.2-megapixel CMOS image sensor, which is a DX-format sensor (APS-C in more standard terms) from Nikon. This gives it a crop factor of around 1.5x when using 35mm format lenses. The sensor performed well in our color and noise tests, and provides enough resolution to make prints of 8''x10'' and larger with little worry. The sensor is somewhat exposed when swapping lenses, so dust and moisture can be an issue. For controlling dust, the D3100 includes an air flow control system, an image sensor cleaning system (cleans at startup and shutdown), as well as the ability to digitally map and eliminate dust from images using a reference photo.

The D3100 uses a fixed eye-level pentamirror, which features a 0.80x magnification, with approximately 95% coverage vertically and horizontally. The viewfinder on the D3100 uses a "type B BriteView Clear Matte Mark VII" focusing screen, that shows all 11 focus points, with the selected focus point lighting up red. The viewfinder shows a variety of information just below the reflected image, with shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, flash status, memory status, exposure/focus lock, and a focus indicator light all visible when looking through the viewfinder.

The rear 3-inch display on the D3100 functions mostly as an informational readout when shooting, giving the user a breakdown of all current shooting information, the status of the available memory, the currently selected focus point, and (when not in the classic mode) a visual graphic showing how large or small the current aperture is. The rear display can also be used in guide mode, which offers a simplified user interface, or in live view, which uses the rear screen as an active monitor. The screen is just 230,000 dots of resolution, so precise focus judgements are difficult, but it's functional when necessary.

The D3100 includes a built-in flash that pops up from above the camera's hot shoe. The flash is more powerful than you would find on a point-and-shoot camera, with an effective range of 39 feet (12 meters) at ISO 100 under typical shooting conditions. The flash can fire in a number of modes, including: automatic (fires when needed), red-eye reduction, red-eye slow sync, and rear sync. The flash will only fire in program auto, shutter/aperture priority, or manual when the user pressed the

Flash Photo

The flash emitter pops up from the top of the body via a mechanical release.

The D3100 includes USB, A/V, GPS and mini-HDMI ports behind a rubber flap on the left side of the camera body. The D3100 does not include a mini-USB cable, so you'll have to either buy one separately or use one you may have laying around, though this cable is common enough most people should have one or two by now. The D3100 does include two ferrite cores for weeding out possible interference. So basically Nikon thinks your cable isn't of a high enough quality on its own to be used without potentially causing interference, but they don't care enough to give you a better one.

The EN-EL14 battery from Nikon powers the entry-level D3100, to the tune of 550 shots by CIPA standards. We found that to be roughly accurate for our normal usage, though we don't employ the built-in flash as much as the CIPA standard calls for (50% of the time). The battery charges through an included external charger that plugs into a standard wall outlet with a flip-out plug.

Battery Photo

The Nikon D3100 makes use of SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, with no listed maximum that we could find. The cards slot into a dedicated compartment on the right side of the camera that slides open with a push of the thumb. A green memory indicator light below the rear control pad lights up whenever the memory card is being accessed, so when this light is on do not power off the camera or remove the card.

Memory Photo

The K2000 accepts inexpensive, easy to find SD cards.

Media Photo

The standard 18-55mm kit lens on the D3100 produced images with sharpness results that were acceptable through the majority of the frame at most apertures. We found the lens was never exceptionally sharp at any point, but it offered its best results at an aperture of between f/8 and f/10. At the minimum aperture (ranging from f/22-36 through the zoom range) sharpness didn't fall off as dramatically as with some other cameras in this comparison group. At its worst, the lens resolved detail at around 600 lw/ph, while at its best it achieved around 1500 lw/ph, never really having to rely on digital sharpness enhancement. More on how we test sharpness.

Nikon's "vibration reduction" technology is lens-based, so it won't be available with every lens you attach to the camera. The 18-55mm kit lens does come with this VR technology, and we found it was able to handle low shake (such as you would get when shooting with the camera while handheld) very well, improving image sharpness throughout our tests. The lens did not improve sharpness in the majority of our high shake tests, but it did well overall. It had a very slight falloff compared to the D3000, but for all practical purposes the camera's performed about the same.

The Nikon D3100 did not match the Nikon D5100—our camera of the year for 2011—for color accuracy, but it came very close. The D3100 shows a color error of just 2.48 in our testing, which was the best in our comparison group of entry-level interchangeable lens cameras. The camera also put forward near-perfect saturation levels at 101% of the ideal, controlling common trouble areas like yellow and magenta effectively. More on how we test color.

The most accurate color mode on the D3100 was the neutral setting, which kept saturation to normal levels. The portrait mode was a close second, with very accurate skin tones but a slightly more saturated (105% of the ideal) look that kept flesh tones looking more lively. The standard color mode emphasized some higher saturation, but lost a little accuracy as a result. The landscape and vivid modes showed a color error of 3.8 and 4.45, respectively, though they're designed to oversaturate key colors to make photos more attractive, so this isn't really a negative result.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

The Nikon D3100 beat out the entire comparison group for color accuracy, including its forebear, the D3000. The Canon T3 was a close second in this group, but it couldn't keep up with the solid results of the D3100. The next best in this group was the Pentax K-r, which is another entry-level model. The Sony NEX-5, Sony's premier mirrorless camera from 2010, was slightly behind the pack here, though it favored more vivid images in general.

Nikon gives users control over color tone through its "picture control" feature, with modes for standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome, portrait, and landscape shooting. All of the modes can be seen together on a grid that shows the relative differences in contrast and saturation. Each mode can also be individually adjusted to the user's preference, with options for altering sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation, and hue, each on a different scale. If the user likes, they can specify an intensity level for any of these, or set the camera to automatically adjust the intensity based on the scene (applicable to sharpening, contrast, and saturation only).

Overall, the Nikon D3100 performed about as expected in white balance accuracy for an entry-level camera, though it fell behind the older NIkon D3000 slightly. We found that its main weakness was in the camera's inability to take an accurate custom white balance reading under most lighting conditions when using a white card.

Automatic White Balance ()

The automatic white balance was best in daylight, though we found that it struggled when transitioning between different lighting conditions, specifically from indoor incandescent lightbulbs to outdoor daytime light. The result was drastically cool images that had a strong blue color cast. When the white balance was given time to properly adjust, it produced quite accurate results.

Custom White Balance ()

The custom white balance results were pretty poor for a digital SLR, with the D3100 struggling to accurately correct for color temperature under tungsten and compact white fluorescent lighting, especially on neutral colors like gray. We found it did better in daylight conditions, but the automatic white balance will suffice for mixed lighting conditions. If you find yourself in a scene lit by only one type of light, the white balance presets may offer a better solution than either.

The D3100 offered white balance performance similar to the Pentax K-r, which we tested this year. Both cameras struggled to accurately diagnose color temperature in both automatic and custom white balance, though the D3100 was better in automatic than the Pentax. The Sony NEX-5 and Canon T3 outperformed all our comparison group cameras for automatic white balance, but the older Nikon D3000 offered the best custom white balance performance.

White balance on the D3100 can be set in the quick informational menu, but this only allows access to automatic, the white balance presets, and the preset manual setting. In order to actually take a manual white balance reading, you must go into the full manual, scroll to the bottom of the white balance menu, and press the right directional key. It's just a little bit of extra legwork to do something that could've been done in the quick menu just as easily. If you know the lighting type and don't want to bother with custom, you can choose from a few preset option as well, including: incandescent, fluorescent, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, and shade. There is no direct kelvin entry, however.

In long exposure testing the D3100 was consistent, though its color accuracy fell somewhat to a more pedestrian level. This still put it ahead of the majority of the competition, with only the Canon T3 offering better results in this test. The D3100 allows for exposures as long as 30 seconds (as well as a bulb mode in manual) and we tested the camera's capabilities from one second up to the maximum. More on how we test long exposure.

We found that the D3100's color error jumped to around 3.4 through our long exposure testing, with the worst results actually coming at the beginning of the test when exposures were just one second long. Beyond one second, color error and saturation were reined into more controlled levels, however. With noise reduction activated, the D3100 takes a "dark frame" exposure of equivalent length whenever a shutter speed longer than one second is taken. This is an attempt to map out noise that might be caused by the sensor generating heat, though it's seldom effective in any camera. We found it had no effect on the D3100's test results, with noise never rising above 0.78% and never falling below 0.67%, regardless of whether the feature was activated or not.

As stated above, the Canon T3 is the only camera that beat out the Nikon D3100 in this test, though the Pentax K-r put up a very similar result. The D3100 also showed an improvement overall compared to the D3000, while the Sony NEX-5 brought up the rear in this particular comparison group.

The D3100 just allows users two simple options when it comes to noise reduction: on or off. The camera offers an ISO range that extends from 100-3200, with "HI 1" and "HI 2" options equivalent to ISO 6400 and 12800 and shot at full resolution. We found that, with the feature activated, the camera begins applying noise reduction as soon as ISO 200, though it does not aggressively control for noise until around ISO 800 and greater.

We found that the camera offered very little image noise at ISO 100, with just under 0.5% detectable in our test. This ramped up to a little under 1% at ISO 800, though from then on we advise turning on noise reduction. Without NR, noise spiked to 1.29% and 1.58% at ISO 1600 and 3200, respectively. With NR turned on, the camera maintained noise at around 0.9% at both levels. At ISO 6400 and 12800, the shots are only really usable with noise reduction activated, keeping it to 2% and below at those levels. More on how we test noise.

The D3100 allows for an ISO range of 100-3200, with "Hi 1" and "Hi 2" settings that are the equivalent to ISO 6400 and 12800. The ISO speed can be set automatically by the camera, or (at least in most of the camera's modes) manually by the user. To set the ISO speed the user can go to the quick menu by pressing the "i" key and keying over to the ISO setting. This will let you set a definitive ISO setting, but doesn't offer the option to set it to auto, which is a bit frustrating. In the full menu, the D3100 gives you the option to activate automatic ISO, however, with the ability to cap it at any sensitivity above 100 or set a minimum shutter speed, which is very helpful if you're shooting hand held in low light situations.

The D3100 gets more than 7.5 stops of clean dynamic range that is not affected by noise at ISO 100, with excellent range through ISO 400. At ISO 800 performance falls off by more than a full stop, however, and falls to just under two stops at the camera's maximum ISO of 12800. More on how we test dynamic range.

The Nikon D3100 puts up around a half stop greater range at ISO 100 through 400 than the D3000, which is a big positive given the fact that it offers greater image resolution as well. The D3100's hard falloff at ISO 800 and above brings its performance back in line with the D3000, however. We found the Sony NEX-5 offered the greatest range here, though its aggressive noise reduction settings (it can't be completely deactivated) lend it a little bonus in this test. The Pentax K-r and the Canon T3 also beat out the Nikon D3100, though by a much thinner margin.

The D3100 just allows users two simple options when it comes to noise reduction: on or off. The camera offers an ISO range that extends from 100-3200, with "HI 1" and "HI 2" options equivalent to ISO 6400 and 12800 and shot at full resolution. We found that, with the feature activated, the camera begins applying noise reduction as soon as ISO 200, though it does not aggressively control for noise until around ISO 800 and greater.

We found that the camera offered very little image noise at ISO 100, with just under 0.5% detectable in our test. This ramped up to a little under 1% at ISO 800, though from then on we advise turning on noise reduction. Without NR, noise spiked to 1.29% and 1.58% at ISO 1600 and 3200, respectively. With NR turned on, the camera maintained noise at around 0.9% at both levels. At ISO 6400 and 12800, the shots are only really usable with noise reduction activated, keeping it to 2% and below at those levels. More on how we test noise.

The D3100 allows for an ISO range of 100-3200, with "Hi 1" and "Hi 2" settings that are the equivalent to ISO 6400 and 12800. The ISO speed can be set automatically by the camera, or (at least in most of the camera's modes) manually by the user. To set the ISO speed the user can go to the quick menu by pressing the "i" key and keying over to the ISO setting. This will let you set a definitive ISO setting, but doesn't offer the option to set it to auto, which is a bit frustrating. In the full menu, the D3100 gives you the option to activate automatic ISO, however, with the ability to cap it at any sensitivity above 100 or set a minimum shutter speed, which is very helpful if you're shooting hand held in low light situations.

The Nikon D3100 has an 11-point phase detection autofocus sensor located in the camera that functions whenever shooting outside of live view mode. When the camera's mirror is out of the way, such as when recording video or in live view, the camera utilizes its contrast-based detection AF system, which is less accurate and slower. Nikon states that focus is sensitive within -1 to 19 EV, though we found it difficult to get the camera to necessarily attempt to autofocus in limited lighting conditions. It would eventually, sometimes it just took a few seconds to initiate.

In long exposure testing the D3100 was consistent, though its color accuracy fell somewhat to a more pedestrian level. This still put it ahead of the majority of the competition, with only the Canon T3 offering better results in this test. The D3100 allows for exposures as long as 30 seconds (as well as a bulb mode in manual) and we tested the camera's capabilities from one second up to the maximum. More on how we test long exposure.

We found that the D3100's color error jumped to around 3.4 through our long exposure testing, with the worst results actually coming at the beginning of the test when exposures were just one second long. Beyond one second, color error and saturation were reined into more controlled levels, however. With noise reduction activated, the D3100 takes a "dark frame" exposure of equivalent length whenever a shutter speed longer than one second is taken. This is an attempt to map out noise that might be caused by the sensor generating heat, though it's seldom effective in any camera. We found it had no effect on the D3100's test results, with noise never rising above 0.78% and never falling below 0.67%, regardless of whether the feature was activated or not.

As stated above, the Canon T3 is the only camera that beat out the Nikon D3100 in this test, though the Pentax K-r put up a very similar result. The D3100 also showed an improvement overall compared to the D3000, while the Sony NEX-5 brought up the rear in this particular comparison group.

The Nikon D3100 wasn't the most sensitive camera in low light that we've ever seen, but it posted a respectable result. The camera needed just 16 lux of light to hit 50 IRE on a waveform monitor, a standard measurement that we use to determine a reasonably visible image recorded by the camera.

Chromatic aberration was not a problem with the 18-55mm kit lens on the D3100, as it was controlled very well through the zoom and aperture range. There is a slight lateral aberration at the maximum aperture range of f/3.5-5.6, resulting in a blue/red fringing on vertical lines that gets worse near the edges of the frame. Compared to other cameras, this is very minimal, however.

As with most 18-55mm kit lenses, the wide angle produced the greatest amount of distortion, with a barrel distortion greater than 3% detectable by our software. That leveled out very quickly with practically no distortion at the midpoint of 35mm and only a slight pincushion distortion (0.4% by our tests) when zoomed in fully.

The D3100's 1080/24p video mode presented sharp images that rendered motion well with good smoothness and little in the way of trailing. The main issue is the use of a more "filmic" 24p frame rate, that renders motion in blurs during playback. When pausing, this ghosting and trailing is practically nonexistent, but anytime two objects of contrasting brightness move near each other (such as our motion test's monochrome pinwheel), the result is a blurred mess. Overall, the video quality is comparable to other DSLRs, though not as good as we've seen from Canon and the Nikon D5100. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

The Nikon D3100 is the first crack by Nikon in placing full HD video in their entry-level DSLR. The D3100s 1080/24p video doesn't render motion as well, but it offered sharper images with fewer frequency issues than we saw on the Canon T3 with its 720/30p frame rate. The Pentax K-r produced decent video, but it couldn't match the D3100 for sharpness in the motion test, where aliasing was only a problem at the center of the monochrome pinwheel. We found the D3100 and the NEX-5 to be closer in their rendering of sharpness, with the NEX-5 producing better motion results.

The Nikon D3100's sharpness results were dragged down by some significant aliasing issues that specifically stuck between 600 and 800 lw/ph patterns. This resulted in some purple and green blobs showing up on the video, with image detail beyond that somewhat sharp (straight lines became angled slightly, but lines didn't bleed into one another much), though we could not give the camera credit for this because of the aliasing issues. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

The Nikon D3100 wasn't the most sensitive camera in low light that we've ever seen, but it posted a respectable result. The camera needed just 16 lux of light to hit 50 IRE on a waveform monitor, a standard measurement that we use to determine a reasonably visible image recorded by the camera.

Like the rest of the body, the buttons on the D3100 are plastic, though they're well designed and offer good tactile response. Every single button on the body offers some kind of response, with most having an audible click when depressed. The D3100 has a few twists, such as a drive mode lever around the mode dial, and a live view lever on the rear of the camera. Overall, it's a pretty simple design that, along with the Canon T3 and T3i, is among the easier DSLRs to master, making it a good first DSLR for those stepping up from a more typical point-and-shoot.

In the D3100's main menu there is a retouch menu that allows for the application of various digital filters, as well as typical options covered in our playback's in-camera editing section such as rotating, resizing, and cropping images.

Both the shooting and setup menus are designed to be as beginner-friendly as possible. The menu options are written in large, clear, simple type, but the layout is the most telling factor. The first option in these two menus is a very simple "reset" option, allowing beginners to root around in the menu without fear of permanently changing something they can't fix. Short of setting the camera's menu to display in Japanese, it's hard to change a setting that you can't quickly return to default with this setup.

Our major issue with the menu system is a Nikon staple: long lists of menu options rather than a horizontal tabbed experience. The main menu categories are all organized vertically on the left side of the menu. This means that when you enter the shooting menu only the first seven options are available out of the total 15. For beginners, the result is having to scroll down through all seven options before seeing the next page (or hitting up immediately, but that still leaves an option off screen). We greatly prefer the horizontal tabs of

The Nikon D3100 comes with a quick start guide, a full user's manual, as well as a CD-ROM with the user's manual in 25 different languages, as well. The manual is fairly straightforward, and it's a bit lighter than most DSLR manuals at just 69 pages. The guide is a step-by-step process for beginning to shoot with a DSLR. There are no advanced concepts discussed and terminology is kept to an absolutely bare minimum. The user's manual will teach you how to get photos out of your cameras using the scene and fully automatic modes, so it won't overwhelm entry-level shooters.

If you've shot with any of the DX-series Nikon DSLRs, especially a camera like the D40 or D3000, then the D3100 will instantly feel familiar. For those without experience shooting previous Nikon models, the camera body is mostly aluminum and plastic, so it's very lightweight for a DSLR. It's certainly not a pocketable camera, but it's small enough with compact lenses attached that you won't announce to the entire world that you have a very expensive camera. It also has a comfortable protruding grip that is covered in a rubber material that will glue to the hand even in inclement weather conditions, though it doesn't have a plush give like higher end DSLRs.

Handling Photo 1

The D3100's design has been honed over the last few Nikon models, to the point that most of the camera's main shooting functions are placed within reach of your right hand, allowing for quick adjustments of just about every major feature once you've mastered the camera's button placement. The information readout in the viewfinder also allows you to focus on composition rather than fiddling around with the camera's menu while shooting. Though at its best the single control dial setup doesn't offer the kind of immediate control of a higher end camera, the single dial setup and simplified control scheme is far less intimidating to the entry-level users Nikon is trying to recruit to DSLR ownership.

Handling Photo 2
Handling Photo 3

Like the rest of the body, the buttons on the D3100 are plastic, though they're well designed and offer good tactile response. Every single button on the body offers some kind of response, with most having an audible click when depressed. The D3100 has a few twists, such as a drive mode lever around the mode dial, and a live view lever on the rear of the camera. Overall, it's a pretty simple design that, along with the Canon T3 and T3i, is among the easier DSLRs to master, making it a good first DSLR for those stepping up from a more typical point-and-shoot.

Buttons Photo 1

One qualm we have with the design is the rear four way control pad, which offers directional control for the menu, but is unlabeled. As the D3100 doesn't provide common shortcut keys for functions such as ISO speed and white balance, this seems like an optimal place for such things. In the end, it does simplify the entire control scheme, so novices just have to remember to hit the "i" key on the left side of the LCD to access shooting settings instead of what "ISO" and "WB" stand for.

Buttons Photo 2

The rear 3-inch display on the D3100 functions mostly as an informational readout when shooting, giving the user a breakdown of all current shooting information, the status of the available memory, the currently selected focus point, and (when not in the classic mode) a visual graphic showing how large or small the current aperture is. The rear display can also be used in guide mode, which offers a simplified user interface, or in live view, which uses the rear screen as an active monitor. The screen is just 230,000 dots of resolution, so precise focus judgements are difficult, but it's functional when necessary.

The D3100 uses a fixed eye-level pentamirror, which features a 0.80x magnification, with approximately 95% coverage vertically and horizontally. The viewfinder on the D3100 uses a "type B BriteView Clear Matte Mark VII" focusing screen, that shows all 11 focus points, with the selected focus point lighting up red. The viewfinder shows a variety of information just below the reflected image, with shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, flash status, memory status, exposure/focus lock, and a focus indicator light all visible when looking through the viewfinder.

Nikon's "vibration reduction" technology is lens-based, so it won't be available with every lens you attach to the camera. The 18-55mm kit lens does come with this VR technology, and we found it was able to handle low shake (such as you would get when shooting with the camera while handheld) very well, improving image sharpness throughout our tests. The lens did not improve sharpness in the majority of our high shake tests, but it did well overall. It had a very slight falloff compared to the D3000, but for all practical purposes the camera's performed about the same.

The Nikon D3100 features a typical, physical mode dial on top of the camera, with options for fully automatic shooting with and without the flash, several scene modes, manual, program auto, and aperture/shutter priority modes. The D3100 also comes with a helpful "guide" mode on the dial which shoots in fully automatic with a greatly simplified display and menu system

The Nikon D3100 has an 11-point phase detection autofocus sensor located in the camera that functions whenever shooting outside of live view mode. When the camera's mirror is out of the way, such as when recording video or in live view, the camera utilizes its contrast-based detection AF system, which is less accurate and slower. Nikon states that focus is sensitive within -1 to 19 EV, though we found it difficult to get the camera to necessarily attempt to autofocus in limited lighting conditions. It would eventually, sometimes it just took a few seconds to initiate.

The D3100 does not have any manual focus assist options built into the camera, though most Nikon lenses will allow you to quickly override the autofocus either by switching the lens to the manual focus or M/A setting. The 18-55mm kit lens does not allow for instant manual focus override, but offers a manual focus switch on the side, after which its front lens element can be twisted to achieve focus.

The D3100 offers JPEG, RAW, and RAW+JPEG capture in three sizes, with the largest being the camera's maximum 4,608x3,072 resolution. There's no other aspect ratio available on the D3100, though users can select the quality of compression to be applied to their JPEGs, with options for fine, normal, and basic compression.

The Nikon D3100 is faster than your typical point and shoot camera (and faster than its previous version, the D3000), though it's on the slow side for a current DSLR. Speed and timer options on the D3100 are now controlled with a dedicated switch around the camera's mode dial, placing it always within reach.

The D3100 offers stops for single shooting, continuous shooting, self-timer, and "quiet" shooting on its drive mode lever. The camera can fire in any of these drive modes in any shooting mode. Obviously certain drive modes are more ideal depending on the situation (such as continuous shooting in sports mode), so you'll want to keep an eye on which drive mode you're in if you suddenly switch exposure settings.

In our test under typical conditions indoors the D3100 was able to fire shots at around 2.8 frames per second, which is right around where Nikon rates the camera. We found the camera to be generally responsive, though for getting a lot of shots of fast action, it may take multiple attempts to get the perfect shot. We found the camera was able to take more than 30 shots at this speed, however, before the recording process began to slow the camera down.

The D3100 offers a self-timer delay of two or ten seconds, which can be selected in the camera's setup menu. The self-timer is activated by rotating the drive mode lever to the position labeled with a stopwatch. The timer can also be activated by remote, though it is interrupted by manually raising the flash.

The Nikon D3100 has an 11-point phase detection autofocus sensor located in the camera that functions whenever shooting outside of live view mode. When the camera's mirror is out of the way, such as when recording video or in live view, the camera utilizes its contrast-based detection AF system, which is less accurate and slower. Nikon states that focus is sensitive within -1 to 19 EV, though we found it difficult to get the camera to necessarily attempt to autofocus in limited lighting conditions. It would eventually, sometimes it just took a few seconds to initiate.

The D3100 does not have any manual focus assist options built into the camera, though most Nikon lenses will allow you to quickly override the autofocus either by switching the lens to the manual focus or M/A setting. The 18-55mm kit lens does not allow for instant manual focus override, but offers a manual focus switch on the side, after which its front lens element can be twisted to achieve focus.

In the D3100's main menu there is a retouch menu that allows for the application of various digital filters, as well as typical options covered in our playback's in-camera editing section such as rotating, resizing, and cropping images.

Videos shot on the D3100 are encoded with H.264/MPEG-4 AVC compression, with Linear PCM audio recording in a .MOV container. The videos are compressed at around 22.12 Mbps, with the maximum clip length being 4GB in size or 10 minutes long total, whichever is shorter. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

The D3100 offers some manual control in video, though there are some restrictions and shutter speed/ISO sensitivity are always adjusted automatically by the camera. Aperture can be set prior to beginning a recording, however. If you wish to adjust brightness during video recording, exposure compensation is available in 1/3-stop increments for +/- 3 stops. This will create an audible clicking during video recording, as you have to rotate the dial and internal microphone picks this up. Manual focus, wide-area, face-priority, normal-area, and subject-tracking autofocus are available for the user to choose, as well.

Auto Controls

When shooting video, all the camera's scene modes are available and will take effect on the final video. This includes the picture control settings, which alter color, hue, sharpness, contrast, saturation, and brightness. The digital filter effects available in the retouch menu cannot be applied to any video, however. All the manual video controls are available in the automatic modes, except for aperture control, which can only be applied in aperture priority and manual modes.

Zoom

The D3100's 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens offers a 3x optical zoom range, which has to be physically rotated using the camera's zoom ring. This allows the user to make zoom and focus adjustments during video recording manually at any time, as there's no motor to rely on (except for autofocus).

Focus

In video the D3100 allows for wide-area, face-priority, normal-area, and subject-tracking autofocus. Face-priority will pick up multiple faces, but in video mode the total number selectable is fewer than when recording stills in live view. Wide-area AF lets the user select multiple focus points, but it's for use in wide open scenes, such as landscape recording. The normal-area AF is the same as the wide-area, but only focuses on a selected spot in the frame. Subject-tracking AF picks a point of contrast on a moving subject and follows it through the frame with limited success.

Exposure Controls

Aperture can be controlled for video recording, but it must be set prior to beginning video capture and only in aperture-priority and manual mode. Shutter speed and ISO sensitivity will adjust during video recording, but they are entirely out of the user's hands and set automatically by the camera. Adjusting the exposure compensation mostly affects the shutter speed of the video, however, so exposure compensation can give the user indirect control over the shutter.

Other Controls

The main menu of the D3100 includes options for frame rate and resolution as well as audio options. Also, the pressing the shutter button halfway down initiates autofocus. Holding the button down will lock focus, while holding the AE-L/AF-L button will also lock exposure.

Audio is picked up by the D3100's built-in monaural microphone, but it picks up just about everything you do on the camera. Adjusting any dials, clicking any buttons, or initiating autofocus of any kind results in a series of whirrs and clicks that drown out ambient noise on the video.

Mic Photo

The Nikon D3100 is a solid entry-level DSLR that is aimed squarely at those looking for an easy-to-use camera that offers affordable performance and interchangeable lenses. It's a lightweight camera that handles well, offers a great deal of control, and produces some very nice images without blinding the user with a glut of terminology and byzantine menu options.

As the replacement to the D3000—the "friendliest" DSLR ever, according to Nikon's marketing—the D3100 brings a host of new tricks to the table. In addition to some slight alterations and improvements in handling, the D3100 can also shoot full HD 1080/24p video. Those stepping up from a point-and-shoot camera will also like the live view functionality, which shows the image being shot on the rear LCD instead of only through the optical viewfinder.

Add to that Nikon's existing "guide" mode to assist beginners and you do have a simplified DSLR that eases novices into the world of DSLR photography. The camera's smaller than some of Nikon's higher level models, but it's certainly not compact by most people's standards. With the advent of compact mirrorless system cameras this year, users will have some choices to make when they're prepared to plunk their money down on a camera.

If they opt for the Nikon D3100 they'll get a worthy update to the D3000, a camera that provides a traditional DSLR experience, handles well, shoots and focuses quickly, can make some use of hundreds of wonderful Nikon lenses, and offers beginner-friendly shooting that they can grow and learn with.
We were impressed with the Nikon D3100's still image performance, as it put up solid color scores, improved dynamic range significantly over the D3000, upped its ISO sensitivity all the way to 12800 (keeping noise down), and was still able to shoot at a respectable 2.8fps. We would've liked to have seen a more accurate and responsive white balance meter, but it's really a small complaint that is easily fixed with a little more babying in-camera or one or two clicks in post production. All in all it's not the all-star performer that we found the Nikon D5100 to be, but for those on a budget it provides great performance for the money.
Nikon debuted DSLR video with their D90 camera a few years ago, but they are not traditionally a video company. That has shown, with Canon all but lapping the DSLR field for video for the first couple years. The D3100 is a big improvement on previous efforts, offering sharp video at 1080/24p capture. The videos don't handle motion perfectly, but the compression is minimal and the issues with blur and strobing are largely a result of the filmic frame rate, which some people prefer.
The Nikon D3100 is an entry-level DSLR, which shows by its somewhat limited list of features. It has a very nice 14-megapixel CMOS image sensor, but doesn't sport the high resolution LCD of some other cameras. It's also a mostly plastic body, has no autofocus drive motor, and it doesn't shoot at blazing fast speeds. That's not the D3100's aim, however, as it looks to be as lightweight as possible, providing good performance for the money in a package that won't scare off beginners. As with all Nikon DSLRs, we feel the best feature is the ability to use Nikon lenses dating back to 1959. The D3100 mitigates this somewhat by not providing autofocus for these lenses (AF is available on AF-S and old AF-I lenses only), but that limits the weight in the body itself, which is a positive.
The D3100 made only minor changes to handling from the D3000, but Nikon's experience designing cameras is evident with the smooth handling of this camera. The shoulder is tapered off at just the right angle, allowing for easy control and confident manipulation of the camera body. The D3100's grip is substantial and firm, with enough purchase that even in inclement weather it doesn't feel like it's going to slip out of your hand. The optical viewfinder and eye cup are as comfortable and accurate as ever, though we'd like to see something like Sony and Canon's eye-level sensor that shuts off the LCD automatically when the camera is brought up to the face.
The D3100 includes a solid amount of in-camera editing and control options, with all the typical manual/priority exposure overrides on offer. The camera balances this with beginner-friendly features like the camera's guide mode and on-the-dial scene modes that will be instantly familiar to those used to shooting with similar scene modes on point-and-shoot cameras. Overall, the camera expertly splits the line between offering DSLR-level control and beginner-level features, giving novices the chance to pick up the camera and shoot, growing as photographers as they delve deeper into the menu and feature set.

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TJ Donegan

TJ Donegan

Executive Editor

@TJDonegan

TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.

See all of TJ Donegan's reviews
TJ Donegan

TJ Donegan

Executive Editor

@TJDonegan

TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.

See all of TJ Donegan's reviews

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