Review: Nikon Coolpix 3100
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: March 21, 2003
March 21, 2003
3100 ($350) is one of three new cameras introduced by
Nikon at the big PMA show in Las Vegas last month. It's a 3 Megapixel
upgrade to the old Coolpix 775 with a few other extras. A similar
model, the Coolpix
2100, was also introduced
-- it's the 2 Megapixel version.
entry-level 3 Megapixel arena is very crowded, with all of the
major manufacturers participating. That means you need quite
a camera to come out on top.
out how the Coolpix 3100 fares in our review!
in the Box?
Coolpix 3100 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll
3.2 Mpixel Nikon Coolpix 3100 camera
CR-V3 lithium battery (non-rechargeable)
featuring NikonView and drivers, plus a "Let's Get Started
page camera manual (printed)
Coolpix 3100's bundle isn't very exciting. You'll find the famous
Lexar "Starter" CompactFlash card, which only tells you its capacity
(16MB) in small print on the back of the card. This is a starter
card in the truest sense of the word: you'll want a larger one
thing you'll want are some rechargeable batteries, as the 3100
comes with a throwaway lithium battery that will last for about
150 minutes. I recommend picking up at least two sets of NiMH
rechargeable batteries and a fast charger. Since the 3100 uses
two AA batteries, a four pack will be a great place to start.
estimates that you'll get about 80 minutes of usage when you
use NiMH AA batteries. I was pleased to see that the 3100 didn't
use an expensive proprietary battery, though the battery life
probably would've been better.
The Coolpix 3100 has a built-in lens cover, so no lens cap is
it or not, the 3100 can use an external flash! First you need to
buy the SK-9 flash bracket ($50). Then you can hook up Nikon's
SB-30 Speedlite ($115). It's triggered by the flash on the CP3100.
accessories include a soft case and AC adapter.
includes the latest version of NikonView with the 3100 (version
6 for Windows, and version 5.5 for Mac). They also give you ArcSoft's
capable PhotoSuite package.
having different version numbers, NikonView for Mac (including
OS X) and Windows are quite similar. The main difference is that
the Windows version has some basic editing tools, including the
over-hyped "one button redeye reduction" feature.
Main screen, NikonView 5.5 in Mac OS X
Edit screen, NikonView 6 in Windows XP
(for Mac at least) has improved over earlier versions in terms
of performance. I'm not sure that I can say the same for
reliability, as I got it to crash within minutes of installing
For more advanced editing, you can use ArcSoft's PhotoImpression
on either platform. While it has a cool-looking interface, I wish
they'd have stuck with something simpler.
cluttered at times, the manual included with the Coolpix 3100
is decent. An included CD-ROM will also help you become familiar
with the camera.
Coolpix 3100 is a very small, plastic camera that is an evolution
of the Coolpix 775 body. The plastic seems sturdy enough to me.
The 3100 is not the smallest camera of the bunch, but it can
still fit into any pocket with ease.
dimensions of the 3100 are 3.4 x 2.6 x 1.5 inches (W x H x D),
and it weighs 150 grams empty.
begin our tour of the camera now!
lens on the Coolpix 3100 appears to be the same one that was
found on the 775. That means it's an F2.8, 3X optical zoom Nikkor
lens, with a focal range of 5.8 - 17.4 mm. That's equivalent
to 38 - 115 mm. The CP3100 doesn't support conversion lenses.
the top-center of the picture is the built-in flash. The flash
has a working range of 0.4 - 3.0 m at wide-angle, and 0.4 - 1.7
m at telephoto. I already covered the 3100's ability to use an
little light to the left of the flash is not an AF assist lamp.
Rather, it's the self-timer lamp. At a time when companies like
Canon and Sony are putting an AF assist lamp on every camera
they sell, it's a shame that Nikon still hasn't done the same.
the back of the camera now. The CP3100 has a 1.5" LCD display
with 110,00 pixels (that's good). The LCD is bright and fluid.
You can adjust its brightness in the setup mode.
above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is good-sized
for a tiny camera. There are no cross-hairs or similar on the
viewfinder, and there's no diopter correction feature either.
The viewfinder shows approx. 82% of the frame.
the LCD are three buttons, which thankfully only have one function.
They are for deleting a photo, turning the LCD (and info displayed
on it) on and off, and for activating the menu system. The next
button over enters playback mode.
that is the four-way switch, used mainly for menu navigation.
It also adjusts several other functions:
- Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash off, fill flash)
last item on the back of the camera is the zoom controller. The
lens moves quickly from wide-angle to telephoto in under two
on the top of the Coolpix 3100, you'll find the mode wheel, shutter
release button, and power switch. The power switch is wrapped
around the shutter release, and I kept thinking it was the zoom
controller. You know what happened next.
mode wheel has quite a few options, including some that are unique
to the Coolpix in ways that I'll explain shortly. The mode wheel
- Night landscape
- Close up
- Fireworks show
- Back light
- Night Portrait Assist
Coolpix 3100 doesn't have a real manual mode with control over
things like shutter speed and white balance. Rather, the manual
mode here just unlocks all the menu options that are
hidden while in auto record mode.
a fan of scene modes on entry-level cameras, as they pick the
best settings for common situations that everyday photographers
find themselves in.
of the portrait assist mode overlays
four "assist modes" take the scene mode idea one step further.
In addition to choosing the best settings for each situation,
the camera can also put outlines of people or gridlines onto
the LCD for you to frame your shot. Of course, I think most people
can probably figure out
how to frame
without needing an outline of a person on the LCD.
have more on the various camera modes later in the review.
this side of the Coolpix 3100 are the I/O ports, which are safely
kept under a rubber cover. The ports are for USB, video out,
and DC-in (for optional AC adapter).
the other side of the camera is the CompactFlash slot. The door
covering this slot is pretty flimsy. This is as Type I slot,
so no Microdrives. Nikon says the CP3100 supports cards as large
included "starter card" is shown as well.
here is the bottom of the camera. You can see the plastic tripod
mount, which is located at the center of the camera. The battery
compartment is down here as well, and it holds two AA cells or
one CR-V3 (shown).
the Nikon Coolpix 3100
CP3100 takes just under three seconds to extend the lens and
"warm up" before you can start taking pictures. When
you halfway press the shutter release button, the camera locks
-- under a second in most cases. If light levels were lower and
the autofocus needed to "hunt", the wait is a little
longer. In some of those cases, the camera couldn't lock focus
lag was not an issue when shutter speeds were fast. When you
start approaching "tripod speeds", the lag was noticeable.
speed is average. You will wait for about 2.5 seconds before
you can take another shot. Unlike some other Nikon cameras, you
cannot pause/delete a photo as it's being written to the memory
card. You can, however, hit the delete button after it has been
written, and remove it then.
the Delete button as the picture is being written to the memory
card, and you can delete it.
CP3100 has very basic image quality/resolution choices. They
Images on 16MB card
CP3100 does not support TIFF or RAW file formats.
are named DSCN####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999.
The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format
Coolpix 3100 has a totally new menu system. It's very easy to
navigate -- great for beginners. There aren't many options, as
the 3100 is a true point-and-shoot camera. Some of those options
are only available in manual record mode (I'll bold those
items). And here they are:
quality/size (see chart)
balance (Auto, preset, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent,
compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
imprint (Off, date, date and time) - print date on your photos
- Continuous (Single, continuous, multi-shot 16, multi-shot)
[Best Shot Selector] (on/off)
sharpening (Auto, high, normal, low, off)
you can see, the 3100 has a manual white balance feature, something
that is uncommon on lower-end cameras. The date imprint feature
isn't seen very often either, but it's available here.
are three continuous modes on the 3100. Continuous will take
photos at a rate of 1.5 frames/sec, for up to 3 shots. Multi-shot
16 takes 16 shots in a row, and assembles them into one 1600
x 1200 photo. The other Multi-shot mode (a new one on Nikon cameras)
takes photos for 7 seconds, and the camera picks 16 of them (with
a set interval between photos) and puts them into the same 1600
x 1200 collage.
Best Shot Selector feature will let you take up to 10 shots in
a row, and then the camera chooses the best of the bunch -- and
that's the one that is saved to the memory card. This feature
is useful in situations where "camera shake" may be an issue.
is also a basic setup menu, which is accessed via the mode wheel.
The interesting items found here include:
- Welcome screen (Disable, Coolpix, custom) - the custom mode
lets you pick a photo on the memory card to use
- Language (English, German, French, Japanese, Spanish)
- LCD brightness
- USB (PTP, Mass Storage)
- Video Mode (NTSC, PAL)
enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
cameras have always been some of the best for macro (close-up)
shooting, and the CP3100 is no exception. You can get as close
to your subject as 4 cm in macro mode.
3100 turned in a fine performance with our usual test subject
seen above. THe image is quite sharp (except for the nose), and
you can easily make out the dust on the figurine. Colors are
spot-on as well.
little trivia about this night shot. For some apparent reason,
police can Twin Peaks closed down (for security reasons maybe?),
so I ended up just using one of the pull-outs on the road back
down. The other thing to note is the helicopters toward the top
right... keeping an eye on the protesters below.
the night shot looks good when downsized, but if you view the
full-size image you'll see quite a bit of noise. This is a big
problem with the Coolpix, or any camera that has automatic ISO
(sensitivity) control. The camera will crank up the sensitivity
on its own, which boosts the noise levels. I much prefer
cameras that let you lock the ISO (at say, 100) so you can get
a noise-free shot (Nikon are you listening?).
2 second exposure above had an ISO value of 400. Aside from the
noise, it's pretty darn good for a point-and-shoot camera.
redeye test (albeit cropped down) illustrates the noise issue
as well. This simple indoor flash picture had an ISO of over
300, which is the cause of the noise. There's also quite a bit
of redeye, which didn't surprise me that much, considering how
close the flash is to the lens. Redeye can usually be removed
in software (including NikonView).
new distortion test gives you an idea of the kind of barrel distortion
that you can expect to see on the CP3100 at wide-angle. You'll
notice this in enclosed rooms or if you have straight lines at
the edges of the frame. This test can also show vignetting (darkened
corners), but it doesn't appear to be a problem here.
and in good lighting, I thought that the Coolpix 3100's photo
quality was very good. Colors were accurate, exposures were well-done,
and the camera was responsive enough for action photos. There
was more noise than I'd prefer in everyday shots, but it was
in lower light levels that the noise really stood out. One thing
I didn't notice was any purple fringing.
just take my word for it though -- have a look at the photo
gallery and let your own eyes be the judge!
Coolpix 3100 has a lot more movie mode options than the average
camera. You can record at 640 x 480 or 320 x 240, for a maximum
of 20 and 40 seconds respectively. At the lower resolution, you
can record in color, black & white, or sepia tone.
catch about the 640 x 480 movie mode (called "TV Movie" by Nikon)
though: it's not a true VGA movie mode. The camera is capturing
but using vertical interlacing to get to the higher resolution.
As a result it doesn't look as nice as a true VGA movie mode.
is not recorded with movies. You can use the zoom lens during
a VGA-sized sample movie for you.
Click to play movie (7.5MB, 640 x 480,
view it? Download QuickTime.
Coolpix 3100 has a two-tiered playback mode. The usual playback
mode functions are there, but there's an image enhancement mode
standard playback functions include slide shows, DPOF print marking,
thumbnail mode, image protection, and zoom & scroll. The zoom
and scroll feature (my term) lets you zoom into your image as
then scroll around in the enlarged photo. This feature is well-implemented
on the 3100.
nice feature that is all too uncommon these days is the ability
to delete a group of photos, rather than just one at a time or
all of them.
Picture Enhance menu lets you retouch your photos before you
ever transfer them to a PC. You can add one of three filters
(halo, monochrome, sepia) to a photo. You can also downsize a
photo you 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120. And finally, you
can crop a photo.
Coolpix gives you the option to mark photos that you want to
be automatically transferred when you connect the camera to your
3100 unfortunately doesn't give you any useful information about
your photos. While I'm not asking for a histogram, a little exposure
data would've been nice. The camera moves through images very
quickly in playback mode. A lower resolution image is shown instantly,
with the high resolution version appearing just a moment later.
Does it Compare?
Nikon Coolpix 3100 is a decent enough camera, but certainly not
the best in class. It's a point-and-shoot camera with only one
manual control (white balance). The scene modes are a nice touch,
though I think that some of the overlays on the LCD are a little
over-the-top. The performance and photo quality are good, though
in low light
both suffer. The performance goes downhill due to the lack of
an AF-assist lamp, while the photo quality gets quite noisy due
to the 3100's auto ISO system. I do applaud Nikon for allowing
the 3100 to use an external flash. If I hadn't reviewed Canon's
PowerShot A70 recently, I'd probably be more enthusiastic about
the Coolpix, but after spending some time with both the 3100
pales in comparison. Still, the 3100 is worth a look -- try it
and the competition listed below before you make any decisions.
good photo quality outdoors
of scene modes
for external flash
playback mode, though no exposure info shown
I didn't care for:
- Too much noise, especially at lower light levels
could be better
3 Megapixel cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot
A70 and S230,
EX-Z3 and QV-R3, Fuji
FinePix A303, HP
Photosmart 735, Kodak EasyShare DX4330, DX6340 and LS633, Kyocera
Finecam S3L, Minolta
DiMAGE Xi, Olympus
D-560Z and Stylus
300, Pentax Optio 33L and
Sony DSC-P72 and -P8,
and the Toshiba
I mentioned at the beginning of the review, the Coolpix
2100 is essentially the same camera, except for its 2 Megapixel CCD.
3500 has a lot in common with the 3100, but with
a unique inner-swivel lens design.
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try
the Coolpix 3100 and its competitors before you buy!
to see how the photo quality turned out? Check out our photo
a second opinion?
out a review of the CP3100 over at Steve's
Digicams. If you're still not satisfied, you'll find another
at the Imaging Resource.
welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking
for a personal recommendation.