DCRP

Nikon D3100 Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: December 11, 2010

Last Updated: May 30, 2011

The D3100 is Nikon's entry-level digital SLR, priced from just $699 with an 18 - 55 mm lens. The D3100 is a very user-friendly camera, with help screens and a unique "guide mode" that literally spells out what you need to do in order to get the shot you want. It also has plenty of features to excite camera enthusiasts, including a 14.2 Megapixel CMOS sensor, 11-point AF system, a 3-inch LCD with live view, plenty of manual controls, and a Full HD movie mode.

The D3100 replaces the popular D3000, so I figured that I should probably put together a little comparison chart for you:

Feature D3000 D3100
MSRP (with lens) $549 $699
Sensor resolution (effective) 10.2 MP 14.2 MP
Image processor Expeed Expeed 2
Live view No Yes
Full-time servo AF No Yes
ISO range (fully expanded) 100 - 3200 100 - 12800
HD video recording No Yes
(1920 x 1080, 24 fps)
Release mode selector No Yes
Remote control options Wired, wireless Wired
HDMI output No Yes
GPS support No Yes
USB cable included Yes No
Memory cards supported SD, SDHC SD, SDHC, SDXC
Battery used EN-EL9a EN-EL14
Battery life (CIPA standard) 550 shots 550 shots
Dimensions (W x H x D) 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.6 in. 4.9 x 3.8 x 2.9 in.
Weight (body only) 485 g 455 g

As you can see, there are some pretty significant changes between the D3000 and D3100 in the spec department. There are some cosmetic changes as well, which I'll show you when we get to the tour portion of the review.

If you're ready to learn more about the Nikon D3100, then I'm happy to tell you. Our review starts right now!

Since the cameras are so similar, portions of the D3000 review will be reused here.

What's in the Box?

Officially, the D3100 is available in just one kit, which includes the F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm VR lens ($699). That said, you may encounter other kits at certain retailers. For example, my local Costco warehouse sells the camera plus 18 - 55 and 55 - 300 mm lenses for under $1000. Here's what you'll find in the box for the "official kit":

  • The 14.2 effective Megapixel Nikon D3100 camera body
  • F3.5 - 5.6, 18 - 55 mm AF-S Nikkor VR lens
  • EN-EL14 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Body cap
  • Eyepiece cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • CD-ROMs featuring Nikon ViewNX 2
  • Quick Start leaflet and 61 page user's manual (both printed), plus full manual on CD-ROM

Since the D3100 comes with a lens, you're ready to start taking photos right away (well, assuming that you have a memory card). The F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm VR (vibration reduction, AKA image stabilization) lens is well built by kit lens standards, though I'm not a fan of the manual focus ring. This lens definitely isn't the sharpest you'll find (try setting the aperture to F8 for best results), and there's some purple fringing here and there, but it's still not bad by kit lens standards. If you want to use other lenses, you can choose from almost all Nikon F-mount models, though only AF-S and AF-I lenses will support autofocus. There's a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio for whatever lens you attach to the camera.

Like all D-SLRs, there's no memory card in the D3100's box, so you'll need to pick one up if you don't have one already. The D3100 supports SD, SDHC, plus the new SDXC cards, and I'd recommend picking up a 4GB card (and perhaps large if you'll be taking a lot of movies). Nikon recommends cards rated at Class 6 or higher for best movie recording performance.

The D3100 uses the new EN-EL14 lithium-ion battery, which is also used by the Coolpix P7000 compact camera. This compact battery packs 7.6 Wh of energy into its plastic shell, which is about average for an entry-level D-SLR. Let's see how that translates into battery life:

Camera Battery life, live view off
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS Rebel T1i 400 shots LP-E5
Nikon D3100 550 shots EN-EL14
Olympus E-620 500 shots BLS-1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10 * 380 shots DMW-BLB13
Pentax K-r 470 shots D-LI109 **
Samsung NX10 * 400 shots BP1310
Sony Alpha DSLR-A290 500 shots NP-FH50

* Mirrorless interchangeable lens camera is live view only
** Also supports AA batteries

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

As you can see, the D3100 has the best battery life in the group (and the same numbers as its predecessor). That's when shooting with the viewfinder, of course -- live view battery numbers (which Nikon does not disclose) will be considerably lower.

With the exception of the Pentax model, all of the cameras on the above list use proprietary li-ion batteries. These batteries tend to be pricey (a spare EN-EL14 will set you back around $27), and you can't use off-the-shelf batteries in an emergency, as you could with a camera that uses AAs. Some cameras support AA batteries via their optional battery grips, but since the D3100 doesn't support a grip in the first place, it's kind of a moot point.

When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. It takes the charger roughly 90 minutes to fully charge the EN-EL14 battery. The charger plugs directly into the wall (at least in the U.S.) -- my favorite.

As is usually the case with D-SLRs, Nikon offers plenty of accessories for the D3100 (though two of them shouldn't be optional!). I've compiled the most interesting ones into this table:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The D3100 supports nearly all Nikon F-mount lenses, though autofocus is only available on AF-S and AF-I models
External flash

SB-400
SB-700
SB-900

From $120
From $329
From $457
Get more flash power and less of a chance of redeye with these Speedlights. The SB-700 and SB-900 can be used to control wireless flashes.
Wireless Speedlight Commander SU-800 $249 While not a flash itself, this can be used to control other flashes wirelessly.
Sync terminal adapter AS-15 $20 Attaches to the hot shoe and provides a standard PC sync terminal.
Wired remote control MC-DC2 From $27 A shutter release button on a 3.3 foot long cord.
GPS unit GP-1 From $203 Add location data to your photos, automatically.
USB cable UC-E4 $26 Believe it or not, this is not included with the camera! Generic cables can be found for under a dollar.
A/V cable EG-D2 From $14 Neither is this audio/video output cable.
AC adapter EH-5a
EP-5A
From $77
From $35
Power your camera without draining the battery. You need BOTH of these parts!
Soft case CF-DC1 From $36 Holds the camera with a lens attached
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

I definitely have to give Nikon a big thumbs down for not including the USB or A/V output cables with the camera. People shouldn't have to shell out over $25 to be able copy images to their computer! Do yourself a favor and skip the pricey Nikon cable and buy a generic one for $1. The price of the AC adapter is pretty absurd, as well.

There are a few other accessories out there, mostly related to the optical viewfinder.


Nikon Transfer

There are updated versions of Nikon Transfer and ViewNX included with the D3100. As its name implies, Nikon Transfer 2 is used to copy photos from the camera to your Mac or PC. In addition to copying images to a set location, you can also have it send them to a backup folder, and photos can be uploaded to Nikon's myPicturetown online service, as well.


Nikon ViewNX 2

Once that's done, you'll find yourself in Nikon ViewNX 2, which has finally received some real editing tools. The main screen should look familiar -- it's like every other photo browser these days. Here you can e-mail, print, geotag, or view a slideshow of your photos. You can also upload them to the aforementioned My Picturetown service.


Editing in ViewNX 2

On the editing screen you can manipulate both JPEG and (finally) RAW images. You can adjust things like sharpness/contrast/brightness/and color, brighten shadows, straighten a crooked photo, remove redeye, or reduce chromatic aberrations. If it's a RAW file you're working with, you can also adjust the exposure and white balance. The only real complaint I have is that it takes forever for RAW adjustments to take effect, and I have a very fast computer. ViewNX 2 also has a movie editor built in. You can put clips into a timeline, remove unwanted footage, add transitions, and then save the results as a new video.

Something else you can use for RAW editing (and more) is Nikon Capture NX2 (priced from $138). This software lets you edit many common RAW properties, and it's unique "U Point" controls take a different approach toward image retouching than what you might be used to. You can select a spot in the image that you want to retouch, select the radius of the area that will be affected, and then adjust things like brightness, contrast, and saturation for that area. You can do the same for things like D-Lighting, noise reduction, and unsharp mask. You can learn more about this software at Nikon's website.

If you own Adobe Photoshop CS5, you can also use its Camera Raw plug-in (version 6.3 or newer) to edit the D3100's RAW images.

So what is RAW, anyway? The RAW image format (Nikon calls it NEF) stores unprocessed data from the camera's sensor. Thanks to this, you can adjust all kinds of image properties without degrading the quality of the image. The downsides of the RAW format are that 1) the file sizes are significantly larger than JPEGs, 2) camera performance is slower, and 3) you must post-process each image on your computer in order to convert it to a standard image format (though the camera does have a built-in RAW editor).

I should point out that the D3100 cannot be controlled from your Mac or PC, unlike Nikon's more expensive models.

The documentation for the D3100 is split into two parts (three if you count the "Getting Started" leaflet). There's a 69 page printed User's Manual to get you up and running. This covers the majority of the features that the point-and-shoot crowd will use, but if you want more details on the camera's manual functions, you'll have to load up the Reference Manual, which is in PDF format on an included CD-ROM. The quality of the manuals is above average -- too bad they could've put everything in one printed book. Documentation for the ViewNX 2 software is installed onto your Mac or PC.

Shop, Save, and Support