Nikon D3100 Review
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.