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Point-and-shoot cameras are still around but many people are not caring so much about these types of cameras because they would rather spend their money on a high-end smartphone that can do decent photography and so much more. Based on the many smartphones released in 2011 that you can easily obtain if you are okay with the contract, smartphone photography has reached the point that image quality is exceptional but only if you are sharing these photos online. Printing these photos might be good too but you can still get better results from a DSLR camera. Don’t forget about the benefits of manual controls and optical zoom too. But with point-and-shoot cameras slowly being cannibalized by smartphones, it is better to invest in DSLR cameras. Even an entry-level camera like the Nikon D3100 is a big deal because of the following benefits that you will surely appreciate.
Easy Learning Curve
DSLR cameras are pretty much synonymous to complicated but there is no need to shy away from the Nikon D3100 because Nikon specially designed this camera for people that never tried a DSLR before. The size is quite small weighing just less than 600 grams without the lens attached the available buttons and switches is pretty minimal. The functions that you find on the back of the camera are quite similar to the ones that you see on a point-and-shoot camera. The top of the camera may look intimidating at first because of that mode dial. But there is one part of the mode dial that stands out and that is the “Guide” function. This function activates the “Guide” mode which is an excellent feature to use if you are just getting started. This function will help you step by step so your shots will improve.
Free Kit Lens
Buying a Nikon DSLR camera for over $1,000 is most definitely an ambitious move if you want to get your hands dirty with more features to play with. However, that isn’t the only price that you have to pay as you need to buy a lens too. NIKKOR lenses cost at least $100 extra but the Nikon D3100 already comes with one. The Nikon D3100 is one of those cameras that encourage you to get started immediately and the performance of the lens doesn’t disappoint. The 18-55mm is a flexible 3x zoom NIKKOR lens that even comes with VR image stabilization so you can capture pretty sharp photos.
Good Image Quality and Performance
The speedy 11-point autofocus system really makes it easy and fun to take satisfying pictures. In addition, these pictures should have a nice resolution of 14.2 megapixels so you can print them on posters and still see all the details. The EXPEED 2 processor does the rest in optimizing the photo. There is also no need to take out a separate video camcorder because the Nikon D3100 can record exceptional 1080p video.
The Nikon D3100 pretty much beats every point-and-shoot out there and doesn’t add too much bulk on the weight and functions. Since it is succeeded by the superior D3200, you should also find stores that sell this camera for under $600.
If you have a point-and-shoot camera your options are pretty vast since there are a growing number of mirrorless cameras so you get those interchangeable lenses in a smaller package. But the prices of these cameras are quite similar to the entry-level DSLR cameras. DSLR cameras may be a bit bulkier but they offer better image quality and a wider compatibility of various lenses. The Nikon D3100 serves as a great upgrade over the D3000 and it should be cheaper now since Nikon recently launched the Nikon D3200 in the first quarter of 2012. Here are a few nice features to expect from the Nikon D3100 if you are upgrading from a Nikon D3000 or any point-and-shoot camera.
Improved Nikon Expeed 2 Image Processor
The Nikon Expeed 2 image processor is exclusive for DSLR models so do not confuse this processor with the Expeed C2 in Nikon’s Coolpix cameras. This processor offers better face detection and improved image noise reduction. This processor can also correct image distortions a lot better. You can also activate Active D-Lighting to enhance the shadows and highlights with a high ISO for better noise reduction without sacrificing the 3 fps continuous shooting performance.
Video Recording Functionality
The Nikon Expeed 2 processor also has a 1080p H.264/MPEG-4 video encoder onboard which means that you can record 1080p video of up to 24 fps. Bumping down the resolution to 720p allows 30 fps video recording. The performance isn’t really stellar but you can improve the quality of the video if you equip the Nikon D3100 with a better lens. This feature is also useful if you are traveling because you no longer need to carry a lighter point-and-shoot camera or compact digital camcorder for recording video.
Higher Resolution Shots
Many point-and-shoot cameras and even smartphones are already snapping high resolution shots exceeding 10 megapixels. This makes the some of the older Nikon cameras like the Nikon D3000 look pretty ancient. The D3100 features a decent 14.2-megapixel CMOS image sensor that you can use for taking more detailed shots. Although the file sizes will be bigger, you should be able to print these photos on media that is larger than 20×30 inches.
Still Easy to Use
Nikon sweetens the improved CMOS image sensor with a much needed “Scene Auto Selector” so the Nikon D3100 can automatically determine the best scene mode based on your environment. This makes the Nikon D3100 a lot easier to use since you do not need to manually select from the various exposure scene modes. This feature is also a nice complement to the “Live View” feature so you have more flexibility in taking shots at various angles. The Nikon D3100 has that point-and-shoot feel as there are not so many buttons to learn. Setting the mode dial to “Guide” mode is recommended so you can learn every feature while improving the way you shoot with a DSLR camera. You won’t have to worry about buying a lens either since a decent 18-55mm NIKKOR lens is included.
The Nikon D3100 is best summarized as an inexpensive camera with DSLR qualities wrapped in a newbie-friendly package.
Amateur and professional photographers choose DSLR cameras so they have more flexibility with their career. Those that do photography for weddings, events and other special occasions really need a good DSLR camera and a good lens to cover the event properly. A lot of manual tinkering needs to be made so the shots look good and creative. With the Nikon D3100 positioned as one of Nikon’s cheapest cameras, it does not look like a serious contender for professional photography. But you need to shell out thousands of dollars if you want to shoot studio-quality photos. Think of the Nikon D3100 is as the next big step when you feel like the high-end point-and-shoot cameras are limiting your creativity. While there are some decent midrange cameras that cost under $1,000, the Nikon D3100 dips a bit lower while still maintaining good value because of the following features that you get.
14.2-Megapixel CMOS Sensor (DX-format) with Expeed 2 Image Processor
Cameras that feature more than 10-megapixel sensors are very common nowadays but the DX-format is more of a highlight since you can attach some of the most expensive Nikon NIKKOR lenses to further boost the image quality. But if you cannot afford to buy a separate lens for the D3100, you can always use the included kit lens which is a Zoom-NIKKOR with an 18-55mm focal length. It makes good use of the quick 11-point autofocus system so your subject stays sharp. Compared to other 14-megapixel cameras, the Nikon D3100 really performs well. On high ISO settings, the image quality is also better than its predecessor – the Nikon D3000.
1080p Video Recording Support
While the Nikon D3100 shares many other features with the older Nikon D3000, the D3000 does not feature any video recording support. This can be costly if you use the Nikon D3000 to take nice pictures and then you suddenly need to record some video. With the Nikon D3100, it is a button press away and the recording quality is pretty good on 1080p settings. You can also use 720p settings if you need the smoother 30 frames per second setting.
Light and Ergonomic
All DSLR cameras are heavier than ordinary point-and-shoot models so using a DSLR takes some getting used to. But Nikon made this entry-level very light with all of the core functions intact. The comfortable body makes it very easy to access common functions. The “Guide” mode offers a nice introduction to the best features of the Nikon D3100. Once you are used to the features, you will like the split-second shutter response and good range of exposure scene modes to further customize your shots.
With a price tag in the $500 to $650 range, you may encounter some point-and-shoot cameras that are a bit more expensive than the Nikon D3100. These cameras are only expensive because they are very compact and the performance is decent. The Nikon D3100 still excels in image quality and the interchangeable lens aspect gives plenty of upgrading options once you finally saved up for a lens that fits your needs.
The Nikon D3100 does not aim to be the best in anything because there are highly expensive Nikon models that really strive to deliver the best imaging performance possible. In fact, the Nikon D3100 is listed as the cheapest DSLR product in Nikon’s USA website as of June 2012. But it does not mean that the Nikon D3100 has little to offer. It is currently priced at $649 which makes this camera more expensive than many of the point-and-shoot cameras and even superzooms. The only cameras that match the D3100 in price are some of the mirrorless cameras like Nikon’s own Nikon 1 J1. When comparing the D3100 against other cameras, there are a number of features where the Nikon D3100 really stands out.
Quality Ergonomics and Compact Body
Using a point-and-shoot camera can be difficult if you really need to tinker with the manual focus settings. With the aid of a viewfinder, things can be a bit easier but you still have to keep your hands steady while shooting photos. The Nikon D3100 is lightweight and the body is very comfortable to hold. Those that are transitioning from point-and-shoot cameras will appreciate the layout of the back of the camera. The “Live View” switch can be used so you can actually use the Nikon D3100 like a point-and-shoot. When you need to record video, the “Movie Record” button can be pressed to change mode immediately. There is even a “Drive Mode” switch so you can change to continuous or self-timer modes without relying on the menu display.
Adequate Video Recording Features
Nikon DSLR cameras originally did not have any video recording functionality until the EXPEED 2 image processor was developed. Although the Nikon D3100 isn’t really meant for serious video recording, the 1080p quality is good enough if you encounter any sudden moments that you want to record.
Great Performance in Many Areas
The 14-megapixel CMOS sensor looks pretty ordinary on paper but the image quality is very good for what you are paying for. Compared to the Nikon D3000, the high ISO performance is far better and the dynamic range is pretty good. The color accuracy above average and you can turn on the Active D-Lighting feature so the shadow details are more emphasized too. No matter what lens you use, the chromatic aberration is nicely reduced. When you need to use the manual focus, there is an electronic rangefinder that can help you.
The pricier DSLR models can be very difficult to learn but the Nikon D3100 clearly targeted towards people that never used a DSLR camera before. The “Guide” mode which helps you use the DSLR camera features clearly indicates that. Then when you are ready for some advanced photography, you can simply buy a more advanced lens that can do more than the kit lens that comes with the camera. There are also other nice things that you can get like a GPS unit so the capabilities of the camera are expanded. Since you can get this camera at a fairly cheap price, the Nikon D3100 is a joy to use.
A lot of camera sites have reviewed the Nikon D3100 back in 2010 but the new Nikon D3200 is in town to replace the Nikon D3100. While the Nikon D3200 is the new budget DSLR camera in Nikon’s lineup, it isn’t the cheapest because the Nikon D3100 is still listed in Nikon’s website as of June 2012 and it might remain there just in case there are people that are seriously on a tight budget. This is why another review of the Nikon D3100 is necessary because you might not need the improvements that the Nikon D3200 brings to the table.
Don’t forget that the Nikon D3100 is a nice improvement over Nikon D3000 which was released back in 2009. The grip is deeper and the front has a microphone for video recording. The left side of the camera features an accessory port in case you want to equip the Nikon D3100 with a cable remote or an external GPS unit. You can also find a mini HDMI port so you can connect it to a TV and use the remote to navigate through the camera’s functions.
If you still have a D3000, you will also notice a special “Drive Mode” switch that you can find below the mode dial. This is a convenient way to switch between single, continuous, quiet shutter and self-timer modes. Previously, you would have to use the onscreen menus to select the mode. Since the Nikon D3100 introduces video recording, you can find a dedicated button for video recording along with a “Live View” switch.
The Nikon D3100 features a modest 14.2-megapixel CMOS image sensor that uses the DX-format so you know you are dealing with a light DSLR camera. 14.2 megapixels is surprisingly enough for printing photos even if you want to print on those 20×30-inch papers. But the overall image quality is far greater than any point-and-shoot because of the 18-55mm Zoom-NIKKOR VR image stabilization kit lens that comes with the package. The features of this lens are rather bland compared to those pricey lenses going above $500 but the autofocus performance is speedy and it does not add too much weight to the camera which is something that people that are new to DSLR cameras will appreciate.
In fact, the Nikon D3100 is very newbie friendly as it features a special guide mode that assists new users in taking good pictures. The controls are not overly complicated as the full-frame models and the 11-point autofocus system does the handy work in keeping your pictures sharp.
The Nikon D3000 is also easy to use but the support for 1080p video recording makes the Nikon D3100 more entertaining to use. The quality won’t match those digital camcorders but it does save you from needing to take out something else once you suddenly need to record something.
Nikon lists price of the D3100 at $649.95 which is $50 less than the new D3200. The D3200 features a better processor for improved burst shot performance along with higher ISO sensitivity and almost double the megapixel count. Overall, you should still get a good experience with the Nikon D3100. Some stores may even sell a brand new D3100 for sub-$600 levels which makes this cheap DSLR an excellent deal.