Expert Review of Nikon D3100 SLR Kit AF-S 18-55mm VR
The successor of best selling Nikon D3000 was launched in 2010 and made up many key upgrades to the already amazing model. Most notable of which were the Live View and video recording facilities – indeed it becomes the first Nikon DSLR (hotly followed by the D7000) to offer 1080p video recording in addition to 720p. To satisfy market demands, the resolution has also received boost from 10 to 14 Megapixels and there's a number of tweaks to the controls and ergonomics.Like Nikon D3000 before it, Nikon D3100 (AF-S 18-55mm VR Kit) features a Guide mode which asks simple questions about what you'd like to take before setting up the camera appropriately. It's a great option for beginners which also teach you about camera settings, and Nikon D3100 builds upon its predecessor by sensibly showing example images before finally asking if you'd like to shoot with the viewfinder or screen, or film movies instead. Live View and movies are the two major new features on Nikon D3100, which were sorely missing on the earlier D3000. Rather than simply lifting the existing capabilities of models like the D90 and D5000 though, Nikon D3100 (AF-S 18-55mm VR Kit) offers a choice of HD resolutions and frame rates, and a more efficient encoding system which allows longer recording times. Better still, it's one of the first DSLRs which takes a decent stab at continuous autofocusing while filming, unlike most rivals which effectively become manual focus once you start recording. Several features like screen, viewfinder, main AF system and continuous shooting may be unchanged from its predecessor, and enthusiasts still won't find exposure bracketing, an optical depth-of-field preview or a built-in AF motor to drive older (non AF-S) lenses, but the new higher resolution CMOS sensor coupled with Live View, HD video with continuous autofocus and an HDMI port, not to mention everything from a guide-based auto mode to full manual means there's a lot to like about the new Nikon D3100. It brings the somewhat dated Nikon D3000 bang up-to-date, while trumping most rivals in this category.
Design and Build Quality
Nikon D3100 (AF-S 18-55mm VR Kit) physically matches it predecessor a lot when viewed from the front and shares essentially the same width and height. It is however thicker and features a classy rubber grip which feels better in your hands than most entry-level DSLRs. The grip also features a shallow indentation for your fingertips which may not be as deep as the company's higher-end bodies, but certainly helps in holding the camera comfortably and securely. One should not expect miracles at this price-point, but personally speaking it enjoys the best ergonomics of its rivals. The infra-red remote control sensor flaunted by Nikon D3000 is now missing, so it's cabled remotes only on Nikon D3100. Nikon D3100 is equipped with both a popup flash with a Guide number of 12 and a hotshoe for external flashguns. Flash compensation and power level is adjustable, and you can also choose from red-eye, slow-sync and rear-curtain options. The built-in flash Guide number increases to 13 with manual control, which matches that of the Canon EOS 1000D, both beat the relatively weak popup flash on the Sony A290 which has a Guide number of 10. The D3100’s built-in flash can either popup automatically or by pressing a button on the side of the head, and once you’re finished with it, just push it back into place.
Focus and Face Detection
Nikon D3100 (AF-S 18-55mm VR Kit) comes along exactly the same 11-point AF system as Nikon D3000, along with the D5000 and D90. This employs the same Multi-CAM 1000 module with a single cross-type sensor, and the options appear to be identical. As such there’s three main AF modes: AF-S (Single Servo AF), AF-C (Continuous Servo AF) and AF-A (an Auto mode which selects between them depending on whether the subject is in motion – this is the default option). These are selected from the main information display screen, where you’ll also be offered a Manual focusing option.
Lens and Image Stabilization
Nikon D3100 (AF-S 18-55mm VR Kit) is typically sold in a kit with the Nikkor DX 18-55mm VR lens. The VR stands for Vibration Reduction and provides the lens with anti-shake capabilities which you can see through the viewfinder, although with a longest equivalent focal length of 83mm, any wobbling isn’t that obvious. The lens stabilisation is good for around three stops of compensation in practice.
Screen and Menus
Nikon D3100 (AF-S 18-55mm VR Kit) is fitted with the same 3inch 230k 320x240 pixel fixed screen as its predecessor Nikon 3000, which considering the panels available today and the camera's elevated price, is a huge disappointment. To be fair, it is bigger than the 2.5in / 230k screen on the cheaper Canon EOS 1000D, but falls behind on brightness and viewing angle. One of the headline new features of Nikon D3100 is Live View, a capability sorely lacking from its predecessor. Some traditionalists may still not see the point in Live View, but the ability to compose with the screen has many advantages over the viewfinder, for both beginners wanting the familiar operation of a point-and-shoot, and enthusiasts who'll exploit magnified focusing assistance direct from the sensor and superimposed graphics.
Nikon D3100 (AF-S 18-55mm VR Kit) works with new rechargeable EN-EL14 Lithium Ion battery pack, rated at 1030mAh and good for around the same 550 shots as its predecessor, under CIPA conditions.
Not surprising and a welcome development is in the field of viedo recording with Nikon revamping the movie mode capabilities and experience on the D3100. Previous Nikon DSLRs offered a best quality movie mode of 720p at 24fps, but now Nikon D3100 (AF-S 18-55mm VR Kit) offers the same resolution at the choice of 24, 25 or 30fps, while crucially adding a new Full HD 1080p mode at 24fps.
Nikon D3100 (AF-S 18-55mm VR Kit) employs a new 14.2 Megapixel CMOS sensor. This gives the D3100 four extra Megapixels, along with a switch of sensor technology from CCD to CMOS; now the entire Nikon DSLR range employs CMOS technology.
14 Megapixel sensor with great quality.
Friendly goal-oriented GUIDE mode.
1080p HD video with autofocusing.
Decent metering and 11-point AF system.
Relatively expensive for an entry-level DSLR.
Continuous AF in movies can be slow and noisy.
No bracketing, DOF preview or AF with non AF-S lenses.
Changing multiple settings requires many clicks.