October 26th 2010 – A few days ago I recieved a Nikon D3100 and the Nikon 28-300 lens and have been messing with it and shooting with it for a few days. This review will will include my 1st impressions, video of the camera, video taken with the camera, plenty of images, 100% crops, comparisons with the D3000 and Panasonic G2 and my overall feelings on the camera. As always, this will be a “real world review” which will allow me to write what I feel about the camera as well as show real world results in the images. TheNikon D3100 is the new replacement for the Nikon D3000 and just after a day with it I can already tell it’s an improvement. Not a huge one, but it’s there. From the slightly better feel to the more pleasing sounding shutter the D3100 manages to give us all a bit more for our cash. It’s Nikons least expensive DSLR and a camera for beginners, students, or those wanting to get into DSLR shooting.
ABOVE: Nikon D3100 with the 18-55 Kit Zoom – VIBRANT color mode – JPEG – Click for larger
Nikon D3100 with 28-300 at f22 and ISO 1600 (accident, but liked the result)
The original Nikon D3000 was a camera that I bought for my son over a year ago and it has been a camera that he has shot with on many occasions. It is small, it is light, and the results, while not as good as the ones you get from a camera like the D300s or D90 were pretty good for the cost of the camera. It was and is a capable little DSLR but it is a “starter” DSLR without the bells and whistles of the more expensive big boys. Lots of shooters hated the D3000 as it was the most dumbed down camera in the Nikon line up of DSLR’s. But some loved it for this as it made it easy to pick up and shoot and get great results. ME? I was a bit let down by the D3000 (why I never reviewed it) but still, it made for a great camera for my son who still loves it today.
Nikon has now replaced their entry level D3000 with the new predictably named D3100. So how has the D3100 improved over the D3000 if at all? I wanted to test it out as I am very familiar with the 3000 and I wanted to see if Nikon improved the image quality, high ISO, and overall shooting experience. I also wanted to test the HD 1080P video which was missing on the D3000. B&H Photo was kind enough to send me a D3100 to see what I thought about it. They also sent along the very nice Nikon 28-300 lens which I tested on this camera and I know this lens is a very “in demand” lens so I was excited to try it out, even if I was using this “FX” full frame lens on a “DX” crop sensor body.
Side by Side – The Nikon D3000 and D3100
The Lowdown on the D3100
14.2 Megapixel DX-format CMOS Image Sensor
Delivers beautiful photographs and prints well larger than 20 x 30″
3x 18-55mm /3.5-5.6G Zoom-NIKKOR VR Lens
With legendary NIKKOR optical quality and fast, accurate autofocus for vivid color, striking contrast and crisp detail and VR image stabilization to ensure the sharpest hand-held pictures and movies.
D-Movie – Breathtaking full HD 1080p movies with Sound and Full-time Autofocus
Discover the difference a digital SLR makes when shooting movies. A wide selection of NIKKOR lenses gives you freedom to explore different angles and obtain lovely defocused backgrounds while D3100’s advanced imaging system assures outstanding quality. And for action sequences, new Subject-tracking AF keeps subjects properly focused. After the shoot, view movies on the large 3″ LCD monitor and perform simple editing tasks like trimming scenes before or after a designated point and extracting still images. Via the HDMI mini-pin connector, connect D3100 to an HDTV with playback managed by the TV’s remote control.
Compact and Lightweight Design
Beautifully styled-Ready to go wherever life takes you.
Help Function – One-touch Access to In-camera Assistance
When viewing menu items and you don’t understand a function, just press the help button. A description of the currently selected item will be displayed while the button is pressed. Release the button and the previous screen appears. A truly handy function that makes it easy for even first-time D-SLR users to operate D3100.
Easy-To-Use Guide Mode
An enchanting portrait against a softly defocused background, or a radiant couple surrounded by sparkling lights. Taking photos like these is easy with D3100’s Guide Mode – in-camera guidance that shows you step-by-step how to change camera settings. Just select a Guide Mode setting that matches the scene then let Guide Mode assist. Not only will you obtain the desired results, you’ll understand how you achieved them. Guide Mode even displays sample photos so you’ll know what to expect from each setting.
18 Guide Mode Shooting Options
Easy Operation: Auto, Close-ups, Landscapes, No flash, Sleeping faces, Portraits, Distant subjects, Moving subjects, Night portrait
Advanced operation: Soften backgrounds, Freeze motion (people), Show water flowing, Bring more into focus, Freeze motion (vehicles)
Use a timer/ quiet shutter: Single frame, Continuous, 10-second self-timer, Quiet shutter release
Split-second Shutter Response
Eliminates the frustration of shutter delay, capturing moments that other cameras miss.
Fast 11-point Autofocus System
D3100’s precision high-speed autofocus responds immediately to changes in scene or composition, maintaining tack-sharp focus to capture fleeting expressions and fast-moving sports. The all-important central focus point features a cross-type sensor while the new superimposed display achieves a clear, uncluttered viewfinder. Various autofocus modes cover nearly any situation, including auto-area AF that automatically selects the subject on which to focus, and 3D-tracking (11 points) that maintains focus on a subject regardless of changes in composition as long as the shutter-release button is pressed halfway.
Advanced White Balance Control
The Improved Scene Recognition system offers outstanding auto white balance performance that nearly rivals the precision of the D3s, Nikon’s flagship camera. White is reproduced more faithfully while maintaining stable color balance regardless of light source.
ISO Sensitivity 100-3200, Expandable to ISO 12800
Equivalent delivers exceptional results, even in the most challenging low-light situations.
Large 3″ Monitor: Live View with AF Modes
Live View gives you an intuitive, familiar way to photograph playful pets or children on the move. Just flip a switch and you’re ready to go. When Live View is activated and new full-time-servo AF (AF-F) is selected, the camera keeps subjects in focus without having to press the shutter-release button – convenient for photos and movies. There is also new face-priority AF that locks focus on faces, even on people not directly facing the camera. Live View makes D3100 as easy to use as a compact camera.
Easy-to-view Finder – New Superimposed Indicators for a Better View
During autofocus, D3100’s superimposed indicators and BriteView Clear Matte Mark Ⅶ screen provide a cleaner, less cluttered view from corner to corner.
Rangefinder – Quick and Easy Focusing
When focusing manually, the electronic rangefinder helps you quickly achieve proper focus. It is especially useful when shooting in dimly lit settings.
AF Mode for Live View and Movie Shooting
Full-time-servo AF (AF-F): Autofocus automatically begins after Live View is activated, tracking the subject continuously without having to press the shutter-release button.
Single-servo AF (AF-S): Great for stationary subjects. Focus locks when the shutter-release button is pressed halfway.
Manual focus (MF): Focus manually.
AF-area Modes for Live View and Movies
Normal-area AF: Offers pinpoint precision when focusing on a small area – ideal when using a tripod.
Wide-area AF: A good all-round choice for a variety of subjects, both moving and stationary. It is especially well-suited for handheld shooting.
Face-priority AF: The camera can recognize up to 35 faces at a time then focus on the face that is determined to be nearest. Even if people in the frame move, the camera continues tracking and focusing.
Subject-tracking AF: D3100 ‘memorizes’ a subject then automatically tracks it even if it moves. Should the subject momentarily leave the frame, the camera starts tracking again once it re-enters. By using this with AF-F (full-time-servo AF) you can also maintain focus on the subject while tracking. This is a great way to photograph active children and pets.
Info Display Format – Choose the View That’s Right for You
D3100 gives you a choice of two formats – classic and graphic – for the info display. Graphic format includes both a numerical and descriptive illustration of shutter speed and aperture settings, making these concepts easier to grasp. Both formats display the current Scene Mode using easy-to-understand icons that change as the mode dial is rotated, letting you concentrate on the composition. Three background color variations are available for each format. In addition, the orientation of the info display automatically changes horizontally or vertically to match that of the camera.
Scene Auto Selector
Lets the D3100 decide the best mode to match the shooting situation when using Live View.
Nikon’s new image processing engine assures breathtakingly rich image quality, managing color, contrast, exposure, noise and speed.
Scene Recognition System
Nikon’s Scene Recognition System utilizes a 420-pixel RGB sensor to analyze a composition immediately before you take the shot. It then automatically optimizes exposure, autofocus, and white balance, allowing you to obtain beautiful photos without the hassle of making complicated camera adjustments yourself. Face detection also benefits from Scene Recognition System, exhibiting improved recognition accuracy and definition as well as enabling instant zoom-to-face in playback mode.
6 Automatic Exposure Scene Modes
Just set the Mode dial to Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, Close-up or Night Portrait for stunning results in otherwise challenging conditions.
Scene Auto Selector
D3100 automatically selects the Scene Mode that matches the shooting situation and subject. During Live View shooting with the Mode dial on Auto or Auto (flash off), Scene Auto Selector automatically activates Portrait, Landscape, Close up or Night portrait modes depending on the scene. For added convenience, an icon appears in the top-left corner of the LCD monitor that shows the selected mode.
Restores picture-enhancing detail in shadows and highlights.
Lets you choose from Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, or Landscape to apply a personal look and feel to your pictures.
Automatic Image Sensor Cleaning
D3100 is equipped with Nikon’s Integrated Dust Reduction System. This solution includes a special Airflow Control System that redirects dust away from the low-pass filter located in front of the image sensor. Additionally, when powering the camera on or off, the filter automatically vibrates at precise frequencies to release image-degrading dust that may adhere to it.
Built-in Pop-up Flash
When the light gets low or you find yourself shooting in tricky backlit lighting, use the built-in pop-up flash to brighten the scene. It activates automatically when needed depending on exposure mode, or can be enabled manually. In addition, support for i-TTL flash control increases exposure accuracy.
Continuous 3fps Shooting
D3100 can shoot approximately 3 frames per second – great for capturing dynamic motion and elusive facial expressions that are a challenge for any photographer. Simply rotate the release-mode selector and shoot away.
Eye-Fi Support – Transfer Photos and Movies Wirelessly
Support for optional Eye-Fi SD cards lets you transfer photos and movies from the camera to a PC via wireless LAN. This eliminates the need for removing the memory card or USB connections to transfer data. The camera can be used to turn Eye-Fi cards on and off, but may not support other Eye-Fi functions. As of June 2010, the following cards can be used: 2GB SD Eye-Fi cards in the Share, Home, and Explore product categories, 4GB SDHC Eye-Fi cards in the Anniversary, Share Video, Explore Video, and Connect x2 product categories, and 8GB SDHC cards in the Pro x2 and Explore x2 product categories. Eye-Fi cards are for use only in the country of purchase. Be sure the Eye-Fi card firmware has been updated to the latest version.
Date Imprint – Stamp Photos with Shooting Date
Know the exact date you took a photo. The position of the date changes automatically depending on camera orientation.
In-camera Image Editing
Allows creative freedom, without the need for a computer, offering easy editing functions. Including:
Miniature effect: Makes pictures appear as if they are photos of miniature scale models; especially effective when shooting landscapes from above.
Color outline: Converts a photo into an outline image, which can be printed then hand-colored.
Perspective control: Corrects the perspective of shapes (like buildings) for a more natural look.
Color balance: Adjust color balance over the entire image with the multi selector.
Monochrome (Sepia): Create monochrome photos with a classic feel.
Fisheye: Create surreal photos that look as if shot with a fisheye lens.
Filter effects (Cross screen): Add starburst effects to light sources.
Soft filter: Produces images similar to ones shot with a soft filter.
NEF (RAW) Processing: Now, convert images saved as RAW data to JPEG images in-camera. Change image quality, image size, exposure compensation and other settings while retaining the original RAW data
Long-lasting Lithium-ion Battery – Plenty of Stamina for Plenty of Photos
The Rechargeable Li-ion battery EN-EL14 delivers up to approximately 550 frames on a single charge. Now you can focus on getting the shot rather than worrying about battery power.
Nikon D3100 and 18-55 Kit Zoom Lens – click image for larger version – ISO 800
My Initial Thoughts On The Nikon D3100
After opening the box and handling the camera, my very 1st thought was “It FEELS the same as the D3000”. The D3100 keeps the same small form factor and it seems to have a better grip feel but overall it is the same in build and size. The dial on the top of the camera is now angled down for easier turning and there is also a switch that allows you to change from single shot to self timer to multiple shots, etc. This is a nice addition as the D3000 did not have this and you had to dig in to the menus to change these settings. There is also a nifty little switch on the back that turns the live view on very easily and quickly. Then the movie record button is right in the middle of this lever. Works out good for shooting video.
When I added the 28-300 lens on to the camera it looked like a MONSTER! The small size immediately turned into a huge and cumbersome AND slightly front heavy combo. The 28-300 is a pretty large lens (as you can see in the photo below of it attached to the camera) but it also seems like a pretty amazingly versatile lens. A 28-300 that focuses FAST and gives good (decent) sharpness and detail. I know many photographers who have bought this lens and use it as their one and only, and they love it. Me? I like it but found it a little soft, and its bokeh average at best. It is an FX or DX lens, made for full frame or a crop sensor. Overall the lens performed good with fast AF, and even at 200-300mm it gave some great results but again, I am not crazy about it like another web site guy I know. At over $1000 it makes for a very well built, very versatile lens for ANY Nikon camera so I guess that right there says something. PLUS, it is much nicer than the old 18-200 that was so popular a few years ago. So for the money, you get a pro built lens that gives you 28-300mm. Very cool.
ABOVE: D3100 with 28-300 zoomed out to 200mm. Click image for larger view.
ABOVE: At 300mm the 28-300 has some irritating Bokeh. Not the most pleasant I have seen but then again, I shoot lots of Leica 🙂
ABOVE: The D3100 with the Nikon 28-300 Lens Attached – The Ultimate in Vesatility
So far the D3100 seemed very much like the D3000 but there are some changes that make the D3100 a bit better. First of all, the new sensor coming in at 14.2 Megapixels vs the old D3000 10 megapixels. High ISO noise has also been improved simply due to the fact that you can go up to 12,800. Also, from what I have seen and ISO 3200 in low light doesn’t seem bad at all, though many will stop at 1600. This is something that has been improving slowly but surely over the past 2-3 years. The new D3100 is pretty good at high ISO but it is NOT better than the new Sony A55 which I am also testing. The new Sony A55 seems to be a SUPERB bang for the buck DSLR. More on that one soon.
Real World High ISO Shooting
HIGH ISO CROPS
Pros & Cons
- It’s small! Nikons smallest DSLR!
- You get what you pay for. This is the cheapest Nikon DSLR!
- It’s a Nikon, and Nikon knows cameras.
- Decent high ISO (though not beating the new Sony A33 and A55)
- Improved controls over the D3000 as well as improved ISO capabilities
- Fast AF, better VF display over D3000
- Nikon added 1080P video with a dedicated button, but implementation is a bit clunky.
- Good battery life
- There are better cameras in this class that will give you better image quality.
- The color seems a bit wonky to me (off)
- Body feels plasticky, and hollow.
- Still seems like it has a lack of control with many settings in the menu.
- Images lose some color quality at higher ISO
- ISO does not really beat the older D3000 from what I have seen but you can go up to 12,800
ABOVE: Nikon D3100 and Kit Zoom
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It is not new any more, but it still a fantastic camera
Why a 28-300 ? Can’t you just test this camera with A 35mm 1.8G, a 50mm 1.8G, a 18-55mm or even better a 16-85mm ? This review is pretty stupid and photos look very ugly.
Hello. Can I please know the names of the cameras you meant when you said “better cameras in the same class” please?
i have just recently upgraded and bought my d3100… i do most of my shooting at night in the city and i dont use the flash and the pictures are superb .. the auto focus with its default lens is sweet and i love it more when i have the 70-300mm lens on. takes good pictures and am happy with it especially taking pics of fast moving objects like cars, takes nice stills. the video is good 1080p but am not into movies so will not really comment on that. i would recommend this one.
I just bought this camera to take pics for my blog. I think it’s a great camera for that.
The Nikon D3100 is a great little entry level camera for beginners getting into the DSLR world of photography! You cannot use a FX Lens like the Nikon 28-300mm and expect good results. You need to use a DX Lens; Nikon 18-55mm VR, 18-70mm, 18-105mm VR, 18-135mm, or 18-200mm VR or any of the 55-200mm VR or 55-300mm VR zooms if you plan on getting any kind of good results. Any Nikon AF-S lens in DX Format is what you need NOT an FX Series lens for Full Frame Sensor Camera like the Nikon D700. The Nikon D3100 is equipped with an APS-C sensor so you should use the appropiate lens to get outstanding photo results!
Have you tried the D3200?! Any thoughts?!
I’m agree with you, definetely something about it was just not right, the colors are so sad
The best camera for me now. and thanks for the review, makes me love my camera more. 🙂 I found out that this camera on sale at AMAZON now. The price is very cheap and you can save your money $100.
Just click this link :
looking your input on the Nikon D5000, I found a pretty good deal on Adorama body only for $369 refurbished, i was looking into the D90 and D5100 but I don’t wanna spend more than $450 on the body, my spending is limited to $700 because I wanna purchase the Nikon 35mm F1.8G lens 🙂 thanks for your help in whatever you can do for me Steve!
I think this is a useful review, in that it goes into some of the limitations of using Nikon’s entry level models. I got this to replace my D3000 as backup, for better controls, better high ISO and the full HD video. I have to agree that the photo output is not much better and perhaps a little worse? It seems to overexpose and I get better results by generally using the exposure compensation down a notch. I generally use it in Raw as it seems that it produces quite bland files that actually maximize the dynamic range. Why an entry level camera would be set up this way, whilst the D300 for example gives great OOC jpegs is beyond me, but rest assured it does give you great files to work with with a minimums of weight.
I also think it was an absurd combination with the 28-300, a full-frame lens that gives a ridiculous 42mm at the wide end and spoils the light and handy feel of the camera. No wonder Steve couldn’t enjoy using it and, it seems, rushed the review. Sorry, Steve, but I think you may have underestimated how useful a light and handy body can be to a Nikon shooter and the features of the D3100 made a lot of former alternatives seem redundant (especially in the video department). I have friends who leave their D7000’s at home and take out a compact to our get togethers, whilst with my light D3100 and excellent kit zoom, I get great and memorable results, though I do need to shoot in raw and PP, which doesn’t seem right, so I’m not saying it’s such a great camera, just a great and light alternative for a Nikon user, or someone who wants to get into the Nikon system.
I did find the bonuses I was looking for over the D3000 to come through. The video, as you say, is only so-so compared to some alternatives, but it does get some deliciously sharp and detailed 1080p, which (kind of) autofocuses but is capable of wonderful bokeh due to the APS-C sensor. I also find the higher ISO, especially in darker situations to be way better than the D3000, even up to ISO 3200. I limited the D3000 to ISO 800 after seeing the horrendous noise it accumulated, something like my older D70. But I’ll admit, I do wonder if it is actually better at lower ISOs, perhaps due to advantages of CCD over the cater but perhaps clumsier CMOS that enables Full HD video? Seeing that Leica uses CCD to get the very best still image quality, there may be something to that. I had been getting excellent sharpness and colour with my older Nikons, so they certainly weren’t at fault there.
Anyway, as for my conclusion, for both the camera and the review, the conclusions in the review are very helpful, though I think either PP or customizing the settings to give a punchier image. Luke help a lot, though I’d admit that it shouldn’t be necessary, especially at that level… Unless of course Nikon is trying to up sell us to higher end models like the D7000, which would make some sense… Certainly, with the 18-55mm kit or a 35/50mm it is a wonderful little photo machine that gives you portability a bit like a mirrorless for if you don’t want to be limited to the quality of a compact or the bulk of a larger camera.
One little note though… Since this came out, Nikon the released the equally small D5100, with an incredible sensor, much better video and a tilting, high resolution LCD. I now use this instead and get both wonderful photos and video straight from the camera. It is fantastic to use on a tripod due to the LCD and slightly faster live view (though I am sure this has nothing on the mirrorless options). If you want a small Nikon as backup or to take along hiking, traveling to with some great lenses that don’t even exist for mirrorless yet, I’d highly recommend this over any other smaller Nikon. I’d love to see a review here of it and how it stacks up to, for example, the Nex 5c or V1.
Sorry for the super-long post and thank you for your time. I just found your site and have been enjoying the informal and very informative reviews here, much more useful than the measurebating I see on the main sites, which leaves out so much of the real world use, though I suppose compliments it with technical analysis, I’m just saying the latter is a lot less relevant than people think when it’s all you have to go by. I hope a lot of it is replaced by DXO scores and once IQ is out of the, we can concentrate on usability more, where the V1 seems to be a huge and revolutionary hit, despite it’s small sensor (or perhaps because of it). A small Nikon DX with V1 technology… This is what I’d really love to see!
I just bought the Combo set. Incl. 18-55mm and 55-200mm lens. I also went for training at the Nikon School in Midrand SA. I am very proud with my entry level camera and appreciate the price that I’ve paid. I am NOT a pro and the D3100 was my choice. Receive very good feedback from other “old timer” photographers about my photos. I also start to create my own “signature’ on my photos. So yes, everyone has a choice in life and so will it be.
Thanks for your constructive feedback Steve.
Dude you reviewed this camera with a monster lens. NOBODY is going to match this camera with that lens.
If you’d used the kit 18-55mm (which is superb) or the 35mm 1.8 (which is also superb) then you would’ve understood why this camera is so good – it weighs nothing!
Hey steve..your review was very helpful. I’m an engineering student. I have interest in photography, birds and plants in particular. Can you suggest me which DSLR (around 500USD) to buy as a beginner?
Just came across your site and think you’re doing something right so keep it up! I feel you were a bit harsh on the D3100. I have the 18-55mm, 35mm f1.8 and 55-300mm lenses to use with this camera. It performs well and will deliver with the right lens, it’s not perfect but then what is? If I want wide angle then I use my Ricoh Gx-100 with the 19mm wide angle lens, and this performs well for the price. I am looking forward to the review of the Fujifilm x10 as soon as you get one to review, as this will be my next camera if the sensor performs well.
Hi Steve, I’m using the d3100, and I also have a sigma 70 – 300mm f4-5.6, any good pointers on shooting cats ( green eyes)
I honestly do not feel this review was fair to the d3100. You can tell from ALL the shots taken and shown here that the reviewer was not interested in the camera. I actually had to go out and purposely try to take shots that were this poor! You can tell that none of the settings were appropriate for the lighting, motion of subject, etc, its like he just picked up the camera, closed his eyes and chose a setting. From looking at the picture it appears that the review was intended to bash the d3100 or show what poor skill he had. I am not trying to be mean but anyone who has at least some skill with photography can see that based on these samples this person does not understand the camera functions properly or the importance of lighting. Remember people… the most expensive camera can produce the ugliest images without proper lighting and user skill, and some really amazing pictures have been taken with simple point and shoot cameras as well as cell phone cameras. One gentleman did a comparison of the d3100 vs one of Nikon’s more expensive cameras and showed the results side by side, and guess what, you couldn’t tell on a lot of the shots without looking to see how they were labeled. Don’t base your opinion on a few poorly taken shots, knowledge and skill are more important that price and mechanics. And if you don’t believe me, then look back to some of the great photographers work from decades past and think about the equipment they had to use.
Hi! This is a good review to have an idea about the camera. I’m actually an starter, a newby in photography but what I see is that the example pictures are not helping too much. I saw pictures taken with pocket cameras that look better than this pictures, and I’m sure that D3100 is better than a pocket.
Maybe, what the reviewer is talking about can be saw in these pictures, but sometimes a good picture could make you think the camera is better than it really is (or worse than it really is).
I usually took pictures with a Sony H7, which is not a reflex camera and some pictures look like they were taken with a better camera (http://www.flickr.com/kkroolo).
What I mean is, the pictures showed here should be seen only reading the explanation but I would not decide to buy or not the D3100 just seen these pictures.
(Sorry if is there any error, my english is not perfect).
After D40, D3100 is the first camera (in this class) who retain my attention. Looks like a very nice portable choice. 🙂
thanks steve, that was such a good review & helped me to make up my mind between sony A33 & nikon 3100.
Steve, thank you very much to take time out to do a review.
I am now confused, I was just about purchase the D3100 from a person that seems to be a professional and highly recommended the D3100 as the be entry level camera in the market. Before I saw this persons blog I was settled on buying the Cannon 550d. I love taking pictures of people and the landscapes. I am definately interested in filming. Steve please let me know of what you think of the infomation copied below of what this person has said.
many thanks in advance.
Forget Resolution and ISO
Resolution and ISO are silly numbers used to try to sell you more expensive cameras.
Resolution, expressed in megapixels, is no longer relevant. Forget it when comparing cameras. I’ve made great 12 x 18″ (30x45cm) prints from a 3MP camera and 40×60″ (100x 150cm) prints from a 6MP camera. 6 Megapixels is all anyone needs for anything, and every camera here has two or three times that.
Resolution is nothing more than a sales pitch to get you to pay more.
Now that every camera has double-digit megapixels, camera makers invented another meaningless number they can use to extract more cash from the innocent, called ISO.
ISO is a rough measure of sensitivity to low light. It only matters if you shoot in the dark, and then shoot without flash. As soon as your flash pops up, the higher ISOs aren’t used anyway. Even if you learn how to use the higher ISO settings of your camera (few people do), there isn’t much difference between cameras of the same type and era, regardless of cost. All the higher ISO settings do is make the picture look grainier, and the cameras that sport the highest ISO settings look horrible at those settings!
This said, DSLRs are a zillion times better in the dark than point-and shoots, and the newest point-and-shoots like the Canon S95 are superb for use at night without flash as well.
Don’t buy a camera because a salesman tries to smoke you with gibberish like megapixels or ISOs. They have nothing more to do with a camera’s quality than the number of spot-welds used to assemble your car.
These things are easy to measure, which is irrelevant because the factors that really matter don’t have numbers attached to them.
Best Serious Cameras (DSLRs) top
Nikon’s D3100 ($640 with lens) is excellent, but Nikon’s D7000 ($1,200 without lens) is even better if you want to pay for it.
The newest Nikon D7000 is much better than anything else, but costs as much as two D3100s. If money matters, just get the D3100. You’ll love it. If you can afford the D7000, and are willing to wait a little for a back-order as they are extremely popular, you’ll love it even more. See also Is It Worth It.
He..he, that is good old KR. I agree with most of what he says in this particular paragraph.
I own an old D2H which is 4.2 MP and the color rendering is just lovely in RAW (NEF). I use it at least as much or even more than my fullframe D700 with its 12 MP, because the colors and the rendering is so nice.
I wouldn’t be afraid of the D3100, but buy some nice glass for it like the 35mm f/1.8 which is pretty cheap and a lot better than the zoom tested in this review.
Also remember it is usually not the camera that is a problem, but almost always the photographer if the pictures look like garbage.
Hello! I too am an amateur looking to purchase my first DSLR. I have been researching for the past year and had originally narrowed my choices down to the Nikon d5000 or Canon Rebel Ti. However, with the recent introduction of the d3100 and the corresponding price point I believed that to be my best choice…UNTIL I read your review! 🙂
Can anyone please give me some advice on my upcoming investment? I want to buy something that I can use for many years (body) while upgrading with new lens additions. I am an amateur but view this purchase as a long-term investment so I am willing to hold out for the perfect fit…. (if that makes any sense..) I also plan on taking a entry level photography class this spring to develop my skills and knowledge with the hopes that this will become a favorite hobby of mine (shooting artistic photos, scenery, nature, great travel pics).
My primary usage will be to take pictures of my nieces and nephews as they grow and start running around all over the place. Being able to capture quality pictures while they are constantly moving is my #1 priority. Live View would have to be #2 priority although I know it reduces frames per second capabilities. Video is not important – could do without it even.
My initial struggle, ongoing still, was deciding whether to go with Nikon or Canon. So many conflicting opinions. To date my list of options include:
Nikon d3100 or 5000
– decided on d5000 until I found out the 3100 came out – and its cheaper and possibly better?
– Add: Nikkor 35mm f.1/8 prime lens as I have heard that it is optimal for low light and shooting squirming children!
– #1 choice but they don’t make them anymore
– more expensive than I want to pay, but am willing to save up if this is the optimal choice for my use
CANON Rebel Xsi or Ti, etc. any other in that line
If anyone is willing to share their expertise and give this Louisiana amateur their recommendation, I would greatly appreciate it! My email address is email@example.com.
Thanks in advance!
Thank you for the review. It is really informative.
I actually want to see the IQ comparison between d3100 and d90 because I have heard a lot of different comments about either one has the edge.
I’m still an amateur in photography and want to grow up from Sony Nex5 onto Nikon’s “ship” due to lens choices, yet don’t know if I should go for d3100 or d90?
I tried to make some research; still, many resources show different result of both cameras.
My budget is good enough for d3100 and d90 with 35mm 1.8 yet not for d7000. What I want the most is superb IQ with 35mm f1.8 lens held equal, nothing else.
So I would like to ask for comments.
PS. both cameras’ ergonomics satisfy me equally well.
yeah, i’ve been looking through photos on flickr and the image quality is pretty unimpressive. at first this camera was at the top of my list when i heard its specs, but after comparing photos the d5000/d90 are miles ahead; even the d3000 seems to take better photos. maybe it’s because nikon tried to cram more pixels on a smaller sensor? ill be getting a d90 in a couple weeks though so 🙂
Hello, I am beginning in photography classes and I take great joy in it. I have a 700$ spending limit, and I was wondering if the D 3100 is my best choice or if there is a better option?
Please let me know. Thank you.
You can Email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Once again I think this proves that image quality is more about the lenses than the camera itself. Obviously, the 28-300VR is not a very good match for a high resolution DX sensor. It would have been very interesting to see the performance of the D3100 together with a 35mm f1.8G. Maybe we could hope for a D7000+35mm review?
Hmmm….eye opener sir! I am thinking of buying either D3100 or Canon eos rebel t1i. Any ideas Sir???Your help would be greatly appreciated.
Informative review Steve. Thanks! In regards to the high ISO photos, were they shot in JPG? I read somewhere that Nikon cameras still apply noise reduction to some degree even with noise reduction set to off. Other than sensor size difference, that may account for the cleaner but softer look in the D3100 and D3000 samples vs the G2.
Thanks. Yes, these were shot in JPEG with NR turned off on all cameras tested or shown here. I noticed there was still some applied, or it appeared to be there vs the G2. Also noticed the Nikons were very soft, which apparently is how Nikon does things. All settings were on STANDARD.
meh, never been impressed with any Nikon bodies sub 1000 dollars, If I was just a hobbyist and not worried about future pro equipment I would go Pentax in a heartbeat.
Nice review, Steve. Eric, having come from a Pentax K-5 System to the Nikon D5200 and some nice Nikkors (16-85 and 35 f/1.8), I can state that each system has its advantages! I liked the Pentax for the build quality, ergonomics, and awesome DA* and FA Limited optics. However, one thing I did not like about my K-5 was the sometimes “flakey” electronics. In other words, I felt that the AF indicator seemed to float about, moving to a different point in the scene than what I had selected moments ago (in a static scene with nothing else changing). OTOH, the Nikon D5200 electronics seem more robust and solid (unlike the body, though can’t be compared to the K-5, is not bad at all.) As for lenses, I’ve not used teh very best NIkkors yet, but with teh 2 aforementioned lenses, I am seeing GREAT Image Quality and Sharpness. Please see sample jpegs on my site. The Think Tank bag close-up, taken with the D5200 and Nikkor 35 f/1.8 is particularly sharp, equal to or exceeding that of my former Pentax kit. Of course, the Nikon System as a whole is vastly superior to Pentax, as is their resale value…learned the hard way! That said, I really loved the Pentax System, with the exception of the somewhat less-than-robust electronics. I just wanted more “system”, while maintaining high sharpness!
Appreciate the review but it’s pretty hard to judge the quality when you’ve shot in such poor light and framed so haphazardly. I don’t mean to offend but your sample shots are really poor regardless of the camera used.
Was a quick review, had the camera 2-3 days and I agree, the shots are awful – BUT no matter what the composition – you cant escape the quality. Some were low light, some were daylight – any way you look at it, you can get much better IQ from even a Sony A33, which is about in the same price range and a much nicer camera IMO. Thanks,
a used D200 goes for 5 – 700…. now theres the smart purchase right now.
Heart attack grill eh? I remember seeing a youtube video on it. So sick!
Steve do you still have that chrome lux? I just got new black lux!!!
I call it like I see it. I snapped quite a few images with the d3100 and it’s output is very similar to the d3000. Maybe the “flatness” comes from the lens or the cameras processing of JPEGS. Later tonight I will update this with threw full siZe out of camera samples of the same subject. One with the d3000, one with the d3100 and one with the Sony a55.
Untouched using standard color preset on all cameras.
To me, the d3100 is a decent starter DSLR but iq wise, I was not impressed when using it with the kit zoom, and the 28-300 was nice but nit really a great lens for overall top quality IQ. Thx for the comment.
“…its files at times seemed flat or “dirty”. Not in the same league as the more expensive D300s, D7000, D700 or of course the D3 series. BUT that is to be expected.”
Sorry, this is a lot of bullshit. The DX sensor in the D3100 is probably the same or better than in any other current Nikon DX camera. Image processing for JPG ouptut is nearly the same on all current Nikons.
You simply CAN NOT tell from a final picture wether it has been taken by a D300s or the D3100. Of course FX cameras are another matter.
Thanks Steve for the extensive review!
When I read your amazing articles, I mostly feel, we are brothers in mind. When it comes to the D3100 I think, we had pretty different experiences with that camera.
During my own recent testing I had no problems with color at all in the D3100. Here is a set of out-of-camera JPGs you can look at. They were shot with “Standard” curve, sharpening +7, contrast and tone 0 and saturation +1:
An here are a couple of shots I’ve post-processed from JPG to get them into my style (scroll down to the end of the test):
But I have to say, maybe you’re right, that you prefer the Sony A33/A55, since I haven’t used them yet. Maybe that’s why I think the D3100 is a pretty nice and competent little camera.
I have to agree with you here. Color output and overall IQ is certainly not a weakness with this camera from my own observations. The samples posted here look nothing like what I’ve been getting, even with the kit lens. Here, they seemed overexposed a bit, but maybe it’s my monitor. I’ve also comparison shots between the d3100 and the mighty d700 and they were very difficult to tell apart.
I’ve also done some incandescent low light test shots (manually adjusting everything including WB) and was very impressed by the color accuracy I was getting. Also I have absolutely no complaints about the color accuracy with the outdoor shots I’ve taken.
The Sony DSLR’s are also compatible with all Minolta lenses produced since 1985 so a HUGE number of second lenses are available, all with AF.
Retow, Sony has a very complete lens line of over 30 offerings. Their Zeiss lens line with autofocus is reason alone to buy into the system, and, due to in-body stabilization, EVERYTHING is stabilized.
It seems that the entry level market is a very tough and competitive one. Look forward to your GH2 review. Considering how well the little G2 holds up in the higher iso comparison, the GH2 could be a serious and more compact contender to the best entry level DSLRs, particularly when quality and size of the zoom lens will be considered as well. The Sony a33/55 bodies look interesting, but how about Sony’s lens offerings?
The GH2…cant wait. I think it will be an amazing little camera with improved high ISO. Also, that G2 shot was taken with a $250 lens, the 45-200 where the NIkon was taken with a $1000 lens, the 28-300. The Sony lenses…some are good, mainly the Zeiss offerings.
Did your son get a chance to play with the camera? I wondered what his thoughts were, since he used the 3000 for a while.
He did, and he said he wanted it only for the video, BUT we wont be upgrading. 🙂
Gotta agree with you on the colors… something just looks really off with the photos… and whether the lens or the sensor, even at this size, I’m not at all impressed. Not only are the colors wonky, but that bokeh sure is pretty ugly (which I realize is the lens). Makes me feel better about buying the K-x a few months ago! Heh 😉
I agree, the Pentax line would be a better bet IMO. The Sony also. The D3100 is decent if you already have Nikon glass but something about it was just not right IMO.