The Nikon D3100 is the Japanese firm’s latest video-equipped DSLR, and its most movie-centric swappable lens camera yet. While old Nikons shot Motion JPEGs and were restricted to 720p HD, the Nikon D3100 shoots full 1080p video in a far more widely supported MPEG4 H.264 format. Sadly, Nikon’s designers haven’t quite gone the whole hog and made the D3100 a real movie-maker’s dream – read on to find out why in our Nikon D3100 review.
So what’s the problem, we hear you cry? Well, the Nikon D3100’s video potential is held back by a couple of pretty major flaws. First, there are no manual video controls (save focus), so you can’t adjust the aperture before taking a clip. Second, the sound is limited to mono, recorded via a built-in microphone – there’s no place to connect an external stereo mic.
Video buffs may also point their finger at the fact that 1080p video is limited to 24fps. There’s nothing wrong with this frame rate – it’s what proper filmmakers use, after all – but the option to capture 1920 x 1080 at something a little quicker, say 60fps, would be handy. As it stands, you have to kick the quality down to 720p just to achieve 30fps.
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None of this is to say the Nikon D3100’s video quality is poor. In fact, it’s actually packed with detail and crisp, natural-looking colour, even using just the included kit lens. Whack on some premium telephoto or high aperture glass and you can expect an even narrower depth of field, but it’s unlikely any budding Scorsese wannabe will be putting this camera high on his or her Christmas list – and certainly not above the stereo compatible, manual control-equipped likes of the Canon 550D and Sony A33.
But video is merely one part of a DSLR – many would say an insignificant part – and we shouldn’t overlook the Nikon D3100’s many talents. On the design front, for instance, it’s one of the most compact and lightweight DSLRs we’ve ever held – and yet doesn’t exude a cheapo vibe at all. It’s definitely not a ruggedised tough-cam like the magnesium alloy bodied Nikon D300, but it’s sturdy in all the vital places.
The D3100 is definitely pitched towards entry level shutterbugs, being the first Nikon DSLR to sport Guide mode. Flick the dial onto this and the camera will take you step-by-step through the taking of each shot – settings are optimised for the sort of photo you’re taking, and you’re told why the setting is suitable for that particular shot type. Seasoned snappers will never use Guide mode, of course, but it’s none the worse for that.
The Nikon D3100’s 14.2MP CMOS sensor, working in tandem with an EXPEED 2 processor, serves up some fantastic results (photographer dependant, of course). You can nudge the ISO well towards its 12800 upper limit before noise becomes a real issue, colours pop and detail is sharp.
The D3100 autofocuses swiftly and precisely when you’re using the viewfinder, and tracks moving subjects well. It doesn’t impress so much in live view, where it follows most DSLRs in being extremely sluggish to lock on.
All things considered, we’re not quite sure who the Nikon D3100 will appeal to. It’s a great camera for beginners, sure, but it lacks that knockout feature to truly set it apart from the many rivals in its price range. Its video performance is good, but could be made much better with the ability to record stereo and adjust settings manually.