[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Nikon D3100, though titled an entry-level DSLR, fares very well on features as well as the pocket. It is most likely Nikon’s lightest DSLR yet, and the smallest too. The camera fits snugly in your hand, and all the controls are surprisingly very well-placed. The deeper rubber hand-grip on the front is a blessing for photographers with slightly larger hands; even the thumb-grip has a rubber panel, providing a steadier grip than the D3000, the model that it replaces. The edges are more rounded and the camera feels more than comfortable in the hand and also while shooting.
One would notice that many of its specifications push it to being among the best of Nikon’s SLR line-up, and this feels like an absolute precision product. The camera is very quiet, and vibrates astonishingly little, even hand-held shots are pretty sharp. An added advantage is the dedicated switch under the Mode Dial, which helps one easily switch between Single, Continuous, Self-Timer, and Quiet modes, without having to use the menu. The shutter speeds range from 1/4000 to 30 seconds, and bulb; the flash-sync is at 1/200.
ISO ranges from 100 to 3200; the Hi1, Hi2, Hi3 options provide ISO upto 12800, but the image tends to become extremely grainy, rendering the shots not display-able.
The camera supports all modes of shooting – Full Auto, Manual, Program, Shutter-priority, and Aperture-priority, and 6 other scenes – Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, Macro, and Night Portrait. Spot, Center and Matrix metering options are available, and the focus modes include AF-S, AF-C, and manual focus. The D3100 can shoot and store images in 5 formats, ranging from low quality JPEG, to high quality RAW (RAW+F). It also offers an option to store the same picture in both RAW and JPEG formats.
The LCD screen is 3”, big for an entry-level DSLR, but a little grainy, annoying the user with each pixel being visible, while most other Nikon cameras have a high-resolution display.
The sensor is of DX format, but the camera supports both FX and DX lenses. The absence of an AF motor in the camera is disappointing, manual focusing becomes a pain, if you’re using the older lenses that do not feature focusing motors. But otherwise, the 14.2 megapixel CMOS sensor delivers very well, enabling 1080p video recording at 24 fps. A dedicated live view toggle switch with the video recording button next to it makes it easy to start shooting video instantaneously without missing the important dialogues. Though Nikon claims that the camera can autofocus while recording video, the tracking is pretty disappointing and messes up audio. In-built flash is decent, with the button to activate it placed on the lens mount.
There are 11 focusing points, conveniently represented by small LED dots in the viewfinder that light up in red for a fraction of a second; the viewfinder is absolutely clean, hosts no clutter, just the focus points, and exposure meter, unlike most other DSLRs, which take a toll on the pleasure of shooting. The burst speed is the same as its predecessor, the D3000, at 3 frames per second, but the image sensor and image processor have undergone an upgrade, making the camera’s sensitivity much better.
Other advantages this camera holds over contemporaries from other companies include in-camera video editing and a lot of lens filter effects that can be applied to the images. The menu is extremely easy to navigate through, and most of the usage of the camera can be self-taught with help of the manual.
Nikon’s D3100 also offers a new accessory port that accommodates optional connection with GPS receiver unit, and the same port can also be used to connect an optional remote cord. This port is accommodated on the camera’s left side, and is in the vicinity of the HDMI port (also new) and the USB and standard definition video output socket.
The D3100 uses an EN-EL14 lithium-ion battery pack, and would deliver 400-500 shots, depending on the gap between each shot, and the settings used. Though Nikon rates the battery at 550 shots with 50% of them using flash, we can expect no more than 300 shots if flash is being used. The camera takes about 2 seconds to recover from one shot, if it is being used on the single-shot mode, and focus time with the 18-55 VR kit lens is astonishingly short.
One feature of this camera that comes as a blessing for the people that are new to DSLR shooting is the Guide mode that greets the users with cheerful graphics and helps them go about all the settings required to shoot right.
On the whole, the Nikon D3100 is a stunner for the price, the 18-55 VR kit lens is worth the investment. Those of you that are planning for an exotic vacation this summer, do include this camera on the pre-vacation shopping list. It will not disappoint you! (For great deals, do check out our sister-sites enlisted below!)