The D3100 is a welcome update to earlier entry-level DSLRs from Nikon, which offered aging sensor technology and limited feature sets. The D3100 sports a 14.1MP CMOS APS-C sensor with very good low-light capabilities for a camera in its class.
At a shade over a pound for the body, it’s also the lightest of the DSLRs in our roundup. The light weight and compact size make it easy to throw in a backpack or large purse. The 18–55mm kit lens adds another 12 ounces. The kit lens offers limited speed and isn’t the sharpest lens we’ve tested, but at appropriate f/stop and lighting conditions, it gets the job done.
Minimalist controls and a nonarticulating LCD clearly mark this as an entry-level DSLR.
Due to its relatively light weight and small size, the D3100 feels a little unbalanced in the hand. Anyone graduating from a point-and-shoot camera might want to avoid trying to grab the left side, as there’s little to grab. Attaching any lens larger than the kit lens tends to tilt the balance toward the lens.
The user interface is classic Nikon. It’s easy to rotate the command dial while simultaneously depressing the shutter button. The menu structure is a little daunting, however, with many lists scrolling down below the screen bottom, although there is a scroll bar that informs you where you are in the menu.
The pop‑up flash is useful for fill and occasional use. The camera can’t be used to command Nikon’s remote CLS flash units without having an external CLS-capable flash attached.
Continuous shooting is limited to 3fps, and the buffer fills at 12 shots in raw mode. It takes about seven seconds for the buffer to empty. Noise levels are pretty minimal up through ISO 1600. At ISO 3200 and 6400, luminance noise is visible, and when you push to H mode (ISO 12800), luminance noise kills a lot of detail. However, chroma (color) noise is noticeably absent. Auto white-balance was sometimes fooled by fluorescent lighting flicker at a range of shutter speeds, giving images a yellowish cast.
The D3100 is a no-frills DSLR with a good user interface, but it feels slightly unbalanced in y our hand.
HD movie modes max out at 1080p/24fps; 1080/30 isn’t supported, nor is 720/60. Other supported video modes include 720/30, 720/24, and 640/24. The D3100 uses contrast focus when capturing video, so don’t expect fast autofocus performance when shooting video. We shot some video at 1080/24 using maximum quality settings and got a bit rate of about 20Mb/s. Quality looked fairly good in daylight.
Overall, the D3100 is a fine entry-level DSLR but is marred a little by awkward body balance. Like earlier entry-level Nikon DSLRs, some older lenses that lack built-in motors won’t work with the camera. The unit feels plasticky in hand, and you should be careful in wet weather, as it’s not well-sealed. Video settings are limited, but this camera is a good foray into the DSLR world.