Nikon has chucked HD movie capture into its DSLRs before, but the D3100 is the first where it feels properly thought out. This camera can snaffle movies at 1920x1080 resolution and a film-aping 24fps – yep, the same speed as proper cinema film. If you want more frames per second, you can drop the detail down to 1280x720 and get 30fps.
Not only that, the movie format is now H.264 MPEG4 – better quality and more widely supported than the slightly iffy Motion JPEG format used by previous Nikon DSLRs.
Bright and clear
And yep, movies do look suitably lovely when filmed with the D3100, especially in good lighting conditions, or when you’ve bolted a top-notch lens onto the front. Clean, bright colours and crisp detail abound.
But, disappointingly, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Audio recording is limited to mono and can only be captured by a built-in mic – where’s the socket for an external microphone, Nikon? And there’s no option to manually fiddle with the controls while filming. These are things you’ll find on the D3100’s nearest rival, the Canon 550D. We’re hoping Nikon has another MPEG4 video DSLR up its sleeve for launch soon – a higher-end model that adds these missing features.
Video aside, the D3100 is a superbly reliable DSLR, particularly for beginners. The new Guide mode handholds greenhorn photogs through the process of taking a snap, telling you what adjusting each setting actually does. The low weight and compact size will also appeal to newbie shutterbugs more used to the size and heft of a point-and-shoot.
The D3100 autofocuses like a cheetah on speed through the viewfinder (live view autofocus is more like a ketamine-addled sloth, sadly), and its AF tracking function keeps a lock on moving subjects nicely.
Not forgetting stills...
Photo quality is solid, with the 14.2MP CMOS sensor and EXPEED 2 processor serving up detail-packed snaps with vivid, punchy colours. We used only the 18-55mm kit lens, which is reasonably good, but getting your hands on superior glass will result in even better results – it’s the DSLR way.
We were a little disappointed in the continuous shooting speed, which tops out at a mere 3fps. That’s fine by previous entry-level DSLR standards, but when new bodies like the Sony A33 are hitting 7fps it starts to look a bit slow.