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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Nikon Coolpix 3100

Nikon Digital Cameras

   


Nikon Coolpix 3100 Review

Review Date: Oct 1, 2003

Category: Point-and-Shoot

 

User's Experience

Thursday, Sep 18, 2003 - Here's what I receive in the box:

  • Coolpix 3100
  • 16MB CompactFlash (CF) Memory Card
  • Wrist Strap
  • 2 Rechargeable AA NiMH Batteries
  • Battery Charger with Power Cable
  • Interface Cables: A/V; USB
  • English and French Instruction Manuals: Quick Start Guide; Nikon Guide to Digital Photography
  • Software CDs: Nikon View 6.0 (includes PanoramaMaker3 from ArcSoft); Reference Manual; Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0

The Nikon Coolpix 3100 is a very attractive point-and-shoot digital camera that is pocketable and extremely light. Because it is so light, the handgrip is perfect to stabilize the camera. Ergonomics-wise, your index finger falls naturally on the shutter release button and the thumb falls on the zoom toggle lever. Extend your thumb a bit and you can easily change the settings on the Mode Dial. One hand operation is thus possible.

One of the reasons why the Coolpix 3100 is so light is that it takes only two (2) AA batteries. It takes about 2 1/2 hrs to recharge a pair of NiMH batteries once they are fully depleted. If you turn on the camera and the batteries are getting low, an icon displays on the LCD to warn you. When the batteries are very low, the camera reacts a bit erratically, extending the lens elements out and then retracting them in almost immediately. The LCD also turns on and then immediately goes off. So, if this happens to you (as it did to me), then it is your signal that the batteries need to be changed. If your lens elements extends out and the batteries die, the lens elements may remain extended. Do not panic and do not force them in. Simply replace with fresh batteries and everything goes back to normal.

Speaking of batteries, many will love the use of AA Alkaline batteries that can be purchased anywhere, anytime. We recommend a CRV3 Lithium battery or 2 Alkaline batteries as spare batteries. You could use another set of 2 AA rechargeable NiMH batteries as spare, but remember that new NiMH batteries may discharge quickly immediately after purchase or after they have been left unused for an extended period. So don't panic if your new NiMH batteries seem to last only a short time as you try out the features of your new camera. This is normal, and the batteries will retain a charge for longer periods after being used and recharged several times.

When transferring pictures from the camera to your computer, Nikon recommends fresh batteries, fully recharged batteries, or the use of the optional AC adapter. Using depleted batteries, there is the danger that you suddenly run out of power in the middle of the transfer. Don't risk losing precious images or damaging the camera. Either use fully charged batteries or, better, get the adapter. I would recommend the AC adapter (EH-61) if, like me, you transfer images every chance you get. Using the AC adapter also means you don't use up precious battery power to transfer your images from the camera to your computer.

To transfer images from the camera to my PC running Windows XP, all I have to do is simply connect the USB cable from the camera (turned off) to the PC. I then turn on the camera and select the NikonView software. I select the directory where I want the images to go and click the Transfer icon. To erase all pictures from the memory card, I put the camera in Playback Mode, then press MENU - PLAYBACK MENU - Delete - Erase all images - Yes. Or, you may simply reformat everytime.

I install the Nikon View 6.0 software and Panorama Maker 3.0 from ArcSoft. Since my computer already came preloaded with Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0, I don't have to install it. Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0 is easily the best affordable and easy-to-use picture editing software you can get. I also use it for all the graphics you see on this site.

Being here in Canada, all documentation comes in both English and French versions:

The Nikon Guide to Digital Photography (with the Coolpix 3100) is not, as its name may imply, a guide about how to take better pictures using the Coolpix 3100 digital camera. It is the User Guide, which is well illustrated, though a little on the "busy" side. Though I was able to find all the information I needed to operate the camera, I found the font type a bit on the light side and would have personally preferred an easier to read heavier font type.

The handy Quick Start Guide, on the other hand, is all I need to get the Coolpix 3100 up and ready for picture taking. It's illustrations and text are extremely easy to follow and read (the User Guide should follow that same format). Read this leaflet first before you even put in the battery and memory card.

I take the time to set the Coolpix 3100 to the way I would like to use it (only the settings I set are listed below):

SETUP (Mode Dial):

  • Welcome Screen: disable welcome
  • Date: set to today's date
  • Brightness: select the one most comfortable for my eyes
  • Volume: ON
  • Auto off: 30 min. (so the camera does not turn off on me at the wrong moment)
  • USB: Mass Storage (Windows XP will recognize the camera as another drive)

SHOOTING MENU (Auto on Mode Dial; press the MENU button):

  • Image Quality/Size: 3M* High (Fine/2048x1536 pixels)
  • Exposure Compensation: 0
  • Date Imprint: Off

SHOOTING MENU (Manual on Mode Dial; press the MENU button):

  • Image Quality/Size: 3M* High (Fine/2048x1536 pixels)
  • White Balance: Auto
  • BSS (Best Shot Selector): OFF
  • Exposure Compensation: 0
  • Date Imprint: Off
  • Continuous: Single
  • Best Shot Selector: Off
  • Image Sharpening: OFF

As indicated above, the Manual mode is limited to changing the WB and Exposure Compensation. You can, however, indirectly influence the shutter speed/aperture by selecting one of the scene modes.

Note that in Macro mode (in Auto mode, pressing the Cursor Down arrow on the Multi Selector allows setting Macro ON) and in Manual mode, the camera is in continuous focus and a continuous whirring noise is heard. This is normal.

In 3M* High 2048x1536 size, a 16MB CompactFlash memory card will allow you to record around 10 pictures. I recommend that you purchase either a 128MB or 256MB CF card which will store around 80 or 160 pictures, respectively. Note that Nikon only guarantees that the following brands of memory cards have been tested and approved for use with Nikon digital cameras: Nikon, SanDisk, Lexar, and Renesas.

Graceful Morning Glory: 1/141.8 sec., F4.9, +2EV and ISO Auto, with Fill-in flash
Graceful Morning Glory
17.4 mm, 1/141.8 sec., F4.9, +2EV and ISO Auto, with Fill-in flash

First impressions:

Solid, quality construction -- just what you would expect from a Nikon camera. No loose parts, and every control feels just right. It feels very comfortable in the hand.

The 1.5 in. LCD is pretty good, with enough resolution (110,000 pixels) to help me determine whether I have a good shot or whether to reshoot. You can adjust the brightness via the menu.

Operation times on the Coolpix 3100 has a definite noticeable lag. Whether it is taking a picture, saving to the memory card, deleting from the card, or waiting for the flash to recharge, you will have to wait (about 1 - 2 sec.) before doing the next operation or taking the next shot.

Trying to catch some fish swimming in a restaurant pool, I consistently miss the shot because the fish swims away from the moment I press the shutter release button and the camera focuses and takes the picture. Eventually, I smarten up and anticipate the correct moment, pressing the shutter release button about 1/2 - 1 sec. before the fish gets into the desired position. However, the Coolpix 3100's shutter lag means that candid action shots (including trying to catch your energetic 3-year old doing cute stuff) are difficult. For older children, it is not that much of a problem since they can hold a pose for 1-2 seconds.

The power on/off button is on the collar around the shutter release button. The zoom lever is at the back of the camera and actuated by the right thumb. This is really how it has been for a long time for cameras until some manufacturers moved the zoom lever around the shutter release button. The last camera I reviewed had the zoom around the shutter release button... so I ended up turning the Coolpix 3100 off a couple of times when I meant to zoom. I personally feel the power on/off button has been extremely well implemented on the Coolpix 3100 and is much better than the press-and-hold-for-a-second tiny button. But I am also getting used to the zoom around the shutter release button because you can control the zoom with only one fluid motion of your index finger; with a zoom toggle lever actuated by the thumb, you have to lift and move the thumb right and left. Up to you which ones you prefer, and it's just a matter of remembering and getting used to it.

The Mode Dial is effortless to turn with your thumb, snapping satisfyingly into the mode you select. Just a note of caution if, like me, you like to keep your digital camera in your pants pocket: I find I have unintentionally switched to another mode a couple of times -- perhaps as I put it in and take it out of my pants pocket.

Transferring images from the Coolpix 3100 to my PC is just a matter of connecting the USB cable into the appropriate slots. Then simply turn on the camera. At the computer screen prompt, I select NikonView 6 and the images are automatically transferred to the directory I select. It takes about 1.5 sec. to transfer one image on my PC. Once done, I click the drive icon on my task bar and wait for the signal it is now OK to unplug the cable at both end. Then I erase all pictures from the memory card, or simply reformat the card.

Red eye can be a problem with flash photography and Nikon View 6 provids a handy function to fix this.

The Nikon Coolpix 3100 is a very good point-and-shoot digital camera that meets all requirements except for action shots due to its shutter lag. Its 3 megapixels resolution allows 8x10 in. prints and it has the image quality Nikon is known for. If you are into macro photography, the Coolpix 3100 provides an affordable and excellent way to get into it without costly lens attachments.

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