We had a chance to get a hands-on of Nikon’s newest entry-level DSLR, the D3100, about 2 weeks ago but of course had to keep mum about it until today.
The Nikon D3100 targets beginner amateur photographers and those looking to purchase a “Family DSLR.” It features 14.2MP resolution on a DX CMOS image sensor (APS-C 23.1 x 15.4 mm) , a 3.0-in. LCD (230k-dot), Live View and Movie with full-time Contrast-detect AF, Multi-CAM 1000 AF sensor module (Phase-detect) with 11 focus points, PASM, Scene Auto Selector, ISO 100 – 3200, ISO 6400 equiv., ISO 12800 equiv., RAW, Continuous Shooting 3fps, Active D-Lighting, Automatic Image Sensor Cleaning, an enhanced Guide Mode, and Full 1080p HD Cinematic Video (1920 x 1080 pixels) at 24fps with sound.
The Nikon D3100 keeps Nikon’s DSLR proven design in a compact and light body. When we tried out the camera, we found very fast shutter response. The Phase-detect AF is also fast as expected. What’s new, and welcomed, is the fast and precise Contrast-detect AF in Live View, even in low light situations. Basically, Live View is now practically usable on the D3100. In fact, Nikon is so confident of the improved Contrast-detect AF performance that they made it full-time when filming Full HD movies. As is fast becoming an industry standard, movies are captured in H.264 AVCHD codec (.mov file). A new space-saver (and time-saver) editing feature allows you to specify the start and end of a movie clip in Playback right in-camera (getting rid of excess footage you don’t want).
The LCD is 3.0-inch with 230k-dot resolution. Despite the “low” resolution, the image is bright and clear. Face Detection technology can lock focus on up to 35 human faces [since there were less than this number of people in the room, we were unable to test out this feature], apparently a feat not even accomplished with consumer camcorders. In the photo above, you’ll notice the red dedicated Movie button and the dedicated Live View switch around it. [The “mystery lever” around the Mode Dial is simply the Drive lever to select Continuous Shooting and Self-timer modes.]
We also got a brief look at the enhanced Guide Mode. Recognizing that beginners want better pictures, upgrade to a DSLR to obtain better pictures, but are too often let down by the results because they do not know how to make the most of their DSLR. So, Nikon has decided to enhance the Guide Mode to address users’ requirement more directly: you specify what you want to do, and the camera guides you in each of the steps, whether to “show water flowing,” soften the background, freeze a moment, or convey motion. For example, if you want to achieve a blurred background, the Guide Mode shows you how to open up the aperture and, as you do so, it displays “assist images” of the effect you are getting, viz. the background gets more and more blurry as you open the aperture more. Could be a great way to learn photography.
We can’t really comment on the image quality since we’ve yet to do our sets of tests. This will have to wait for when we do a full review.
The Nikon D3100 will be available with the Zoom-NIKKOR 18-55mm (27-82.5mm equiv.) VR Image Stabilization kit lens beginning September 17, 2010, for CAD $699.95 (MSRP). A new AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm (82.5-450mm equiv.) f/4.5-5.6 VR lens will be available beginning September 2, 2010 for CAD $429.95 (MSRP).
Here’s Nikon Official Promo Video of the D3100: