The bottom end of Nikon’s formidable DSLR line-up has never looked so tempting. The D3100’s build quality is up to Nikon’s intimidating reputation, with the possible exception of the rather wobbly pop-up flash. It’s almost identical to the wonderful D5000 in the hand; it’s big enough to grip comfortably and small enough to be portable.
It does cram in a few more body-mounted controls, though. Unlike the D5000 it has a drive selector switch, allowing you to select burst, single or timer modes, as well as a quiet mode. As with the flash, the switch itself feels a little cheap. Other luxuries are thin on the ground. The D-pad on the rear resists the urge to function as a set of four shortcut buttons, and the 3in monitor is fairly low resolution with 230kpixels, and doesn’t pivot. There is, however, a big improvement when it comes to video.
The D3100 is Nikon’s first H.264-capable camera, and offers 24fps, 1080p recording to a maximum of ten minutes. The D3100 is new, so the price isn’t as appealing as some of the other models here. However, its image quality clearly shows the benefit of being a generation ahead of other cameras. It was at the top of the table in every test.
The kit lens helps. As with the D5000, the D3100 comes with Nikon’s decent 18-55mm effort, and in our still-life tests it excelled. In our high ISO tests, the D3100 was top every time. Some softness started to edge in at ISO 3200, but even at a stop beyond that images were salvageable with a little Photoshop intervention. The H2 setting pushes the boundaries, but it still edged ahead of its closest rival, theCanon 550D.
The D3100 is yet another sign of Nikon taking the challenge straight to Canon’s doorstep. At this price, the D3100 is just as desirable as the D5000. Image quality is improved, as is the video mode. Build quality doesn’t quite match, but otherwise the D3100 is the D5000’s equal in every way. Canon’s next low-end effort is going to have to be spectacular to match this.