The Nikon D3000 is one of my favorite entry-level DSLRs. Now that's not just pure fan-boy talk, but a conclusion reached after reviewing a gamut of entry-level DSLRs: that the D3000 offers the most bang-for-the-buck. So why is Nikon tampering with its 'winning formula'?
Well, in Nikon's world, the D3100 doesn't replace the D3000. It is considered a complimentary model for users looking for more features than the D3000 offers. Secondly, something tells me Nikon took a long, hard look at the competition and customer demands, then upped that by a comfortable margin and squeezed it all into the tiny body of the D3100.
So what is Nikon getting even more right this time?
↑ Walkthrough of the Nikon D3100
It blows your mind
The image quality in the D3100 is amazing. The best I have come across to date in any entry-level DSLR or ILC. Nikon sure made some magic with this brand new 14Mp CMOS sensor. The 10MP CCD sensor in the D3000 was one of my few 'raised eyebrows' with that camera. Yes, it produced great images, but seeing the quality from the D3100, there really is no comparison. Great job, Nikon!
↓ Samples of the improved sensor on the D3100. All photos with the Nikon 105mm VR f2.8 Micro lens.
Now, this will blow your socks off. Not just does the D3100 produce great images, it continues to do so at unheard ISO levels in the entry-level DSLR class. With the debut of the D3 and D300 more than three years ago, Nikon found the 'secret sauce' for good image quality at high ISO. The D3100 continues to deliver on that legacy. Wow! Completely usable image shot @ ISO 3200, and even 6400 in a pinch, is just plain amazing considering its entry-level status.
↓ From left to right: ISO 3200, 6400, and 12800. Noise reduction set to off.
↑ Perfectly usable ISO 3200. Wow!
Heading in the Right Direction
Reading up on my older reviews, I did give DSLR video quite the shellacking. The two main caveats have been lack of manual control and poorly functioning autofocus. That has not been completely solved, but with the D3100 Nikon is definitely heading in the right direction.
First of all, the quality shot is full HD 1080p video @ 24 fps. A nice, film like quality. Secondly, you have full manual control over shutter speed, aperture and ISO before starting the video recording. During recording, you can alter shutter speed and aperture. Or at least, you can see it change on the LCD, but after several tests, I wasn't able to discern any difference between video shot @ f2 and f9 when changed during recording, not before. Strange! So something tells me that despite seeing the aperture number change on the LCD, it actually does not change in the video. Will follow up with Nikon and update blog accordingly.
Lastly, Nikon has implemented a new feature called "full-time-servo" that on paper automatically focusses and tracks subjects in liveview and video recording mode without you half-pressing the shutter button. My grade? I will give a "B" for effort, but for actual usage, it still receives a failing grade. Autofocus during video recording just doesn't work that well on a DSLR. Skipping the technical explanation, the only solution I currently see to improve DSLR video autofocus is simply to remove the mirror and go with a similar solution as offered by newer Interchangeable Lens Cameras (ILC) or Sony's new A33 and A55 translucent mirror cameras. Which leaves us at if you want great focus during video recording, learn to manually focus.
Continue on to part two of the review.
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