Nikon D3100 Review
The Nikon D3100 is the latest entry level Nikon from DSLR – and I'm glad it arrived when it did. While I thought at the time the D40 was an excellent camera, especially for the price, it's follow up, the D3000 was pretty disappointing. The build quality was lacking, as well as it's feature set. This especially considering, it was released right after the D5000 which, for not a whole lot more, was overloaded with cool new features.
However, now that I've said that, the D3100 is a pretty impressive camera, especially for the price.
It features the an upgraded EXPEED2 processor, which has superior low light performance to the D5000 and for that matter even the D90. It's also noticeably faster than either of those two cameras. The build quality on the D3100 is still definitely comparable to most entry level cameras, but it did feel like a pretty dramatic step up from the D3000.
The biggest upgrade between the D3100 and D5000 (and even the D90 for that matter) is it's video handling. With the new processor it can shoot full 1080p HD, whereas the older camers can only shoot 720p. More importantly, the D3100 can shoot with constant autofocus. This is one feature that makes the video feature actually usable, as opposed to just a line on a specifications sheet. (Ok to be fair, I've shot some video on a D5000, but it only works for a steady shot on a tripod. Anything moving or dynamic is a waste of time as it's bound to get out of focus).
D3100 vs. D5000
I'll go ahead and say it right now, the D3100 on paper is a better camera than the D5000. Depending on what add-ons you get, the price is also comparable for both of these cameras.
However, just because it appears to be a better camera on paper, this does NOT mean that in practice it's a better HDR camera. After all, since this is an HDR site, we base our reviews on whether or not a camera is good for HDR shooting.
I'll state it simply right now, the Nikon D5000 is light years above the D3100 when it comes to shooting HDR. While there are many better cameras than the D5000 for HDR, the bottom line is, the D3100 (very disappointingly so) is not meant to shoot HDR.
As an “entry level” as opposed to”upper entry level” camera, there are a few very significant features it's lacking. Without a doubt the most important of these features is the ability to bracket. You can not take three bracketed exposures on the D3100, which adds a lot more work on the photographer's part. It's one thing if your a professional photographer, but I have a feeling that if you're looking at the D3100 you aren't quite at that level – so trying to shoot HDR without this feature could be a struggle.
Strictly for that reason, if you're looking to get into HDR at entry level prices, go for the Nikon D5000.
There are also a few other features that the D3100 is lacking including advanced iso controls, and advanced D-lighting controls Most of these really aren't going to be a big deal for people looking for their first DSLR, but it's worth mentioning.
Neither the the D3100 or the D5000 have built in autofocus motors, so if you want to use autofocus with lenses such as the Tokina 11-16mm wide angle (the best affordable wide angle lens out there), or the fantastic, and cheap Nikon 50mm f/1.8 (a steal at just over $100) you better start looking into the D90.
One other thing to take note of is FPS. The D5000 can shoot at 4 FPS while the D3100 can only shoot at 3 FPS. While this may not seem like a big deal, if you're trying to shoot HDR handheld (which isn't recommended) that can make the difference between a passable sequence, and one that is totally unusable.
There is no doubt that the Nikon D3100 is a feature packed, steal-of-a-deal entry level DSLR. If you don't care about shooting HDR, then absolutely this is the best camera you can buy to break into the DSLR camera realm.
If you want to get serious about shooting HDR photos, then you need to at the very least go with the D5000, as it won't take long until you start thinking about an upgrade.
If you're not a total DSLR novice, I'd consider bypassing both of these and checking out the D90 or for a bit more money, the incredible D7000. The build quality is better than each of the lower models, it has more professional on body controls, and has a built in autofocus motor. Believe me, once you've shot some portraits with the 50mm f/1.8 you'll understand what I mean. The D90 is looking even more attractive these days now that you can find it at most retailers for around $725.
If you're looking for more details about any of the cameras mentioned in this article, you can compare them at Adorama: