While the name Kodak was associated with film and early photography and Leica was associated with early serious photography, real 35mm photography received its biggest boost from the Nikon camera line as journalists and other professionals made great use of the line's fine optics and multiple single lens reflex bodies and now with image world turned digital Nikon still leads the way.
When Nikon announced that it would be upgrading its D3000 line of digital single lens reflex cameras (dSLRs), many photographers waited with baited breath to see if the upgraded D3100 was better than the D3000.
The easy answer is yes, it is better in many ways. For example, while the D3000 offered high resolution, the D3100 offered not only a 3X 18-55mm zoom lens as standard, the lens was part of the Nikkor line. Nikkor lenses have been among the best-rated lenses for the past 30 years in chroma, spherical aberration and internal reflection (chroma is color rendition, spherical aberration is whether you see distortion at wide angles and short range and internal reflection is just the way the internal mirror handles light bouncing around the back end of the lens). Since the days of the old film models D1 and D2 and Nikormat cameras, Nikkor lenses have been the lenses of choice among Nikon photographers and that continues with the D3100.
The D3100 features not only a 14MP high-resolution CMOS DX sensor, but the electronics built into the camera incorporate Nikon's VR image stabilization feature so that when you use the 3X feature and zoom, you can handhold images that are rock steady.
The D3100 is also high-definition ready as it shoots at the native high-resolution mode of 1080 p so that you can shoot not only moving imagery but also still imagery or, if you are creative, you can use the best of both worlds to use a longish lens, for example, sit in a tough corner of a motor race and using a little slower setting have a blurred image of a car entering the corner, hitting an exact image when you need it and blurring it on the way out. It's a nice effect that does require a 300mm or longer zoom lens and a good tripod (plus good photographic reflexes, but you develop those when you've used a system long enough). Since the D3100 is also made for moving digital imagery, you can just start the sequence of cars coming into the corner and slowly pan across the spot you want to highlight and then finish the pan as they exit. It is a nice feature that shows just how far auto focus has come.
The D3100 uses 11-point auto focusing for sharp imagery and when it is combined with the EXPEED 2 camera engine, you have a wide range of control over the imagery you are shooting. For example, the EXPEED 2 lets you manage not only the overall image, but also the color, contrast, exposure, noise and speed adjustments so you can have just the image you want. This is the D3100s "Live View" mode.
Or, you can use one of six built-in scene exposure modes. The built-in modes include: Portrait; Landscape; Child; Sports; Close-up; Night; Portrait.
Interestingly, the D3100 offers you not only the ability to use the camera as a standard SLR where you frame the image through the pentaprism with just the area you want, but you can also do the same thing with the three-inch rear viewer -- much like a more standard point-and-shoot camera.
We were also favorably impressed with the D-3100's "Active D-Lighting" which helps to enhance shadows and highlights. When this is combined with the Nikon's Picture Control feature that offers the following modes: Standard; Neutral; Vivid; Monochrome; Portrait and Landscape, then you have a camera that is fully rounded.
For those times when you need a little fill flash or a small strobe -- and don't want to invest in a full-sized, hot-shoe-based strobe, the D-3100 has a small strobe that does a good job in high-lighting conditions where fill flash is needed and in situations where the background lighting is tough and you need just a little more light. The ISO ratings have also been expanded so you can shoot in some incredibly low-light conditions without any strobe at all. However, it's still nice to have the little strobe available.
All around, the D-3100 is a worthy successor to the D-3000 and those who may have been worried about the whether the improvements are real or just superficial can relax because the D-3100 is an improved model.
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