With all the buzz about Nikon’s latest FX offerings, the D4 and the almost affordable D800, and rumors flying about the D3200, I thought it might be a good time to review my old standby, the Nikon D3100, which I’ve been using for almost two years. I’m a firm believer in doing the research, making good decisions about gear buys, and then getting the most out of my purchases, so you can bet that this photographer won’t denigrate himself by drooling over Nikon’s latest and greatest releases.
OK, I’m lying. I fawn just like every other camera junky when a new model like the D800 comes out, especially when and it has features like a 36.3MP FX-format CMOS sensor, full HD 1080p video at 30/25/24p with stereo sound, an ISO range from 100-6400, a 4 fps burst rate and the Advanced Scene Recognition System with a 91,000-pixel RGB sensor. But the realities of my income keep to keep my desires in check.
If you’re like me — impressed by the top end gear but looking for a functional, multi-purpose camera that won’t break the bank, then this review’s for you. Currently, D3100′s sell for around $550 with a kit 18-55mm Nikor VR lens, or between $350 and $450 used or refurbished, and I would argue that you can’t find a better deal than the D3100 if you’re looking for a lightweight workhorse that’s great for travel photography, landscape photography, action shots, and low light situations. If you enjoy having an online presence and stray occasionly into professional work, the D3100 will never let you down.
Overall, my impression of the D3100 has been positive from the start. As I mentioned in a PhotoHow2 comparison of my former rig, an ancient and oft abused D70, and my new purchase, one of the only complaints I could come up with was that the camera is a little small for my clumsy hands and my nose a little big for the preview screen. On the other hand, the camera fits in a backpack. I’ve even thrown it in my pack and taken it mountain bike riding. The same goes for stowing it in luggage. The pros and cons of the D3100′s diminutive body size seems to cancel each other out.
I’ve been most impressed using the D3100 in low light situations (the free ebook about shooting in low light from Fro Knows Photo helped me get my workflow together). During a series of indoor shoots of the band MarchFourth Marching Band, I found that noise was not a problem, and cleaned up nicely using Adobe Lightroom CS5′s updated noise reduction features. The camera was well suited for the portraits that I took of band members, and worked exceptionally well with the Nikon SB-700 Speedlight used as an on camera fill flash.
So with another busy season of photography just around the corner and some amazing new cameras on the market, would I say it’s time to upgrade and leave the D3100 behind? No way.