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Customer Review

507 of 529 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Takes excellent pictures and gets out of the way while doing it, November 14, 2010
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This review is from: Nikon D3100 14.2MP Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens (Camera)
This Nikon D3100 is a phenomenal deal for non professionals, the rest of us people that want to take family and travel shots. I've owned DSLRs since 2004, starting with a Nikon D70 and then moving to D40, D200 and Canon Digital Rebel XSi 12.2 MP Digital SLR Camera with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens (Black) and Canon EOS 40D 10.1MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only). Those are all excellent cameras, but this Nikon D3100 is better than all of those in one crucial area, the area that matters: it takes excellent pictures without having to fiddle with the settings between shots. Yes, the other cameras are better in other respects: They have more buttons to change settings without delving into menus, they are bigger (is that a plus?), heavier (another plus?), and have better specs (1/500 flash sync speed for D70 and D40), but in the end I would have to fiddle with the settings to get the best results: change the white balance, fiddle with the ISO (my Canons would default to ISO 400 for flash shots, why? Who knows. That meant disabling auto ISO and choosing ISO settings manually), the exposure (+0.7 indoor, 0 outdoor), and so on. D200 was noisy at higher ISO, D70's pictures tended to be cool (i.e. not warm), 40D had cool custom buttons (C1, C2, C3, very cool), but I found its ergonomics worse than XSi or any Nikon; why place the on/off switch at the bottom of the body? Who knows. Fortunately, new Canons have fixed this).

This D3100 also makes the D3000 and D5000 obsolete. The D3000 is slow and noisy at high ISO. The D5000 only shoots 720p (not 1080p), no autofocus in movie mode, less resolution. Old technology.

What sets the D3100 apart from all the other cameras above is this: set the camera in P (program) mode, auto white balance, -0.3 exposure compensation, slow flash sync mode (for people shots), auto distortion correction on (great!), auto chromatic aberrations correction on (great!), and you are set; now you can concentrate on the only aspect of photography that matters: composition, i.e. framing your shot in the best possible way. There must be a photography mantra that says, "thou shalt buy the D3100, and the D3100 will set you free." Now this is if you shot jpeg. If you shoot raw, you can then use a program like DXO, Aperture 3, or Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 to further play with the pictures. My workflow with the XSi was to shoot raw, then use DXO to batch process all the pics according to two settings: people (low contrast, no saturation added) and landscape (contrast, saturation, etc.). DXO would then batch-remove lens distortion, chromatic aberrations, vignetting, apply custom curves, change white balance when necessary, and apply its (almost magical) auto lighting settings to make the shots pop. For now DXO does not have a custom module for the D3100 (still too new of a camera), so I'm shooting jpeg for now. Once DXO adds the module for the D3100, I'll takes shots in both raw and jpeg fine and compare the jpegs straight out of the camera with the raw images processed with DXO. I'm curious to see the comparison.

This is great, not only for you, but also for your non-photographer spouse; my XSi took phenomenal shots, but I had to know how to set it. Can you imagine me going to my non-photographer wife and say, "okay, when you take indoor shots of our kids, set the camera on A mode (Canons expose for ambient light in A mode and adjust flash for fill, that's great), +0.7 exposure compensation, ISO 400 or 800, white balance on cloudy, and shoot." My wife was lost at "okay." Sure the custom modes on the 40D would have helped, but the 40D is old technology; can it take 1080p video? I didn't think so. Plus, what lens are you going to use with the 40D? The 17-55 IS? Great lens, but who wants to spend $1,000 for a non-weather sealed 17-55 dust collector (google Canon 17-55 and dust)? Will 17-55 be enough for your telephoto shots? Your kids' baseball games? Didn't think so. What about the Canon 18-200? Sub-par quality, noisy, overpriced.

Back to the D3100. Auto white balance (the second most important thing after composition) works great, even indoor (no cloudy setting necessary), the only changes are extreme situations (outdoor shade, or indoor fluorescent or tungsten lights at night, but that is true with every camera. Why that is is beyond me; can't they make smarter cameras that account for these situations as well?); movie mode is excellent; yes, the mic is mono, but that's okay for family use (and that's why you buy this camera; if you are pro, you landed on the wrong page); if you really want to push it, you can use this camera for video, your iphone/ipod touch for audio with an app like FourTrack, and then sync video and audio in post with the excellent Singular Software Dual Eyes program. Your choice. Matter is: DSLR video can look awesome if used the right way, but keep in mind its limitations: jerky camera horizontal panning will give you the infamous jello effect (courtesy of the CMOS sensor), so pan slowly. You'll also have to play with autofocus vs manual focus settings sometimes; I've used the camera in autofocus; it has worked great so far.

What lens(es) should you use with the D3100. You should sell the (excellent) 18-55 that ships with the camera. Quality is good, but not enough reach. You can sell it for $140 or so. Take the money and use it toward a more useful lens. What lens? The target market for this camera is moms and dads that want to take shots of their kids; even advanced amateurs like me don't want to travel with a camera bag full of primes and heavy zoom lenses that you have to swap every 10 minutes; this is 2010 (almost 2011), for crying out loud; choose a single zoom and enjoy life and photography; I would use the excellent but underrated Nikon 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX VR ED Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras, the excellent (but expensive) Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX ED VR Nikkor Wide-Angle Telephoto Zoom Lens for Nikon DSLR Cameras, or my choice, the jack-of-all trades, the Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II Nikkor Telephoto Zoom Lens for Nikon DX-Format Digital SLR Cameras. Yes, yes, if you check sites like Photozone, they will tell you that the optical quality of the 18-200 is not as good (or consistent) as the 18-105 or the 16-85, but it's good enough for moms and dads bitten by the photography bug. A great shot of your kid at 200mm is better than no shot with either of the other two lenses. The optical superiority of the 16-85 disappears at 135mm or 200mm, simply because it can't do it. The 16-85 and the 18-200 are about the same price. The 18-200 will set you free. It won't help you if your kids play baseball at night (too slow), but you'll have to live with it, unless you are willing to drop $2,000 on a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor Zoom Lens For Nikon Digital SLR Cameras. Sure, we'd all like a 16-300 VR VIII lens with a 20-stop VR reduction, constant 1.4 aperture, with optical perfection, weighing only 500 gr. and below $1,000, but alas our engineers are not as good as the random mutation and natural selection that gave us our eyes ;-0

My settings:
Display mode: detailed photo info > check RGB histogram and data > Done (why? You want to check if you are clipping the red, green, or blue channels)
Transition effects: OFF
Set picture control: portrait (for people shots)
Landscape: for, well, landscape shots: increase sharpness to 4 (D3100 shots are unsharpened by default)
Image quality: raw + jpeg fine (or jpeg fine, if you don't want to mess with raw)
White balance: auto (I played with the settings to A1, A2, A3, but images were to yellowish for my taste, as if my kids had jaundice). Auto works fine
Auto ISO: on
Min shutter speed: 1/30 (1/15 if you have steady hands)
Max ISO: I set 800, you can push to 1600 or even 3200 (your choice)
Standard ISO: 100
Active D-Lighting: on (it works well)
Auto distortion control: on (Great)
Movie settings: 1080 24p. You can also do 720 at 30p for less jerky movements
Info display format: i prefer classic black (your choice)
Auto info display: off
Image comment: your choice. I have my name, copyright (haha), and phone number
Beep: off (please)
AEL-AFL button: I only lock exposure, not focus.

My accessories:
67-to-77 ring adapter (if you have the 18-105 lens)
72-to-77 ring adapter (if you have the 18-200 lens)
77mm haze filter. I use the best, The B+W 77mm UVA (Ultra Violet) Haze MRC Filter #010 one. You don't want to use a cheap fIlter on top of a $350 or $650 lens.
77mm circular polarizer fliter; again I use the best, the B + W 77mm Kaesemann Circular Polarizer Coated Glass Filter. This filter is for your travel shots. It will make blue skies bluer and will remove reflections from that gorgeous Maui ocean. This is an expensive filter at $180 or so; you don't have to get it right away, unless you are going to Maui soon.

Why 77mm filters? Because you don't want to go nuts buying filters of different sizes for your lenses. If buy the 67mm filter for your 18-105 lens and later decide to upgrade your lens to the 72mm 18-200, you are screwed. It's cheaper to buy a $5 lens ring adapter to 77mm and use 77mm filters. It'll keep you sane too.

Remember why you purchase this camera: you want to enjoy photography; enjoy it then.
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Comments

Tracked by 8 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 53 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 14, 2010 7:43:33 PM PST
awesome review. many thanks for the tips on the settings, quite helpful.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 14, 2010 8:14:34 PM PST
Macauley86 says:
You are welcome. Take care.

Posted on Nov 15, 2010 8:08:12 PM PST
cal jazz says:
Your review helped me decide to buy the camera. Thanks for cutting through all the contradictory and at times confusing (for a DSLR beginner) spec discussions.

Posted on Dec 17, 2010 7:55:07 AM PST
Terrific review - very clear and concise, making sense of what can be an overwhleming amount of meaningless info. Loved your insight and very specific advice settings, lenses, etc. Can't wait to get this camera and start taking great photos!
Thanks

Posted on Jan 31, 2011 10:49:10 AM PST
KarenB says:
Thanks so much for the terrific review. I just got my d3100 about 2 weeks ago and have been having problems with flash in auto mode because the ISO defaults to 3200 every time. This has got to be a glitch and is very frustrating. I saw this problem mentioned in a couple of other reviews and wondered if you've experienced it. If I can't figure out how to solve it, I'll switch to using program mode and limit the ISO to a lower number. Have you had similar results with flash set on auto mode? Thanks again!
Karen

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 31, 2011 11:05:18 AM PST
Macauley86 says:
Hi Karen,
Yes, it's a known glitch of the D3100 firmware that will probably be fixed with the next firmware update. It does it in every mode, even my favorite P(rogram) mode if the AUTO ISO option is enabled in the MENU.

If Auto ISO is selected, it's not that the ISO defaults to 3200, but rather defaults to whatever ISO the camera would have chosen with the flash off. I mostly don't mind that because I've selected a still-clean ISO 800 as my max ISO (camera defaults to 3200) and am okay with the camera using ISO up to 800 for my candid interior shots (less power demand on the flash), but if you do mind it, then you should disable auto ISO under MENU, assign your FN button (below the flash button) to ISO selection, and choose your ISO manually. Remember, this you have to do regardless of the shooting mode you are in (auto, A, P, S etc...)

I leave auto ISO on and only disable it under MENU for shots that require ISO 100 or 200 (real estate shots on a tripod, for example). I use my FN button for white balance since, for me, that's more critical than ISO on modern cameras that have a clean ISO up to iso 800.

Hope this helps.

Posted on Jan 31, 2011 11:05:42 AM PST
KarenB says:
Thanks so much for the terrific review. I just got my d3100 about 2 weeks ago and have been having problems with flash in auto mode because the ISO defaults to 3200 every time. This has got to be a glitch and is very frustrating. I saw this problem mentioned in a couple of other reviews and wondered if you've experienced it. If I can't figure out how to solve it, I'll switch to using program mode and limit the ISO to a lower number. Have you had similar results with flash set on auto mode?

Actually, I just tried lowering the ISO in P mode, and the camera suddenly goes to extremely slow shutter speeds. It's like the camera doesn't recognize that there's going to be light from the flash. Any idea what's going on? I'm thinking of sending it back.
Thanks again!
Karen

Posted on Jan 31, 2011 11:09:55 AM PST
KarenB says:
Oops, sorry for the double post with the slight addition. And thanks for the response. Yes, it does it in every mode I've tried. I just now saw your post - thanks, I'll try that. I don't understand why the shutter speed gets so slow if I use a lower ISO - doesn't the camera recognize that it could use a faster shutter speed since there will be light from the flash? Or maybe it's because of how I've set the flash?? Thanks again!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 31, 2011 11:11:39 AM PST
Macauley86 says:
Karen,
If you lower the ISO, the camera shutter will have to stay open longer to gather more light; at ISO 800, the camera will have to gather 4 times as much light as it does at ISO 3200, hence the shutter speed is going to be lower (say, 1/8th of a second instead of 1/60th of a second. This is okay for still subjects with the image stabilized lens that comes with the camera; it's not okay with moving subjects. In that case, you should use a faster lens, like the 35mm 1.8 DX. A faster 1.8 aperture will offset the slow shutter speed since it can gather over 3 times as much light as a 5.6 aperture, so you will be back to shooting at a higher shutter speed.
Frank

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 31, 2011 11:15:27 AM PST
Macauley86 says:
Because of the firmware glitch, the camera does not increase the flash output to allow for a faster shutter speed, but it defaults to what the camera would have selected without the flash.

To offset the problem, you may want to select the S mode and select the shutter speed you need (say 1/60th of a second) and also the max ISO you want, then let the camera worry about aperture and flash output.
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