A programmable Fn button--you can set it to control the image quality, ISO sensitivity, white balance, or Active D-Lighting menus--lies under your left thumb, though it's a little hard to differentiate from the flash pop-up/compensation button that sits above it by feel alone. Behind the shutter button circumscribed by the power switch are the exposure compensation and info buttons; the latter toggles the back display.
As usual, the top mode dial is segregated into the scene, PASM (Program, Aperture- and Shutter-priority, and Manual), and full auto modes. Nikon adds a twist here, a Guide mode that provides various levels of step-by-step help for a limited number of common shooting scenarios. There's Easy operation, which, like Auto, provides access to a limited number of options, as well as an Advanced mode, which describes the appropriate settings for the chosen scenario and then allows you to change the settings yourself. For instance, in Easy Operation/Distant Subjects it puts you into the Sports scene mode--the camera tells you what it's doing, which is really nice--then optionally allows you to adjust flash, release mode, and ISO sensitivity. The options are not specific to the scenarios, however, which would be useful. My one minor quibble with this is that the controls don't always function the same in this mode as when shooting normally; so, for example, here you'd adjust shutter speed with the up/down buttons on the multiselector, whereas you'd normally use the command dial to change the speed. This might confuse some people.
|Canon EOS XSi||Canon EOS T1i||Nikon D3100||Pentax K-x||Sony Alpha DSLR-A500|
|Sensor (effective resolution)||12.2-megapixel CMOS||15.1-megapixel CMOS||14.2-megapixel CMOS||12.4-megapixel CMOS||12.3-megapixel Exmor CMOS|
|22.2 mm x 14.8mm||22.3 mm x 14.9mm||23.6 x 15.8mm||23.5 mm x 15.6mm||23.5 mm x 15.6mm|
|Color depth||14 bit||14 bit||n/a||12 bit||n/a|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 100 - ISO 1600||ISO 100 - ISO 3200/12,800 (expanded)||ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 3200/12,800 (expanded)||ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded)||ISO 200 - ISO 12,800|
|Continuous shooting||3.5 fps
6 raw/53 JPEG
9 raw/170 JPEG
7 raw/25 JPEG (medium/fine)
5 raw/17 JPEG
6 raw/12 JPEG
|Autofocus||9-pt AF |
|9-pt AF |
|11-pt AF |
|11-pt AF |
|9-pt AF |
|Shutter speed||1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync||1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync||1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync||1/6000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync||1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync|
|Metering||35 zone||35 zone||420-pixel 3D color matrix||16 segment||40 segment|
|Image Stabilization||Optical||Optical||Optical||Sensor shift||Sensor shift|
|Video||No||1080/20p; 720/30p H.264 QuickTime MOV||1080/24p; 720/30p H.264 QuickTime MOV||720/24p Motion JPEG AV||No|
|LCD size||3 inches fixed |
|3 inches fixed |
|3 inches fixed |
|2.7 inches fixed |
|3 inches tiltable |
|Battery life (CIPA rating)||500 shots||400 shots||550 shots||1,100 shots (lithium batteries)||1,000 shots|
|Dimensions (inches, WHD)||5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4||5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4||4.9 x 3.8 x 2.9||4.8 x 3.6 x 2.7||5.4 x 4.1 x 3.3|
|Body operating weight (ounces)||18.5||18.6||17.7||24.0||24.0|
|Mfr. Price||n/a||$649 (body only, est)||n/a||$599 (body only, est)||$549.99 (body only)|
|$649.99 (with 18-55mm lens)||$799 (with 18-55mm lens)||$699.95 (with 18-55mm VR lens)||$649.95 (with 18-55mm lens)||$649.99 (with 18-55mm lens)|
|Ship date||April 2008||April 2009||September 2010||October 2009||November 2009|
On the back there's a nicely implemented thumb-operated Live View rocker switch and record button. The four-way navigation switch feels a little more responsive than the D3000's.
Nikon moved the drive mode controls--single, burst, self-timer and Quiet--to a switch next to the mode dial, a location I prefer to burying it in the menus or in the interactive display. I also like Nikon's implementation of the interactive display. The adjustment options are arrayed around the edges of the display, which makes the one you're looking for easier to find compared with some of the more cluttered full-screen layouts of competitors. On the other hand, you do have to navigate sequentially through the options, which you don't have to do with control panels that allow you to move up, down, and sideways.
In addition to a composite, a HDMI out, and a USB connector, the D3100 has a connector for Nikon's proprietary GPS module. But there are a lot of more useful shooting features still missing that other cameras in this price class provide, including wireless flash control. Most egregiously, though, the D3100 lacks simple exposure and flash exposure bracketing. Nikon seems to concentrate on in-camera postprocessing for the bulk of its features instead. (For a full account of the D3100's features and operation, download the PDF manual.)
Though the D5000 is expected to remain in the channel for a while, obviously there's significant overlap between the D3100 and the D5000 at similar prices, with only a few things to distinguish between them: the D5000 offers the articulated LCD, better viewfinder, better performance and a more well-rounded feature set (bracketing!), while the D3100 provides a slightly larger LCD, higher resolution which you probably don't need, and better movie capture features. They're about tied on photo quality. So ultimately, unless you're into video, the D5000 is probably the better buy at the same price; if you are into video, the D3100 probably isn't the camera for you, anyway. That leaves the Nikon D3100 as a very nice dSLR, but one that isn't a very compelling buy as long as the D5000 is still around at a decent price.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)