Despite being a mere slip of a thing, Nikon is pitching the S3100 as a camera that has both style and substance. With a metallic finish faceplate and matt black plastic back plate, the S3100 both looks attractive whilst feeling surprisingly sturdy when gripped in the palm. Inevitably at this entry level end of the market, there's nothing resembling a handgrip at all to be found at the front of the camera, so your fingers slip and slide around its faceplate, six raised plastic nodules at the rear providing the only point of purchase for the thumb.
This means that the camera is difficult to hold rock steady and level when shooting handheld, and even in broad daylight this resulted in us getting some blurred results when shooting at the telephoto end of the zoom, due to camera shake. Nikon offers software based electronic stabilisation (Or as Nikon terms it 'Vibration Reduction') which boosts ISO and shutter speed to try and compensate; but in fact it falls short as well as reducing image quality. A wrist strap can be attached via a lug on the camera's right hand side (if viewed from the back) so you don't actually drop it.
So while there are a few desirable features missing, some useful point-and-shoot additions are available. Smile Timer, Blink Proof, in-camera red eye fix and Skin Softening all help you to more easily take group photos and keep portraits looking their best. Again, though, it's worth noting that if none of these automatic settings can get the job done there are no manual options to fall back on – a typical situation for budget compacts but annoying nonetheless.
That said there is the option for a degree of creativity with its colour modes, which range from the default setting of standard, through the alternatives of vivid, black and white, sepia or cyanotype.
There's no obvious dedicated shooting mode button or dial here, as fully automatic image capture is by default the main setting. Thus you can turn the camera on and, provided date and time have been pre-set, be up and shooting near instantly. However we do get a dedicated 'scene' mode button which lets you instead drill in to a collection of 19 pre-optimised options, covering the usual selection of portrait, both human and animal, and landscape biased snapping. Even among these there is a 'smart' option, letting the user rely on the camera to decide which of the scene modes it deems most appropriate for any given scene or subject.
Via a left hand toolbar that pops up alongside, users can furthermore drill into the aforementioned Smart Portrait system options or, unusually for a camera in this price bracket, tab further down and activate subject tracking to maintain focus on moving subjects. Again, the impression given by the S3100 is that if offers rather more than one might expect from a humble pocket snapshot.