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Nikon D3100 - Design and Features

By Gavin Stoker



  • Recommended by TR
Nikon D3100


Our Score:


Not much larger than a bridge camera, starter digital SLRs are inevitably more compact than their body toughened, weather-proofed semi pro big brothers and the D3100 is no exception. However the build feels solid - lightweight yet robust with it, particularly with the 18-55mm lens attached, and not obviously plastic-y.

One area that suffers in the need for the DSLR to appear unthreateningly compact to newcomers is the hand grip however, being smaller and less comfortable than we would have liked. You can curl three fingers around it, but it's a squeeze. This leaves the forefinger hovering over the shutter release button, located on the forward slope of the grip, and the thumb resting on a small rubberised pad at the back, or more likely the command dial just above. There's no time saving front command dial though, as on higher-end DSLRs, nor is there a top-mounted LCD window for a quick glance at key settings.

The D3100's chunky shooting mode dial, the width of a 10 pence piece, sits in its usual place, slightly backward slanted for more comfortable access via forefinger and thumb, slotting into each setting when turned with a definite 'click'. So you're unlikely to jog settings accidentally when lifting the D3100 out of your camera bag. The dial has the usual smattering of auto settings and enhanced subject specific options that will enable the less experienced to point and shoot to begin with and move on to experimenting with the creative quartet of program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual as confidence and natural curiosity grows.

A stiff lever to the right of this provides access to the camera's various drive modes, ranging through single shot, continuous burst, self-timer and, usefully for those attempting candid portraiture (whether humans or skittish wildlife), a 'quiet shutter' option. Although there is some mechanical sound with this last option selected, the camera 'kills' the beeping noise that usually signals focus and exposure have been determined - so your subject isn't alerted to the fact that you're about to fire off a shot before you do. We still get auto focus points flashing red in the viewfinder as a visual signal.

The shooting information displayed on the backplate LCD upon start up doesn't automatically switch off as an eye is brought to the viewfinder, which would have been nice to avoid its slightly distracting glare, as the D3100 doesn't feature nifty built-in eye sensors like the Sony Alpha series. It goes off of its own accord eventually but then 'pops' back into life as you half press the shutter release button having lined up a shot.

Like previous DSLR generations the look of the display is changeable - from 'classic' to 'graphic' and vice versa, whilst background colour can also be swapped to suit personal taste and aid legibility.

In general terms the Nikon's buttons and controls are well labelled, practically sized and effectively implemented, plus fall under thumb or finger without any awkward dextrous feats required.


January 11, 2011, 1:47 am

Informative review, thanks. I have had my eye on this camera for a few months now and I'm pretty certain this is what I'll opt for. For that price, how could I go wrong?


January 11, 2011, 2:48 am

That ISO performance is remarkable at this price point. It looks the same or better than my 5D2. IMO, light and how you handle lack of it is absolutely crucial at this price point. It takes away much of the need for expensive fast glass, and makes the world of difference to someone at entry level.


January 11, 2011, 4:43 am

I wish this was the original spec for the D3000, as I invested in one, and only for this to come out a year later...grr.

It has all of the features and performance I would like, and as my 1st SLR, the D3000 was good, but this simply is so much better. I want to upgrade, but its very difficult finding this body only for a decent price. The D3000 is almost defunct now, thanks to this :(

Martin Daler

January 11, 2011, 2:07 pm

@ theDman

Can't help with buyer's remorse, but if you are chasing prices you could do worse than look over at www.camerapricebuster.co.uk.

Of course, Nikon might come out with something even better next year...


January 11, 2011, 3:04 pm

@theDman: personally I'd resist the temptation to upgrade to a camera within the same price bracket so soon after your initial purchase. The body makes such a small difference relatively speaking to what you shoot upgrading just for a couple of extra features isn't going to make a vast difference to your end product. Either put the cash towards going up a level to something like the D90 (or whatever its replacement is) / D7000 or work out what sort of photography you do most and stick the cash on a suitable lens. That said the D3000 did have a fair few problems (which was a shame as they seemed to be unique to that camera, didn't crop up anywhere else in the range) so the upgrade might be a bit more noticeable than normal.


January 11, 2011, 3:29 pm

I am contemplating the move to digital SLR having used a variety of compact cameras over the past few years. The price/performance of this camera seems a no brainer, especially as most of my photography is done indoors in low light. I just don't know if I'm ready to take the jump to a bigger camera.


January 11, 2011, 11:44 pm

What was the iso setting on the last duck shot? I guessing ISO12600 as the full sized image looks simply atrocious.


January 12, 2011, 4:58 am

I bought this camera last November (after, ahem, a Significant Birthday where i got a fair bit of cash instead of presents, as such... so bought something I wouldn't normally let myself stretch to - not to mention without the TR review that I normally look for guidance from ).

It's my first foray into DSLRs, and the picture quality is amazing, eepecially the low light performance WITHOUT the flash. I'm still learning about photography and feel this is a great step up from the 'photography as a commodity' mode/approach that everyone (including myself) has gotten into. The liveview mode is welcome; but could do with more continuous shooting capacity. I actually find it a tad small on the physical handling side (i'm only 5'7" tall without sausage fingers!) but it does feel bulletproof (actually feels heavier and better-built than my old Canon EOS SLR from days gone by). Got a good package deal with a 85-200 zoom, memory card, filters and bag from Jessops (nothing like buying online and collect - with Quidco cashback - to make you feel good as you got a decent deal AND you get to Play With Your New Toy on the same day... :-) not necessarily the best deal, but you get the gist!)

As a first step up from Point&Shoot camera phones/c£200 digitals, I honestly think it's a cracking piece of kit which will fire your creative tendencies. Well, it did mine...

John Shewsbury

January 24, 2011, 7:45 am

Being a fan of Canon, I was considering either the Canon 1000D or Canon 550D but after I knew that this camera can still produce good result at ISO 1600 - that seriously is something impressive and remarkable for an entry level DSLR and that can be an important factor for me to consider this camera as well. In general, this D3100 kick out all the "features" that Canon 1000D can offer (though it's unfair to compare this latest model against the old 1000D)... sigh...


February 18, 2011, 9:27 pm

It compares pretty well against the new 1100D though too, John, especially taking into consideration the price difference.

I've just purchased this camera to replace a Sony a700 (which I found awkward to use, not terribly well built and far too big and heavy for day to day use) and I couldn't be happier. The only gripe I have is the lack of a USB cable in the box. Luckily any old 5 pin will work happily.


April 30, 2011, 4:46 am

Bought this DSLR about a month ago with a bag, UV filter, 4Gb SD card and the kit lens for £518 (£478 with the £40 cashback) from Jessops and they threw in a USB webcam this had the missing USB cable even though I have plenty of the same cables.
I bought it to replace a Sony a200K which I found heavy even without a lens attached. The D3100 feels a lot lighter than the Sony a200.
Although the only photos I have taken are of the pets in low light using the guide mode it produced far better results than I expected, I just wish this DSLR had being out when I bought the Sony, I would have bought the D3100 without doubt.

uEDGE Business Cards

October 8, 2013, 12:28 am

This is my first SLR and i am an amateur. It has very good essential features and so easy to operate. You will buy this camera if you do not plan to be a pro in the future.
Best for beginners with decent Megapixels for high-detailed photos and videos.

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