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Nikon Coolpix 3100

Nikon’s Coolpix 3100 is a 3 megapixel mid-range digital camera with a 3X optical zoom, 16MB of memory and a wide range of preset modes. Costing £279, it’s priced roughly in the middle of its closest rivals, although it has the edge, especially in terms of beginners.

In line with its rivals, the 3100 is finished in silver, although measuring just 87 x 65 x 38mm and weighing only 213g with battery, it’s one of the smallest and lightest 3 megapixel / 3X zoom cameras around. Build quality is also very good and the body is surprisingly comfortable and easy to grip despite its small dimensions. Sadly there’s no underwater housing available from Nikon for the 3100 at the time of writing.

Images are composed using the crisp 1.5in screen or optical viewfinder, while the built-in flash offers the usual on, off, auto or red-eye reduction modes. The 3100 is powered by a pair of AA batteries, which helps keep its weight down, although understandably also reduces its maximum battery life compared to models which take four, or a single more powerful pack. Nikon has given the 3100 the best possible lifespan though by supplying a pair of high quality 2000mAh rechargeables with a mains recharger; an AC adapter for the camera is an optional extra.

The 3100 features a 3X optical zoom lens with a 35mm equivalent range of 38-115mm. Its actual focal length is 5.8-17.4mm, with an averagely bright focal ratio of f2.8~4.9. The lens shoots out 1.5cm during a three second power-up, and like most of its mid-range rivals, there’s a built-in lens cover which slides out automatically. The 3100’s closest focussing distance of just 4cm in macro mode is very impressive, but sadly there’s no further manual focus options.

The 3100 employs a (1/2.7in) 3 megapixel sensor which delivers images with a maximum resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels – sufficient to make a good-looking 10 x 8in colour inkjet print. There are three lower resolutions available and two levels of JPEG compression; like most mid-range cameras, there’s no RAW or uncompressed TIFF recording mode.

Nikon has fitted the 3100 with a Type-I Compact Flash slot and supplied it with a 16MB memory card. Using the High and Normal compression settings with the full 3 megapixel resolution generates images measuring around 1.6 and 0.8MB respectively; consequently you should fit around 10 or 19 pictures using each mode with the supplied memory.

A nine-position mode dial selects between Auto, Manual, Setup and Movie, along with four Scene Assist modes (we’ll mention these in a moment), and access to no fewer than ten further scene presets. The movie mode can capture up to 20 seconds of 640 x 480 video at 15fps, although there’s unforgivably no sound. You’re not likely to be using one of these cameras as a video recording device except for fun, but the lack of sound makes the feature useless even for that.

The 3100’s Manual mode should also really be in inverted commas, as it’s more like a Program mode on other cameras – ie Auto with a little extra control. Sadly there’s no manual control over the shutter or aperture on the 3100, although the camera itself can select shutter speeds between 4 seconds and 1/3000. Sensitivity ranges from 50 to 200 ISO, but again is automatically selected.

Where the Coolpix 3100 misses out on manual control though it more than makes up on the preset front. Not only are there 14 preset scenes in total, but the four directly accessible from the dial (for portrait, landscape, sports and night portrait), additionally offer on-screen framing guidelines. That’s to say the 3100 will helpfully suggest where you should place your subject for the greatest compositional result along with looking after all the settings. All in all, it’s ideal for someone who wants creative results, but isn’t interested in the technical side of photography.

The 3100’s image quality is excellent and beaten only by a one or two rivals upon the closest inspection. Its macro mode is also one of the best of any camera. Experienced photographers may be frustrated there’s no real manual control, but anyone wanting to take creative photos without the technicalities will find the 3100 an absolute joy. With no fewer than 14 scene presets, four with framing assistance, you’ll soon be taking the photos you always wanted but never knew how.

Better still, the 3100’s also small, light and relatively cheap. The only downside is a lack of sound on movie mode, but beyond this you just can’t argue. The 3100’s a superb camera that’ll satisfy all but the most technical photographers, and as such comes highly recommended. Prospective buyers should also consider Sony’s P72 though, or for a more technical camera, Canon’s A70.

Verdict

The Nikon Coolpix 3100 is a great overall digital camera, combining excellent quality and ease of use in a small, light and affordable package. What it misses out in manual control it makes up for in preset modes which will have you taking creative photos without having to understand how it all works. The only downside is the lack of sound on movies, but this aside the Coolpix 3100 will satisfy all but the most technical photographers.

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