Nikon D3100

Last month, a friend asked me purchasing advice on a Nikon D5000. I told him, “Don’t. Nikon will be introducing a new D3000 replacement before Photokina.”

Today, Nikon has officially announced the Nikon D3100 entry level dSLR camera.

353_25472_D3100_front

If you recall the big spreadsheet in my complete guide to purchasing an entry dSLR camera (etc), the big specification upgrades are: 14 megapixel, 1080p video and continuous AF.

Two other overlooked features of the D3100 are the improved ergonomics: the shooting mode is now chosen with a dial, and a lever now activates the movie mode. Both are going to be very welcome (for reasons I explained in my guide above).


As I explained in the guide, the upgrade to 14 (from 12 in the D5000 and 10 in the D3000) is a marketing jump at best—if you want megapixel, the Canon 550D has 18—yes, it costs a lot more. Since the D3100 has the next-generation Sony CMOS sensor in it, I fully expect this to be the new reference standard in DxOMark for an APS-C camera. So that’s a nice leapfrog from the old D200-class sensor in the D3000. Translation: overall quality of this sensor should be best-in-class.

Video capability in dSLRs

The bigger news is in the video realm. Nikon was the first to introduce the capability in dSLRs with the D90 two years ago. Since that time, Canon has improved on that with external video, 1080p capability (most models), variable frame rates, and a slightly faster rolling shutter. At the time I wrote my article, I pointed out that if you had to choose between C or N and wanted video, Canon was the obvious choice. Now, with the D3100, Nikon has finally caught up and passed Canon with auto-focus enabled in videomode. I predicted that would happen.

There seems some shock among reviewers that Nikon is introducing such amazing video capability in the lowest end camera ($700 for the complete kit). That may seem strange to them, but is actually par for the course. Video capability is a function of the imaging processing chip driving the sensor, so it gets iterated when the imaging chip gets updated. This explains why Nikon’s video capability was poorer than Canon’s—since the latter came out latter they were much better than the former. Also, unlike Canon, Nikon does not make a habit of firmware crippling their models so when the D3100 was spec’d with the newer CMOS chip, then it then becomes the first among many to offer the improved video capability.

Note that the Nikon D3100 may be advertised as the first camera to introduce video AF in a dSLR body, but not the first to introduce Video AF in a dSLR-class body! For quite a while now, Panasonic and Olympus have had AF during video capture. The bodies are EVIL (Electronic-Viewfinder Inchangeable-Lens), and thus not technically dSLRs. This is why I recommended that if video was really important to you, you should buy a Panasonic.

We’ll have to wait for the reviews to see if Nikon has minimized the rolling shutter in the video, and if the AF noise leaks too much into the audio track.

The D95 (or D7000)

Earlier this spring, another friend was buying a Nikon and asked for my advice. I offered her three choices based on the fact that she was shooting a borrowed Nikon D70: a Nikon D90, the new Nikon D300s, or wait until the fall for the sequel to the Nikon D90.

I even lent her my Nikon D200 for over a month before she had to make the decision saying, “If you like the D200 more than the D70, buy the D300s.”

In the end, she bought the D90. She still hasn’t returned my D200 and I heard is shooting it a lot because it “feels more responsive” than her D90.

Not everyone listens to me. :-(

While it wouldn’t be for her, obviously the sequel to the D90 (the D95? the D7000?) will have the new video imaging chip. It should also have either a 14 megapixel (or higher) sensor in it. In general, once you start with an entry level dSLR what you will get for the extra bucks are a better viewfinder, faster frame rate, larger buffer, more solid construction, and legacy features here or there. What you lose is ease of use and lightness.

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