August 19, 2010

Nikon D3100 full HD DSLR

Nikon was the first DSLR camera manufacturer to offer a stills camera that recorded HD. When its D90 was introduced in September 2008 it was 720p. Only now has it developed a DSLR that shoots full 1920x1080 HD – however, its new D3100 model only shoots 24p. This may leave some unhappy, particularly in Europe where 25p works perfectly with our video standard. However, the camera offers other much-requested features that make it worth a look.

The D3100 is Nikon's replacement for Europe's best selling DSLR, the D3000, and with a list price of £500 (body only) or £580 (with 18-55mm kit lens), it will undercut Canon's entry-level 550D.

It should be easier to shoot video on than its Canon rivals, as it has auto-focus while recording, which seemed very quiet when we used it on a pre-production model. It also has face detection and auto tracking, so that it can follow a face in a shot and keep it in focus. It draws a box around the face, or faces it has selected (it can prioritise up to 35 faces - so long as they are looking in your general direction), trying to select the best focus settings to suit as many as possible. As DSLR lenses typically have narrow focus wheels with limited travel, having to focus manually while recording usually lacks precision, which is why add-on focus wheels or follow-focus systems are recommended for any serious work, so auto focus that works as well as this seems to is a great feature.

It also records MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 .mov files, instead of Motion JPEG AVI files, which should make it more edit friendly – it comes with video editing software and users can do simple trimming in the camera. It only records mono audio, but any serious HD DSLR user will use a separate audio recorder anyway (we use the Zoom H4n). We recorded several brief tests (which we can't show as it wasn't a production model) that indicated a variable bit rate around 20Mbps (compared to up to about 44Mbps for the Canons) – as Nikon couldn't give us an official figure this may change. It also exhibited rolling shutter defects (skewed verticals during panning), as you'd expect of a CMOS sensor.

With the replacement for the D90 expected soon (there is rumoured to be an announcement in September), it may be that Nikon is leaving higher-frame rate (and hopefully higher bitrate) recording for its more professional model, which should also benefit from auto-focus, making it a better competitor for Canon's HD DSLRs.

D3100 specifications

The D3100 has a new 14.2 megapixel CMOS sensor (the D3000 used a 10MP CCD), which is APS-C sized, although marginally bigger at 23.1x15.4mm than the 22.3x14.9mm APS-C sensor used in the Canon EOS 7D and 550D (Rebel T2i).

Other features include: HDMI output; "great low-light performance" (ISO 100-3200 with a boost to the equivalent of 12800); a more powerful Expeed 2 digital signal processor (1.5 times faster than the D90) for higher picture quality and greater efficiency; and 1280x720 recording at 24, 25 and 30 frames per second. It is also small, light, and has improved ergonomics. We found it good to handle, with all the main controls easily accessible.

Nikon also announced four new lenses with built-in vibration reduction: a DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR (for APS-C cameras), plus three full frame 35mm lenses: 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR; 24-120mm f/4G ED VR; and 85mm f/1.4G – a replacement for one of its most renowned lenses.

[UPDATE: DP Review has a comprehensive review of the D3100]

See the Nikon D3100 promotional video below.

At the press launch in London they had shot another video in Covent Garden that looked a lot more colourful than this Colorful Moments video (below) which looks rather washed out (over exposed) to me, but today's video doesn't seem to be available online (probably due to music rights).

Related posts: Canon cuts cost of HD and HD DSLRs: nice pictures, nicer price and Nikon D3100 video interview

By David Fox


  1. Hello. This blog is turning into a valuable resource out here on the Interwebs. I have a question though. Is it possible to add something like a "Editors pick" logo or do we assume that if it is on this blog you and/or Christina thinks it is pick of the crop of new stuff? I suppose I am trying to ask for a clearer distinction between news items and tests/opinion posts. Just because something is new, it doesn't always mean it is improved.

  2. It's always a pleasure to hear from you Jonathan... especially when you're trying to make life difficult for us (What!? You expect us to use our critical faculties too to try to differentiate between each lovingly crafted story - surely every single word should have an "Editor's Pick" logo...).

    It's a perfectly valid point. But then, what is important to one person might be dross to everyone else... We're just trying to make sure that any new products (or other things) that might be of interest to people who want to shoot video are posted in one place that is relatively easy to search by keyword (see right...) or, indeed, by Google.