Nikon D3100: Video and Image Quality

by Jim Keenan Reads (909)
Editor's Rating
8.20

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 8
    • Features
    • 8
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 8
    • Performance
    • 8
    • Expandability
    • 9
    • Total Score:
    • 8.20
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Video Quality
D3100 video image quality is pretty good in most cases and the camera can transition from still to video capture fairly quickly – flip the live view switch to enable live view, acquire focus with the shutter button and begin capture by pressing the movie record button. On the negative side, clip length is limited to 10 minutes no matter what resolution the capture is at. There’s also a healthy dose of rolling shutter effect – the tendency of CMOS sensored cameras to impart a wavy appearance to vertical lines when panning. The camera may shut off before the 10 minute clip length to prevent damage to internal circuits due to heat, and Nikon recommends exiting Live View when the camera is not in use. Indeed, there is a 30 second countdown that begins when Live View is initiated – capture of a still image or a video capture halts the countdown, which begins again at 30 seconds after capture is complete. If the 30 seconds pass, the camera switches out of Live View on its own.

The video in the player above has been compressed and re-encoded for streaming online. To download the original file in its native resolution and format, click the link below.

Sample Video Download

Nikon also recommends placing the eyepiece cap over the eyepiece during video capture to keep stray light from affecting the video exposure.

Image Quality
Still image quality in the D3100 is, in a word, darn good. OK, that’s two words, but the D3100 does nice work when everything’s right. Here’re two consecutive shots of a pelican with the 400mm f/2.8 – look closely in the first and you can see water starting to drop from the tip of his beak. In the second, note water droplets below and towards the rear of the bird.

Nikon D3100 Sample Image

Nikon D3100 Sample Image

Any camera can benefit from a good lens, and the 400mm f/2.8 is world-class good. One of the following 4 shots is not made with the $9500 400mm lens – can you tell which without looking at the shot data?

Nikon D3100 Sample Image Nikon D3100 Sample Image
Nikon D3100 Sample Image Nikon D3100 Sample Image

If you said number 5, give yourself an “A” – the hummingbird was taken with the 55-300 zoom, a bargain at “only” $400.

Default images out of the D3100 were quite good, but I thought the “standard” color setting (the default) was just a bit too saturated for my taste and ended up shooting much of this review in the “neutral” setting which is a more accurate representation. Here are the standard, neutral, vivid and monochrome palette options.

Nikon D3100 Sample Image
Standard
Nikon D3100 Sample Image
Neutral
Nikon D3100 Sample Image
Vivid
Nikon D3100 Sample Image
Monochrome

I also increased the in-camera sharpening, although many users will find the default values perfectly satisfactory. The D3100 has in-camera D-Lighting, Nikon’s mechanism to expand the apparent dynamic range of cameras. The setting is off by default, but may be enabled to a simple “on” setting. In practice, D-Lighting didn’t appear to have much impact on images when applied in the camera as part of capture. The camera also has the feature available in the retouch menu, but with low, normal and high settings. My personal preference is to shoot with D-Lighting disabled and post process in-camera when necessary. Here’s an original shot and then the same shot with high D-Lighting employed in post processing.

Nikon D3100 Sample Image
Original

Nikon D3100 Sample Image
With D-Lighting

Auto white balance was used for the majority of shots in the review and did a good job overall, including our 5500 degree Kelvin studio lamps, but shot fairly warm with incandescent lighting. The D3100 offers incandescent, 7 types of fluorescent, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade and preset manual (custom) settings, but no Kelvin temperature option.

Nikon D3100 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

Back in the Ergonomics and Controls portion of the review, we discussed how many shooting settings could be changed without resorting to internal menus via the monitor. Those seven fluorescent choices are one instance that requires an internal menu – you can change WB to fluorescent via the monitor, but if that particular fluorescent isn’t the specific one you want you have go internal to switch it.

The 3D Matrix metering mode is the default setting and does a fairly good job overall with average scenes, although it could lose highlights in some high-contrast situations. There are center-weighted and spot metering options available in the advanced shooting modes. Exposure compensation is available, but works best with center-weighted or spot metering.

Nikon’s D7000 provided exceptional low light ISO performance for a cropped sensor camera and Canon’s 60D got high marks in that category as well. Carrying fewer pixels on the same physically-sized sensor as the D7000 would suggest the D3100 could well rival or possibly even surpass its stable mate in the noise arena, but will Nikon let their entry level model outshine their prosumer body?

The D3100 turns in a pretty good performance – 100, 200 and 400 ISO are all very close, with 400 showing just the slightest hint of some graininess creeping in. The jump from 400 to 800 becomes the first where a slight increase in noise is apparent on the 800 image – but the overall image is quite good.

Nikon D3100 Sample Image
ISO 100
Nikon D3100 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Nikon D3100 Sample Image
ISO 200
Nikon D3100 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Nikon D3100 Sample Image
ISO 400
Nikon D3100 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Nikon D3100 Sample Image
ISO 800
Nikon D3100 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Nikon D3100 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Nikon D3100 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Nikon D3100 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Nikon D3100 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop

ISO 1600 brings on a tiny bit more graininess, but image quality and particularly fine details are still very good. ISO 3200 shows another definite loss of fine details over 1600, but while the drop off is apparent, it’s also clear the camera is still doing pretty well, at least for small images. The D7000 seems to still be the top dog in the Nikon cropped sensor family – its images look to have more detail than the D3100 at the higher ISO levels. The D3100 may not have taken the top prize in the Nikon noise sweepstakes, but its performance is quite good.

Additional Sample Images

Nikon D3100 Sample Image Nikon D3100 Sample Image
Nikon D3100 Sample Image Nikon D3100 Sample Image
Nikon D3100 Sample Image Nikon D3100 Sample Image
Nikon D3100 Sample Image Nikon D3100 Sample Image


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