Nikon Coolpix 3100 Review

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Nikon Coolpix 3100

Steve's Conclusion

The Coolpix 3100 is the three-megapixel "little brother" of last year's Coolpix 4300 and shares the same compact body design and 3x optical zoom lens. It features an Auto record mode for point-n-shoot simplicity, a Manual record mode with lots of exposure options and a plethera of preprogrammed Scene modes to assist you in those ordinary but often challenging photo ops. The Coolpix 3100 will keep the advanced users happy and the beginner's operation simple.

The Coolpix 3100 is very compact but its large handgrip makes it easy to hold and one- handed shooting is a breeze. The 1.5-inch color LCD is used for image review, preview, access the settings menus and also serves as the camera's data display. This is a high quality display with a real-time refresh rate and is useable in all but the very brightest of outdoor conditions. I was impressed with its usability in low-light conditions as the display "gains up" to give you a brighter view. Thanks to the Quick Review feature you can quickly check your last picture on the LCD and then jump right back to capture mode by simply tapping the shutter button.

The 3x Nikkor zoom lens is sharp and has excellent macro coverage down to about 1.6 inches. The lens exhibits moderate barrel distortion at full wideangle but is relatively free of pincushioning at full telephoto. The zoom and focus mechanisms are smooth and fairly quiet. With the LCD on, the camera is in Continuous-AF mode and locks the focus very quickly when the shutter is half-pressed. With the LCD off, the average AF lock time is about a second in good lighting and can take as long as two seconds in lower light levels. Nikon still isn't putting any kind of focus-assist lights on their cameras, one of these days they'll catch up to Canon and Sony (hint, hint.)

The power up to image capture time was under 5 seconds. These timings were based on the camera set to single advance mode, Large (2048 x 1536) image size, Fine JPG quality, auto white balance, continuous AF on, flash off with a 24x 512MB Lexar CF card. The shot to shot time is about four seconds on average. In continuous mode it allows for three frames and takes about seven seconds to process the buffer before you can shoot another sequence. Movie mode has a "TV" setting for shooting up to a 20-second clip at 640x480 resolution or up to 40-seconds at 320x240 resolution. There's options for shooting 320x240 movie clips in either black & white or sepia tone for that "old time" look. The Coolpix 3100 lacks a microphone so the movies are silent but on a positive note, the zoom is useable during recording.

The Coolpix 3100 is powered by either two AA cell batteries or one CR-V3 lithium battery. As always we recommend the use of NiMH rechargeable AA batteries, they supply a lot more power than alkalines and they'll save you money. You can get about an hour and a half of continuous use with the LCD turned on when using 1800-2100mAh NiMH batteries. The CR-V3 batteries will get you about twice that long but they're one-use batteries and rather costly. They make a great "emergency backup" battery to carry in your camera bag as they hold their power for several years and are always ready to go if your rechargeable batteries run out.

The Transfer button makes downloading image data to the host computer running NikonView software as easy as pressing one button. The new USB mass storage class drivers make the camera appear as a removable drive so you can use any file management utility to copy images to your hard drive. The latest NikonView 6.x software has a nifty red-eye removal feature that I'm sure lots of user will enjoy. It also lets you imprint time and date of capture on the output image, transfer images based on date of capture. Color management support has been added to the Nikon Viewer as well as other new features.

The Coolpix 3100 is an easy to use and reasonably priced three-megapixel compact camera. It yields sharp pictures with good tone and color saturation. The 3M quality images will yield photo-quality prints right up to 11x14" size and if you don't need that capability there are numerous other smaller image sizes available. This camera will please the novice as well as the intermediate user and thanks to its small size and light weight, you can carry it around all day. If you want the same features in a two-megapixel camera then have a look-see at the Coolpix 2100 -- both of these cameras are excellent values.

04/23/03 update: Nikon USA has posted the Coolpix 3100 firmware v1.2 update. Please make sure your camera has it. This fixes a battery level indicator problem. If you're not in the USA see the Nikon support site in your sales area for the firmware update for your camera. Click here to go to the Nikon-Europe download page.

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