While the product images of the Nikon Coolpix 3100 make it out to be larger than most 3 mega pixel digital cameras on the market, in the hand it is very small and compact.
Small enough to fit comfortably in the hand, the camera has gone through a detailed moulding experience to make sure everything is in the right place. The grip on the front gives enough to hold with one hand, while the indent on the rear is just in the right place for your thumb to access the zoom controls and review button without too much effort. One fault however is the on/off button. Similar in style to the zoom button on a Canon digital camera the camera can be easily turned off by mistaking the control for a zoom switch. Why Nikon couldn’t have simply included the off setting in the programme selector next to the shutter is beyond us.
Aside from this little niggle, the rest of the buttons make perfect sense and surround the 110,000 pixel 1.5” LCD screen, which is ample enough to review images your taking or images you have taken. Elsewhere on the rear is an optical viewfinder which does suffer from some parallax.
Power comes from a CR-V3 Lithium battery and Nikon, unlike most manufacturers at this level Nikon have provided the charger in the box for you - a nice touch. Pictures are saved on the 16Mb Compact Flash that comes in the box and images can be transferred to a PC via USB or to the TV.
Inside and the camera offers 3.2 million pixels producing images up to B4 (250 x 353mm) images depending on settings, and you have three main ones to chose from - 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960. With a 3x optical and 4x digital zoom lens the camera offers the equivalent of 38 - 115mm in a 35 mm camera with an f range of F2.8 - F4.9.
Nikon’s menu system relies on accessing information within a selection. Put simply, if you want to change a setting when in the picture review mode, you can only do it when you are in that mode. This is a good idea and works well not to confuse new comers to the camera. However it can also cause you problems when you can’t find the certain menu you found at some point or other.
When it comes to pre-programmed options though the Nikon Coolpix 3100 wins hands down, apart from the basic portrait, landscape, sports and night settings you can also set the picture via the scene option, which allows you to break down things further. Here you can chose from; party/indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close up, museum, firework show, copy and back light. Couple that with four flash modes and seven white balance modes and you’ve got a camera with plenty of options for the user.
The continuous shooting mode offers the chance to do just that and the camera also has four movie modes for the avid movie maker, however with the ability to only record 40 seconds of movie you shouldn’t expect too much.
Picture quality was very good and for a 3 mega pixel camera the detail was high (see gate and tree trunk images right) While the detail was very good on grass, the bricks in some of the photos are slightly lacking in colour variant. The Nikon 3100 also coped well with depth of field (see mansion on the hill image right).
Overall this camera is a good starter in the realms of digital imaging. It is more expensive that the other entry level cameras from Olympus, Kodak and Sony to mention a few, however you do get a charger included in the box, a hassle saved from the start. It is also smaller than its peers and this combined with its image quality makes this is an ideal solution if you are out and about and want something in your pocket. If you're budget can't stretch as far as the 3100 then you could always opt for the 2100 its younger 2mp brother.