Taking the first step into DSLR photography can sometimes seem more like a daunting leap into the unknown, but beginner-oriented cameras don't come any friendlier than the Nikon D3100. Along with wide-ranging scene modes, the Guide mode really does take you by the hand and lead you into the finer points of technique, complete with on-screen thumbnail photos for illustration. It's like having your own tutor living inside the camera.
As beginner-friendly as it is, there's plenty here to satisfy the most advanced photographer, even if the simplified set of control buttons and dials makes it a bit long-winded to get at some important shooting parameters like ISO, white balance and metering modes. At least the Information Display makes most functions readily available via the LCD and the 4-way thumb pad. Our only real complaint is that there's no stereo mic input socket to complement the built-in mono microphone.
Naturally, it all comes down to image quality in the end and this is where the D3100 is at its most impressive. Great metering and autofocus accuracy, coupled with excellent performance in the sensor and image processor ensure that photos look stunning almost every time, straight off the camera.
The introduction of Live View and high-definition video capture are key upgrades, compared with the D3000, and the new D3100 implements these seamlessly and to great effect. The new 14.2Mp CMOS sensor and EXPEED 2 image processor make a great team.
You're never going to get professional-standard build quality at this price but the Nikon D3100 feels reassuringly solid and robust, despite its compact size, and all the buttons, switches and dials have a pleasantly precise feel to them.
So soon after launch, the D3100 is only just shy of £500 with its 18-55mm VR lens. Even so, taking its feature set, build quality and performance into account, it still represents very good value for money and, if the price drops a bit more, it'll be an absolute steal.
With rock-solid metering performance, pinpoint accuracy in autofocus, excellent Active D-Lighting and superb colour rendition tailored through a variety of Picture Control options, the Nikon D3100 delivers spectacular results in even the trickiest conditions.
It's all very well having a posh specifications list and a barrow-load of features, but it's how they translate into photographic quality that's key. With great handling for such a small SLR and impeccable image quality in practically every shot, the Nikon D3100 is both highly impressive and utterly dependable.
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