Best starter dslrs: 6 tested

Nikon D3100 - £400

Setting the standard for entry-level cameras, the Nikon D3100 is a major revamp of the older and enormously popular Nikon D3000. Live View comes with face-priority autofocus options as well as a Scene Auto Selector for automatically setting optimum shooting parameters. Unlike other similarly priced DSLRs, video is Full HD 1080p, although the camera lacks a microphone socket.

Beginner-friendly features include an interactive guided shooting mode. Divided into Shoot, View/delete and Set up sections, the guided shooting mode is packed with information and thumbnail images to illustrate all the salient points. For example, in Shoot, there are easy and advanced operation options, with interactive screens for softening backgrounds, freezing action, bringing more of a scene into focus, and much more.

Performance

Based on a 14.2MP sensor and the EXPEED 2 image processor, there's no shortage of resolution or power. Handling feels natural despite the camera's small yet solid-feeling build. The live view and video-recording facilities are particularly well-implemented, and easy to get at.

Our only reservation is that direct-access buttons are sparse, so you have to go through the menu for most shooting controls. At least you can set the Fn button for quick access to either Quality, ISO, White balance or Active D-Lighting.

Active D-Lighting makes an excellent job of controlling dynamic range and revealing plenty of detail in highlights and shadows. The 11-point autofocus system is also effective, and the 3D Colour Matrix II metering system provides highly accurate exposures practically every time.

Outdoor image test

Best starter dslrs: 6 tested

Sunny shots from the Nikon D3100 can sometimes be a bit on the bright side, but there's still plenty of detail and vibrancy.

Resolution test

Best starter dslrs: 6 tested

The Nikon D3100 makes the most of its 14.2MP sensor, and delivers very crisp images with plenty of fine detail throughout.

Noise

Best starter dslrs: 6 tested

ISO 200

Best starter dslrs: 6 tested

ISO 3200

Even at the highest standard sensitivity setting of ISO 3200, images are nice and clean, with very little image noise.

Colour error

Best starter dslrs: 6 tested

Raw and JPEG colour rendition are accurate, and the saturation is slightly increased, which gives a pleasing and lively look to pictures.

Image test verdict

Straight off the camera, images are punchy and vibrant with plenty of detail. There's usually little - if anything - to be done at the editing stage.

Read our full Nikon D3100 review