The 14.2MP image resolution is respectable enough and, unlike the other Nikon cameras on test, it features a handy lever next to the mode dial which provides quick access to single, continuous, self-timer and quiet drive modes.
Autofocus is based on the same Multi-CAM 1000 sensor module that's used in the D3200 and D5100, and has 11 selectable AF points with a cross-type point at the centre. This can resolve detail in both horizontal and vertical planes, enabling greater accuracy for tricky targets, especially in poor lighting conditions.
Unlike the Canon cameras, all Nikon DSLRs in this group test have an AF illuminator to help with autofocus at close quarters when there's little ambient light. The Canon solution is to fire a flickering and rather annoying pulse of light from the pop-up flash.
Along with all the usual shooting modes, there's a particularly good Guide mode, which acts as an interactive tutor to help beginners get to grips with the ideal shooting settings. This has been further refined on the D3200.
Using a 18-55mm VR kit lens, autofocus is reasonably rapid and very accurate. However, despite featuring an ultrasonic motor, it's no quicker than with the Canon cameras using their kit lenses, which only have a more basic electric motor.
To get any real improvement in autofocus speed, you would need to invest in an up-market lens that has ring-type ultrasonic focus.
Metering is wonderfully consistent, and the D3100 makes a habit of nailing the correct exposure settings in even the trickiest of conditions. The continuous drive rate of 3fps is sluggish, but at least it doesn't slow down even more in raw shooting mode, unlike the 1100D, and the memory buffer has a greater capacity for holding more shots.
Images tend to be brighter than with the other Nikons, but have more contrast than those taken with the Canons. Greens can be overly vivid.
Getting the most out of its 14.2MP sensor, the Nikon D3100 delivers greater image resolution than any of the Canon cameras.
The Nikon D3100 delivers the outright smoothest images in the whole of this group at high ISO settings, but fine detail is often lacking.
Even in its Standard Picture Control setting, colour rendition is very vivid, which can result in images looking over-saturated.
Image test verdict
The almost overly vibrant and very vivid image quality is a good match for sports photography, delivering bright, colourful shots.