Nikon D3100; The Video Beat Goes On Page 2

Six preset Scene modes—you know the ones—designed to overcome common shooting challenges can be accessed trough a mode dial atop of the camera. If that’s not enough autopilot for you, there’s a Guide Mode similar to the Live Guide Olympus offers in their E-PL1 that provides a graphical interface on the camera’s LCD and guides users by suggesting camera settings to achieve the desired end result. Newbies will love this stuff because if they follow the on-screen advice it will result in a much higher ratio of well-captured images.

The tree’s leaves were already turning gold, although this shot shows some gold and some green foliage. Exposure with the D3100 and the AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR was 1⁄800 sec at f/11 and ISO 400.
Joe Farace

Exposure with the D3100 and the AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR and a Cokin 007 filter was 10 seconds at f/11 and ISO 400.
Joe Farace

In The Field
One of the first things I do with any new camera is test its infrared sensitivity. Soon after the Nikon D3100 arrived, I headed to Barr Lake State Park to try the camera with my infrared filter kit. I went to the lake and discovered that all my favorite spots were not going to work, so I made shots in different locations using different filters from my IR filter kit, ending up with the Cokin 007 (89B) that was, for that date and time, the Goldilocks filter. When using the Cokin filter, I hold it against the lens instead of using Cokin’s modular filter holder, which for infrared use allows visible light to come in from the sides (because the filter is not flush with the lens) and pollute the image.

The D3100 body is not quite the same size as the D3000 and comes in a bit lighter as well. If under the skin it’s not the same chassis, I’d be surprised. The D3100 is so small—how small is it?—that it’s not surprising that some controls like the rear control wheel end up being placed where my US medium-sized thumb can accidentally touch it and change settings. On the other hand, Mary raved about the camera’s ergonomics. She “loved it.”

The 3” LCD display menus are truly a thing of beauty but made me crazy when shooting at my next outing at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden. That’s because the exposure compensation is backward by human engineering standards. Underexposure (minus) is indicated to the right, while overexposure (plus) is to the left, common in Nikon’s design.

Fort Vasquez is a fur-trading fort founded by Louis Vasquez and Andrew Sublette in 1835 and makes an ideal test subject for Raw+JPEG capture. The top Raw file was captured at 1⁄2000 sec at f/8 and ISO 400 in Aperture-Priority (Av) mode. Because of the many options the D3100 offers for direct monochrome capture, I was not only able to apply a sepia tone but also use a red digital filter that produced a more dramatic sky. OK, color shooters could have used a polarizing filter to accomplish something similar but the Nikon filters are inside the camera and are one less thing to carry or lose.
Joe Farace

The AF-S 18-55mm VR kit lens proved to be amazingly versatile and I often used it when I wanted to take the D3100 out in its most portable configuration, as when photographing Fort Vasquez. Here’s a direct monochrome (sepia) capture with an exposure of 1⁄640 sec at f/8 and ISO 400 that was tweaked in Nik Software’s (www.niksoftware.com) Viveza software.
Joe Farace

And then there’s the way the 18-55mm kit lens initially responded both to exposure compensation and automatic exposure made under 3D Color Matrix Metering II. The kit lens consistently delivered ever so slightly overexposed shots but this disappeared the more I used the lens on other days and at other locations. Go figure. But that’s also the reason I’m a mad chimper and constantly check the image and histogram on screen. It could have been caused by flare but none was visible on the image files. The AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens delivered almost perfect shots, although they were slightly biased toward underexposure. The more I used this latter lens, the more I liked it. I had similarly good experiences with the chunky and high-performance AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f/4G ED VR lens as well.

You have three ways to process .NEF images from the D3100: directly in-camera on that big 3” LCD using the camera’s surprisingly flexible interface; Nikon bundles a ViewNX2 CD with the camera for another approach; or you can use my favorite, shown here, Capture NX2 software.
Joe Farace

Then it was off to do more night photography to see what kind of noise the D3100 produces at “standard” high ISO settings. The official ISO range of the camera is 100 to 3200 but the camera can also be set to 1 EV above ISO 3200 (ISO 6400 equivalent) or 2 EV above ISO 3200 (ISO 12,800 equivalent). As I have stated here ad nauseam, the official position at Nikon is that “the expanded settings are just that, expanded beyond the range that is considered optimal or acceptable by our camera designers and engineers. These settings are labeled differently to indicate that these are for emergency purposes (italics mine) and clearly identify where noise and color distortion will affect picture quality.” Since it wasn’t an emergency, I made my test shots at ISO 3200 and was surprised to see negligible noise at the default noise reduction settings for a camera with a chip that’s slightly smaller than the D3000’s. Nikon claims a “blazing fast 11-point AF system” and while this may be true for daytime exposures, at night the autofocus can be slow and occasionally gets confused.

To explore the D3100’s monochrome options, I headed to Fort Vasquez in Northern Colorado. In addition to being able to apply digital color filters and toning, there are plus or minus options for sharpening, contrast, and brightness. Toning can be applied on multiple levels—can you say “cyanotype?”—including sepia tones that go far beyond most other direct capture monochrome options. Switching back and forth between color and monochrome JPEG options is easy, but using my old Raw+JPEG trick yields monochrome JPEG and color Raw files, although my comparison shots show that sometimes color isn’t always the best choice.

(Left): A single frame made at Westminster City Center processed in Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro’s single-shot mode. Original exposure was 1⁄400 sec at f/10 and ISO 200. (Right): Captured at the Colorado Railroad Museum using the AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens at 80mm with a Program mode exposure of 1⁄1000 sec at f/4.5 and ISO 400 with a +11⁄3 stop exposure compensation.
Joe Farace

It should be noted that Adobe Camera Raw supports files captured with the D3100 and you can also use the camera’s in-camera Raw conversion as I did with the sepia/color comparison. You can also use the ViewNX2 software bundled with the D3100 or Nikon’s awesome (but extra cost) Capture NX2. Tip: If you plan to use Capture NX2 be sure that it’s updated to Version 2.25 in order to work with .NEF files from the D3100.

When all is said and done, this is a pleasant entry-level camera that could easily be considered “my first Nikon,” or by wedding photographers as a second camera they can use or hand off to an assistant to shoot candids or video coverage of the ceremony, cake cutting, and other wedding “greatest hits” that could be combined into a presentation for the bride and groom.

Made at 8:04pm at a suburban mall, this image was a handheld exposure of 1⁄10 sec at f/8 and ISO 3200. The Vibration Reduction function on the kit lens did its job and the noise was negligible.
Joe Farace

For more information, contact Nikon, Inc. at: www.nikonusa.com.

ARTICLE CONTENTS
Share | |

X
Enter your Shutterbug username.
Enter the password that accompanies your username.
Loading