Coolpix 3100 digital camera

Nikons have a reputation of being cameras for the hard-core photographer, but the company’s new Coolpix models are targeted at the neophyte. I looked at a pre-production version of the $849 Coolpix 3100, a small, light and nicely designed 3.2-megapixel camera.

It comes with an astounding 14 scene modes, plus something new to Nikon cameras: settings that help novices compose their shots.

Most digital cameras include a few scene modes that let snapshot photographers quickly fine-tune the camera’s exposure settings for different types of shots. Picking sports mode, for example, tells the camera to use faster shutter speeds, while choosing portrait mode on a sunny day tells the camera to use the fill-flash function. On the 3100, Nikon placed the four most commonly used scene modes — portrait, landscape, sports and night portrait — on a dial; the remainder are found in the camera’s menus.

Each of the four primary scene modes has several assist modes — think of them as built-in training wheels for proper composition. The assist modes are helpful, but using them takes a bit too long for quick snapshots.

Don’t assume that this camera is strictly for beginners. Though the 3100 has few advanced features and takes only silent video, it does include white-balance calibration and in-camera image cropping. In addition, the Coolpix 3100 feels solid in your hand, and its zoom buttons are large and easily worked. Most important, it takes pleasing shots.

In brief: Nikon Coolpix 3100
(Pre-production unit)
Moderately priced, pocketable, light and especially easy to use.
Price: $849
Distributor: Maxwell Optical Industries
Phone: (02) 9390 0200

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Tracey Capen

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