Sometimes, you just want to take a photo with a minimum of fuss and maximum effect
Nikon are very much aware of the demands of the average person, producing a range of point and shoot cameras over the last few years that combine decent performance with a very attractive price point. And the Coolpix line continues with the S3100.
The S3100 may retail at a budget price (around €125) but it makes a good first impression with a smooth aluminium body and a tiny profile – just 18 mm thick and weighing only 118g including battery and SD card. It really is incredibly light, ideal for slipping into your pocket before heading for a night out. The rear-mounted 2.7 inch LCD isn’t the clearest or brightest around but it serves its purpose and the button layout is accessible and intuitive. We especially like the addition of a dedicated video button, keeping fiddling in menus to a minimum.
The specs are also better than you would expect – with a 14 megapixel sensor as well as 5x optical zoom and the ability to record 720p video. All three are elements you’d rarely find on a budget camera, in fact they aren’t far removed from high end point and shoots a couple of years ago, so finding them all combined in the S3100 is quite a surprise.
Performance is generally good – particularly in sunlight – with accurate colours and very little focussing lag. Once the light dims, images will tend to get blurry and while upping the ISO can improve matters, it isn’t long before some serious grain starts to leak into your pictures. Personally, we’d rather have a grainy image than a blurry one and think there’s too much fuss made of its appearance in darker pictures. Writing to the SD card can be sluggish so you won’t be setting a new fps record here but that’s outside the remit of this device.
The S3100 features 18 scene modes to cover a variety of situations but lacks any manual controls for tweaking, though you can choose from some presets for the colour temperature. While most users probably think they’d never make any use of manual controls, photography is all about experimentation and it’s a shame to miss out on that element here. And while video performance isn’t the worse we’ve seen (and it’s a good bump from the standard VGA resolution) you’ll be stuck with lacklustre digital zoom when recording.
The Coolpix S3100 is an entry-level, budget priced camera that impresses with its svelte design and better specs than you might expect. Performance is decent, though unspectacular, and web video fans will enjoy the resolution boost of the 720p recording.