review of the Nikon D3100 video capability
Nikon recently released two very interesting D-SLRs – the Nikon D3100 (B&H) and the Nikon D7000 (B&H). Improving on several of the entry-level Nikon D-SLRs, they also offer HD video capability (1080p at 24 fps), and even does so with full-time auto-focus capability.
So when B&H sent me a Nikon D3100 for review, I thought what better test than to start in the deep end, and use it during a wedding to shoot HD video. The intention was to use the HD video from the D3100 along with the still photographs from my usual set of Nikon D3 bodies … and compile this as a stills & video Fusion clip, shown at the top here. I shot the stills, and Jessica, my assistant with an attitude, shot & edited the D3100 video clips. A first attempt at stills/video Fusion for us.
So how did the Nikon D3100 fare? Quite impressively actually …
The camera is very small, as you’d expect from a camera that came from a D40x, D60 and D3000 lineage. For my large hands, the camera is a bit too compact, especially since I’m used to the heft of a D3. But it is truly light-weight and compact.
The video quality is superb. Really impressive. Skin tones looked great, and digital noise wasn’t a problem at all. The sound we recorded with the on-board microphone was also clear. (However, we didn’t use any of the sound in the Vimeo clip shown here, aside from the brief section where the group of guests cheered.
Shooting video hand-held just doesn’t look good, so we used the light-weight Manfrotto 560B-1 video monopod (B&H), to steady the camera. We didn’t use the Nikon 18-55mm VR zoom lens that comes as a kit with the D3100. Instead, I chose to use the Nikon 85mm f1.4G AF-S (B&H) for the low-light wedding reception, and the superb Nikon 24-70mm f2.8G ED AF-S (B&H) for everything else we shot with the D3100.
The auto-focus ability during video recording might be useful if you used the camera for motion work with a Glide-Cam, but generally you are better off using manual focus. If you are shooting something and the video pops in and out of focus, the clip is not really usable. So the live AF during video recording is a great feature, but ultimately not essential for much of video recording.
The LiveView lever and Movie Record button are very well-placed and instantly accessible, without the chance of accidentally engaging it.
An improvement over previous recent entry-level Nikon D-SLRs is that the different drive modes are now accessible from a switch on the top deck instead of being buried inside the menu.
The D3100 is a likable and very capable little camera offering superb video quality. Hopefully the Vimeo clip shown here will reveal some of that, even though the Vimeo clip was posted as 720p HD video.
As a final note – I hope to test the D7000 soon. As the bigger brother of the D3100, I’m expecting a spectacular camera.
[ note: the clip was edited with iMovie ’11 ]
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