I picked up the new D3100 today and the first thing I wanted to do was test out the High ISO capabilities. The D3000 was such a stunning failure at high ISO settings that I sold the camera not long after I got it because the images were barely usable at ISO 800.
With the addition of the CMOS sensor in the D3100 as well the new EXPEED 2 image processor I was hoping that the D3100 would be able to compete with some of the other cameras in its class such as the D5000 and the D90, although I was concerned about the higher pixel density which commonly leads to lower signal to noise ratio (read: more noise).
I set up the D3100 with a lens I picked up today to test out, the Sigma 17-70 f/2.8-4 HSM OS (which is a great lens, by the way, and inexpensive). I set the camera up on a tripod, set the camera to Aperture Priority and the aperture to f/8 and zoomed to 70mm. I preset the WB using a grey card and shot with available light and center-weighted metering. I shot a set with NR on and NR off for comparison as well. All images are at 100% crop and shot in JPEG. No, this isn't a definitive scientific test shot in a lab. It's a real world shot in a regular everyday setting. I chose this image because it has shadows, highlights, and mid-tones all in the same shot. See the uncropped version here.
Click on the images for a closer look.
So, how did the D3100 fare? Lets take a look.
ISO 3200 is the highest native setting that the D3100 offers and it's pretty damn good. The next two settings are what are known as "expanded" settings. These aren't "true" ISO settings but are created by increasing the gain in the signal amplifier. This will NOT give optimal results. Sensors are designed to work within a certain range to achieve optimal results so I don't recommend using these settings unless it's a necessity. Anyway for comparison I shot the expanded ISO range as well. The settings are Hi 1 (6400) and Hi 2 (12,800).
At Hi 1, the noise is real bad, but I wouldn't expect it to be good. It is what it is I and can't really find a fault with it, because in reality if you pushed film to ISO 12,800 it would look worse. So...
Bottom line is that the D3100 kicks the crap out of the D3000. Hands down. Of course it did. The D3000 sucked. In my opinion The D3100 holds it's own the the D5000 (maybe a little better), outperforms the D90, outright slays both the D300 and D300s. I'd like to compare it to the D700 and the D3/D3s, but it's not quite that good. Nikon does apply NR to all images shot at high ISO settings even when the NR is turned off (D3100 manual pg.134), so there's a slight loss of detail at ISO 1600 and above even with the higher resolution. For a camera at this price point the D3100 has a stellar low-light performance.
Being a professional concert photographer I wouldn't be concerned going into a photo pit with this camera. Apart from the high ISO performance, the 11 point AF system inherited from the D90 makes this camera very usable from a pro perspective. It doesn't have the build quality I would need for constant use, but it will definitely capture the images and do it well.
So boys and girls, I'll close this out by saying the Nikon has a real winner here.
Check out my D90/300/700 comparison
I'm skipping the Slayer/Megadeth/Anthrax metal extravaganza this weekend and I'm heading to Memphis TN where I'll be giving the D3100 a real workout at the GonerFest
Stay tuned for a full review!
You can order my Nikon D3100 Digital Field Guide by clicking on the Amazon link!