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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

D3100... the Perfect Prime Camera?

Nikon D3100
Nikon 50mm f1.4G
So, I'm looking over the specs on the recently announced Nikon D3100 for about the 6th or 7th time, and I'm thinking... hmmm... the Perfect Prime Camera?

Put the Nikon 50mm f1.4G on the D3100, and you've got a light, FAST combo. At 14 megapixels, there's plenty of resolution, and with a top ISO of 12,800 combined with f1.4, you're seeing in the dark.

Don't get me wrong... I'm sure it won't compare to the D3s at those settings, but then what will?

The thing is, if the new sensor in the D3100 is everything I expect, it's gonna be VERY usable at 6400 ISO at f1.4.

For the record, I expect both the D3100 and the D90 replacement (the D7000 for my money) to be a stop to two stops better than the D90 at high ISO. Considering the D90 is the current reigning DX DSLR champ at high ISO, the D3100 and D700 will be beautiful if they're a stop or two better.

So, I'm thinking a D3100 with the Nikon 50mm f1.4G will be a new fixture in my bag. At the low price of the D3100, I could buy one for every prime I have and shoot nothin' but primes. :-)

At 445g / 160z, the D3100 weighs next to nothing. The Nikon 50mm f1.4G is only 280g / 9.9 oz, so that's about a pound and half combined weight. Sweet!

Figure that the 1.5x crop of the D3100 DX sensor makes the 50mm about a 75mm perspective, and you've got a perfect portrait combo.

So, the lowest DSLR in the Nikon line-up may just be the Perfect Prime Camera.


Anonymous said...

seeing first wedding samples @6400 .. what's your impression? I do think 3200 would be reasonable maximum..

Matt Ballard said...

I think 6400 is a the max for me on the D3100. If your exposure is within a stop of being bang on, then 6400 is very good. If you shoot a lot of black & white, I would say 12,800 is actually fine.

LDubz said...

nice post . . . i've also been reading all your newer ones as well.

was wondering what you thought about the AFS 35mm 1.8 in comparison (if we just ignore the price for a moment)?

Matt Ballard said...

@LDubz - the Nikon 35mm f1.8 is a FANTASTIC little lens. I love it! It is tack sharp, and it even works on the D700 as an FX mode if you're like me and don't mind a little vignetting in the corners (of course, you could always crop or shoot in DX mode). It's one of the best values out there in a lens.

LDubz said...

well, i took the plunge and picked up the d3100 with the standard 18-55 kit lense (held off getting the 18-105 for a larger zoom in the distant future).

thinking of renting the 35mm and 50mm prime to play around with, but was wondering what would be your reason for going with 50 over the 35?


vvas said...

The Nikon D3100 is far from the perfect prime camera, considering that it is unable to autofocus most of them. Unless when you say "every prime I have" you mean only the 50mm 1.4G and the 35mm 1.8G?

The situation is especially frustrating at 50mm. Nikon essentially tells you: If you want to buy a cheap and lightweight camera (such as the D3100), you need to buy a heavy and expensive lens (the 1.4G, at 280g). Or if you want to buy a cheap and lightweight lens (the 1.8D, at 160g), you need to buy a heavy and expensive camera (such as the D90 or the D7000). There's no middle ground.

Personally I have a D40 at the moment, and the lack of choice for autofocus primes is frustrating to say the least. When the time comes to upgrade, I'm torn between getting the D90/D7000 (and thus giving up on having a lightweight camera) or defecting to Canon (which has shown with the 500/550D that "lightweight" and "feature-complete" can in fact coexist).

Matt Ballard said...

@LDubz - I like the 35mm f1.8 and have it too. The 50mm is a 75mm perspective on a crop sensor like the D3100 has, which gives you very close to the classic 85mm portrait lens look. That's why I like the 50mm on a DX body.

Matt Ballard said...

@vvas - You're right... the D3100 will only shoot AF-S primes. Nikon does have a 24mm AF-S, 35mm AF-S, 50mm AF-S, 85mm AF-S, and 105mm AF-S that will auto focus on the D3100.

That said, I agree that the D3100 is not ideal if you want to use the older AF-D primes. My favourite prime is my Nikon 50mm f1.4G AF-S, so it doesn't bother me much that I can't use my other AF-D primes on the D3100.

Also, I have a D90 and a D700 and a D7000 on the way, so the D3100 not working with AF-D primes is less of a problem for me than someone that doesn't own another body.

I haven't made my final decisions yet, but the D3100 may not be staying around once the D7000 arrives. I don't mind the slightly heavier body, and the D7000 will allow me to use ALL my primes, AF-D included.

Remember though... the D3100 is only $500 and change. You can't expect EVERYTHING at that price point. The Canon 500D is almost twice that price, and still doesn't focus as well as the D3100 does.

vvas said...

Ah yes, I didn't mention the 24/35/85 1.4G, because if one can afford one of those, one can surely afford a much more expensive camera compared to the D3100. :^) And I guess the 60/85/105 Micro lenses are prime lenses too, but they seem to belong in a separate category in my head. Point taken though.

As for the prices, the situation is slightly different here in the UK. Both the D3100 and the 500D/T1i cost around £510 right now, while the 550D/T2i costs around £630 (I'm quoting 18-55 VR/IS kit prices). So the price difference ranges from slight (20%) to nonexistent. And yes, the 500/550D isn't as well-constructed, the autofocus is probably not as good and the auto-ISO is rubbish, however on the other hand you get:

- More hard buttons (I don't need many, but dammit I need to be able to set both the ISO and the white balance without having to dive into the info screen).

- A nice and sharp 640x480 screen (true 3:2 720x480 in the case of the 550D).

- Full compatibility with the whole range of EF / EF-S lenses.

But don't get me wrong, I don't want this conversation to degenerate into a Canon/Nikon flamewar. :^) I know that I can get all the above with the D90 or D7000 too, but like I said I would have to sacrifice size and weight, and pay more (£630 for the D90 or £1030 for the D7000, body only). But who knows, perhaps Nikon will introduce a D5100 that will be more like the D7000 in features and the D3100 in construction. Wishful thinking I know, but a man can dream right? ;^)

srijit said...

Thank u all for such good guidance. I'm actually contemplating on an idea to buy D3100 with AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Lens.
Can u plz suggest if its a good idea. I am more keen on wild life and landscape photography. A bit of Macro too.
Thanks & regards. Jit

Matt Ballard said...

@srijit - The Nikon 18-200mm VR II is a great all-purpose lens. It should suit your needs for landscape, wildlife, and some macro, bearing in mind that it won't EXCEL at any of these (as any all-purpose lens won't).

For landscape, most people want wider than 18mm on a DX sensor body.

For wildlife, most people want a longer and faster lens.

For macro, you can't beat a true macro like the 60mm VR.

Perhaps an alternative would be the 18-15mm VR (or 18-105mm VR) paired with the new 55-300mm VR? This would give you more reach and lighter lenses.

win said...

I just care abt the capturing the good makeup. Is Nikon D3100 ok?

belle said...

I just want to capture a good makeup. Is Nikon D3100 ok?

Matt Ballard said...

@win & @belle - Yes, the Nikon D3100 would be great for doing photos of make-up. Of course, your lens choice factors in here too and will depend on the shooting conditions.

Ravinder said...

I have been a point and shoot camera user so far and now willing to take a deeper plunge into DSLR user group. I am not a professional photographer and don't want to be either. All I want is to click family pics at home and outside; and may be some landscape shooting. Can anyone guide me with the best choice for my kind of use? I have been following blogs and have so far gathered that D3100 with 18-55mm lense would be best for me. Am I making right choice? Plz let me know



Matt Ballard said...

@Ravinder - The Nikon D3100 with an 18-55mm is a great starting point. You may wish to add a Nikon 35mm f1.8G as an inexpensive way to see how awesome a fast prime can be. After that, you'll likely want a long lens and a flash. Consider the Nikon SB-600 flash and the Nikon 55-200mm VR.