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Digital Cameras - Nikon Coolpix 3100 Test Images

 

I've begun including links in our reviews to a Thumber-generated index page for the test shots. The Thumber data includes a host of information on the images, including shutter speed, ISO setting, compression setting, etc. Rather than clutter the page below with *all* that detail, we're posting the Thumber index so only those interested in the information need wade through it!

 

Outdoor Portrait:

Excellent color, with good resolution and detail.

The extreme tonal range of this image makes it a tough shot for many digicams, which is precisely why I set it up this way, and why I shoot it with no fill flash or reflector to open the shadows. The object is to hold both highlight and shadow detail without producing a "flat" picture with muddy colors, and the Coolpix 3100 performed fairly well.

The shot at right was taken with a +0.7 EV exposure compensation adjustment, which still results in slightly dim midtones and high contrast. I chose the Auto white balance setting as the most accurate here, though it was slightly cool. The Daylight setting was greenish, and the Manual setting slightly magenta.

Though just slightly cool-toned and faintly purplish in a few spots, Marti's skin tone looks pretty good. The blue flowers in the bouquet are just a little dark, with faint purplish tints at the edges of the petals, but the 3100 does a much better than average job with this difficult color. (This is a very difficult blue for many digicams to get right. For reference, the flowers are an almost pure light navy blue.) The bright red flowers are almost in check, though oversaturated a bit in the highlights. Resolution is good for a three megapixel camera, with crisp details throughout most of the frame. Detail is also good in the shadow areas, with low noise.

All in all, a very nice job.

To view the entire exposure series from zero to +1.3 EV, see files CP31OUTAP0.HTM through CP31OUTAP4.HTM on the thumbnail index page.


 

Closer Portrait:

Higher resolution and better fine detail.

Results are similar to the wider shot above, with good color. The 3100's 3x zoom lens helps prevent distortion of Marti's features. Fine detail is stronger in this shot, with well-defined details in Marti's face and hair. Shadow detail is also strong, though noise looks a little higher. The shot at right was taken with a +0.3 EV exposure compensation adjustment.

To view the entire exposure series from zero to +1.0 EV, see files CP31FACAP0.HTM through CP31FACAP3.HTM on the thumbnail index page.


 

Indoor Portrait, Flash:
Normal Flash, Speedlight White Balance
+1.0 EV

An strong pink cast on Marti's white shirt from the Speedlight white balance, but good color elsewhere.

The 3100's flash underexposed this shot somewhat at its default exposure setting, requiring a +1.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment for the best exposure. I shot with the camera's Speedlight white balance setting, which resulted in a strong pink cast on Marti's white shirt. However, color in the bouquet and on Marti's face isn't too bad. (While I don't show it here, the auto white balance setting resulted in a strong bluish cast overall.) The background incandescent lighting results in an orange cast that spills onto Marti's features, a typical issue with this shot.


 

Indoor Portrait, No Flash:
Auto White Balance
Incandescent White Balance
Manual White Balance

Very good color with both Auto and Manual white balance settings, about average exposure accuracy.

This shot is always a very tough test of a camera's white balance capability, given the strong, yellowish color cast of the household incandescent bulbs used for the lighting. The Manual white balance setting produced the most accurate color here, but the Auto white balance setting did much better than that on most digicams I test. The Auto setting had a slight reddish cast but was pretty close, while the Incandescent setting was quite warm. Marti's skin tone looks pretty good, though the blue flowers are a bit dark and purplish. The shot at right has a +1.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment. (Here's a shot at the default exposure setting.)


 

House Shot:
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Manual White Balance

Good color with the Manual white balance, high resolution.

The 3100's Manual white balance setting produced the most accurate white value here, though with the slightest magenta tint. The Daylight white balance was a little yellow, and the Auto setting turned out rather red. Resolution is good for a three megapixel model, with well-defined details in the tree limbs and shrubbery. (I'd rate its sharpness as just a bit off the best cameras in the 3-megapixel class, but quite good for a more or less entry-level model.) The left corners of the frame are a little soft, but not too bad relative to other cameras I've tested.


 

Far-Field Test

Great resolution and detail, though a limited dynamic range.

This image is shot at infinity to test far-field lens performance. NOTE that this image cannot be directly compared to the other "house" shot, which is a poster, shot in the studio. The rendering of detail in the poster will be very different than in this shot, and color values (and even the presence or absence of leaves on the trees!) will vary in this subject as the seasons progress. In general though, you can evaluate detail in the bricks, shingles and window detail, and in the tree branches against the sky. Compression artifacts are most likely to show in the trim along the edge of the roof, in the bricks, or in the relatively "flat" areas in the windows.

This is my ultimate "resolution shot," given the infinite range of detail in a natural scene like this, and the 3100 captures a lot of fine detail here. The tree limbs over the roof and fine foliage in front of the house show good detail in the leaf patterns, and detail in the house trim is also distinct. There's only a little softness in the corners, mainly noticeable in the lower right corner of the frame. The 3100 captures moderate detail in the bright white paint surrounding the bay window, a trouble spot for many digicams. Detail is stronger in the shadow area above the front door, but I'd say that the 3100's dynamic range is bit limited. Color and exposure are both good, although contrast is a little high. The table below shows a standard resolution and quality series, followed by a sharpness series.

Resolution Series:

Wide Angle "Fine"
JPEG
"Normal"
JPEG
2,048 x 1,536
CP31FARLF
CP31FARLN
1,600 x 1,200
CP31FARMF
 
1,024 x 768
CP31FARSF
 
640 x 480
CP31FARTF
 

Sharpness Series:

Sharpness Series
Auto
Off
Low
Normal
High



 

Lens Zoom Range

A typical 3x zoom range.

I routinely shoot this series of images to show the field of view for each camera, with the lens at full wide angle, at maximum telephoto (3x, in this case), and at full telephoto with the digital zoom enabled. The 3100's lens is equivalent to a 38-114mm zoom on a 35mm camera, very slightly biased toward the telephoto end, relative to the 35-105mm range that most digicams seem to offer. That corresponds to a moderate wide angle and telephoto. Following are the results at each zoom setting.

Wide Angle
3x Telephoto
4x Digital Telephoto


 

Musicians Poster
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Manual White Balance

Very slight color casts with each white balance setting but generally good color and good resolution.

This shot is often a tough test for digicams, as the abundance of blue in the composition frequently tricks white balance systems into producing a warm color balance. The 3100 did a good job here, producing nearly accurate color with the Daylight and Manual white balance settings. (The Auto setting turned out reddish, a typical response to the large amount of blue.) Despite the slightly yellow cast, I chose the Daylight setting for the main shot, because the skin tones looked more natural than the slightly magenta tones of the Manual setting. Perhaps as a result of the slight warm cast, the blue background has faint purplish tints that aren't in the original image, as do the shadow areas of the blue robe. Resolution is high, with good detail in the embroidery of the blue robe and throughout the frame.


 

Macro Shot
Standard Macro Shot
Macro with Flash

Great macro performance, with high resolution. The flash has trouble this close though.

Like most Nikon digicams, the 3100 performed very well in the macro category, capturing minimum area of only 1.99 x 1.50 inches (51 x 38 millimeters). Resolution is high, with excellent detail in the dollar bill. The coin and brooch details are a bit soft, likely due to the shallow depth of field that results from the very close shooting range. There's more softness in the corners of this shot, visible in all four corners. (A pretty typical issue with super closeups on most digicams I've tested.) Color and exposure are both good as well. The 3100's flash has trouble throttling down for the macro area, and overexposed the shot.


 

"Davebox" Test Target
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Manual White Balance

Slight color casts, but good exposure and color (though the red and blue additive primary blocks are slightly hot).

I chose the Auto white balance setting for the main shot, although there's just a slight red tint visible in the large white block of the MacBeth(tm) chart and the mini-resolution target. The Manual setting also looked very good, but was slightly greenish. The Daylight setting had the strongest cast, a warm, yellow tint.

Exposure is about right here, although possibly just a bit dim, and the camera distinguishes the subtle tonal variations of the Q60 target well. The large color blocks are bright and vibrant, though the red and blue blocks appear slightly oversaturated. The shadow area of the charcoal briquettes shows moderate detail, with low noise.

Overall, a very good performance. (I really like the 3100's color, it strikes me as just the right level of saturation to match the tastes of most consumers.)


 

Low-Light Tests

Good low-light performance, suitable for exposures darker than average city street lighting at night. (Slightly noisy images though.)

Though the 3100 operates under automatic exposure control, the camera's maximum shutter time of two seconds and its apparent automatic boosting of the ISO to 400 gives it surprisingly good low-light exposure capabilities. I first attempted to shoot this series in the camera's Night Scene mode, but found that the flash was forced on and focus remained fixed at infinity. Thus, I stayed in the Manual exposure mode (which keeps aperture and shutter speed under automatic control, despite the "Manual" designation).

In my testing, the camera produced, usable images down to the 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux) light level, although the shot at 1/4 foot-candle is a bit underexposed.. The target was visible as low as 1/16 foot-candles (0.67 lux), but quite dim. Since average city street lighting equates to about one foot-candle, the 3100 should work well even at slightly lower light levels. Color balance was a bit reddish from the Auto white balance setting, and noise was moderately high. The table below shows the best exposure I was able to obtain for each of a range of illumination levels. Images in this table (like all of my sample photos) are untouched, exactly as they came from the camera.

 

  1fc
11lux
1/2fc
5.5lux
1/4fc
2.7lux
1/8fc
1.3lux
1/16fc
0.67lx
ISO
100
Click to see CP31LL03.JPG
1/ 2
F2.8
ISO: 400
Click to see CP31LL04.JPG
1.4
F2.8
ISO: 400
Click to see CP31LL05.JPG
2
F2.8
ISO: 400
Click to see CP31LL06.JPG
2
F2.8
ISO: 400
Click to see CP31LL07.JPG
2
F2.8
ISO: 400


 

Flash Range Test

A severely underpowered flash, very low intensity, even at eight feet from the target.

Overall, flash range looks like one of the biggest limitations of the Coolpix 3100. In my testing, the 3100's flash barely illuminated the test target, even at the closest distance of eight feet. Intensity decreased dramatically from there, becoming very ineffective at the 14 foot distance. - This is actually consistent with Nikon's own rating of the unit: They specify the 3100's flash range as 9.8 feet at wide angle, but only about 5.6 feet at telephoto, and these shots were snapped with the lens zoomed well out from the wide angle position, even at the 8 foot distance. (I have to say that I think this is a poor design choice. While it's hard to cram a big enough flash capacitor into tiny digicam bodies like the 3100's, I'd gladly accept a slightly larger body size in exchange for better flash range.) Below is the flash range series, with distances from eight to 14 feet from the target.

 

8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
Click to see CP31FL08.JPG
1/ 74 secs
F4.8
ISO: 141
Click to see CP31FL09.JPG
1/ 72 secs
F4.8
ISO: 141
Click to see CP31FL10.JPG
1/ 62 secs
F4.8
ISO: 141
Click to see CP31FL11.JPG
1/ 58 secs
F4.8
ISO: 141
Click to see CP31FL12.JPG
1/ 59 secs
F4.8
ISO: 141
Click to see CP31FL13.JPG
1/ 58 secs
F4.8
ISO: 141
Click to see CP31FL14.JPG
1/ 54 secs
F4.8
ISO: 141


 

ISO-12233 (WG-18) Resolution Test

Good resolution, 1,000 lines of "strong detail."

The 3100 performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 600 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,000 lines. (Perhaps 1,050 lines horizontally, a bit less than 1,000 lines vertically.) "Extinction" of the target patterns occurred around 1,200 lines.

Optical distortion on the 3100 is rather high at the wide-angle end of its zoom range, where I measured approximately 0.9 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, as I measured only 0.2 percent pincushion distortion (about three pixels). Chromatic aberration (CA) is pretty good though. The color extends for five or six pixels on either side of the target lines in the corners of the res target image, but that's mostly due to the softness there, not to the CA itself. - The amount of color is fairly low, so CA shouldn't be too visible in photos. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)

Resolution Series, Wide Angle
Wide Angle "Fine"
JPEG
"Normal"
JPEG
2,048 x 1,536
CP31RESWLF
CP31RESWLN
1,600 x 1,200
CP31RESWMF
 
1,024 x 768
CP31RESWSF
 
640 x 480
CP31RESWTF
 

 

Resolution Test, Telephoto
2,048 x 1,536
(Fine, Tele)
CP31RESTLF


Sharpness Series (at Wide Angle):

Sharpness Series
Auto
Off
Low
Normal
High



 

Viewfinder Accuracy/Flash Uniformity

Average optical viewfinder accuracy, but an accurate LCD monitor.

The 3100's optical viewfinder is a little tight, showing approximately 86 percent of the frame at wide angle, and approximately 85 percent at telephoto. This is a very typical performance among consumer digicams, but I would strongly prefer to see the viewfinders show more of the final field of view. The LCD monitor fared much better, showing approximately 95 percent at wide angle and about 97 percent at telephoto. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the 3100 performed fairly well here. Flash distribution is reasonably even at wide angle, with slight falloff at the corners of the frame. At telephoto, flash distribution is more uniform. (I'm not sure why the wide angle shot is as bluish as it is: I think there may have been a little background incandescent lighting on in the studio when the wide angle shots were snapped, which threw off the camera's auto white balance setting a little.)


Wide Angle, Optical

Telephoto, Optical

Wide Angle, LCD

Telephoto, LCD


3100 Review
3100 Test Images
3100 Specifications
3100 "Picky Details"
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