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Nikon Coolpix S3100 review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £119
inc VAT

A stylish ultra-slim camera at an attractive price, but image quality is simply appalling.


1/2.3in 14.0-megapixel sensor, 5.0x zoom (26-130mm equivalent), 118g

If you’re looking for an affordable digital camera, Nikon appears to think you’re not interested in image quality. That’s the only conclusion we can reach as we try to understand the thinking behind the S3100. Nikon is perfectly capable of producing capable low-cost cameras, but instead it has decided to lure customers in with shiny curves and impressive-sounding specs, and not give two hoots about the resulting pictures.

The key troublemaker is the 14-megapixel sensor. That’s an awful lot of pixels to cram into a sensor that measures just 1/2.3in from corner to corner. The result is a high degree of error, which appears as speckled patterns of noise. Digital processing can hide it to an extent but doing so also trashes details.

Nikon Coolpix S3100 front

This is true of all the 14-megapixel compact cameras we’ve seen to date, but the S3100 is much worse than usual. Going back through archived test shots for hundreds of cameras, we’re tempted to say that this camera produced the noisiest pictures we’ve ever seen. Photos taken in bright light at the lowest ISO setting resembled phone-camera shots, with heavy noise reduction smearing any subtleties from existence. By ISO 400, the processing was failing to contain the noise, resulting grainy, blotchy messes. At the maximum ISO 3200 setting, photos looked like abstract finger-paintings.

Excessive noise was compounded by a lack of optical image stabilisation, which would have allowed longer shutter speeds and slower ISO speeds to reduce noise without resulting in blurry photos. The S3100 seems to be oblivious to the dangers of camera shake, though. In low light without the flash, it used shutter speeds as slow as 1/3 seconds before raising the ISO speed beyond 400, resulting in photos that were both noisy and blurred.

With such disastrous image quality, it seems largely irrelevant to discuss the slim, attractive case and the choice of colours (if shocking pink isn’t your thing). Shooting performance was fine but menu navigation was sluggish. We were often caught out by the fact that settings must be navigated to and then selected with the OK button – in virtually every other camera, simply highlighting a setting is enough to select it. The orientation sensor was woefully unreliable, tagging only a third of shots captured in portrait orientation. The 720p video mode gave passable results in well-lit environments, but there’s no optical zoom function and indoor clips were awash with noise.

Nikon Coolpix S3100 back

Nikon is by no means the only company that appears to be doing its customers a disservice – Canon, Fujifilm, Kodak, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, Samsung and Sony have all launched 14-megapixel entry-level cameras this year, and many are moving to 16 megapixels at the mid-range. We’re yet to test these models but our expectations are low. It seems that the industry is simply responding to what it sees as an insatiable need for ever-more pixels, regardless of the consequences for image quality.

So please, don’t buy this camera, but also spread the word about compact cameras with inflated megapixel ratings. Until the demand dries up, it seems that none of the major camera manufacturers will be interested in designing low-cost cameras where image quality, rather than a marketing bullet point, is the key factor.

Basic Specifications

Rating *
CCD effective megapixels 14.0 megapixels
CCD size 1/2.3in
Viewfinder none
Viewfinder magnification, coverage N/A
LCD screen size 2.7in
LCD screen resolution 230,000 pixels
Articulated screen No
Live view Yes
Optical zoom 5.0x
Zoom 35mm equivalent 26-130mm
Image stabilisation none
Maximum image resolution 4,320×3,240
Maximum movie resolution 1280×720
Movie frame rate at max quality 30fps
File formats JPEG; AVI (M-JPEG)


Memory slot SDXC
Mermory supplied 45MB internal
Battery type Li-ion
Battery Life (tested) 220 shots
Connectivity USB, AV
HDMI output resolution N/A
Body material aluminium
Lens mount N/A
Focal length multiplier N/A
Kit lens model name N/A
Accessories USB and AV cables
Weight 118g
Size 58x94x18mm

Buying Information

Warranty two-year RTB
Price £119

Camera Controls

Exposure modes auto
Shutter speed auto
Aperture range f/3.2 (wide), f/6.5 (tele)
ISO range (at full resolution) 80 to 3200
Exposure compensation +/-2 EV
White balance auto, 5 presets, manual
Additional image controls none
Manual focus No
Closest macro focus 10cm
Auto-focus modes multi, centre, flexible spot, face detect
Metering modes multi
Flash auto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, red-eye reduction
Drive modes single, continuous, self-timer, Best Shot Selector, Multi-shot 16