Dad’s Photography Corner: Nikon D3100 Digital SLR Camera (First Impressions)

July 03, 2013  •  1 Comment

So…the saga begins.  Like almost everything else I do, I’ve decided to jump head first into photography, having no prior experience beyond the point-and-shoot cameras I’ve owned over the years.  I’ve always wanted to take my board game reviews to the next level by taking nicer pictures, but I’ve also been dabbling with the idea of doing portraits & landscapes.  Who would have thought that all-knowing logical me would have an artsy side?

I wanted to do a review of this camera, but seeing as how I know very little about photography in general, I’ve decided not to pretend to know what I was talking about.  I will, however, jot down my thoughts for your viewing pleasure.  My first impression of the camera was something along the lines of, “holy &%$#, look at all of those buttons!” After watching a video or two on YouTube, I’ve grown comfortable enough with the camera to actually use the thing.  The manual is roughly seventy pages…so the next time you need to go to the john for the long haul, be sure to bring this with you.

So, what can it do?  It can take pictures (I should hope so) as well as record video.  It has four different ports for downloading your pictures or content to various media, like TVs and computers.  You can choose to use the viewfinder (the little window where you stick your eye) or the fairly large LCD screen on the back of the camera when taking a picture.  There’s a knob on the top of the camera that features different modes, which changes the camera settings appropriately to accommodate for the type of picture you’re taking.  While there is an “auto mode” on that dial, there’s also a “guide mode”.  The guide mode walks you through “simple” or “advanced” questions on the LCD screen and adjusts the camera settings accordingly.  Obviously, this is what attracted me to the camera in the first place.

What have I learned so far?  Well, let’s talk about zoom and lenses.  There’s no “zoom” feature on the camera itself…all of that is done by twisting the lens on the camera.  The lenses themselves are detachable and I quickly learned that different lenses allowed you to zoom various distances.  My Nikon came with an 18-55 mm lens with VR and Auto/Manual toggles, which I later discovered wasn’t ideal for far-away pictures.  It can do wide angles and close-ups decently enough, but it doesn’t zoom very far away.  I’m looking into buying a 55-200 mm lens with VR and Auto/Manual toggles…hopefully this does the trick as they are fairly expensive (a couple hundred dollars).  I also learned that VR stands for “Vibration Reduction” and minimizes the blur caused by camera shake and other movements.

I have a lot of learning to do.  I still don’t know what the different shutter speeds and ISO values mean, but I have a feeling that I’ll be able to learn them on this particular camera.  It’s incredibly easy to use and I honestly can’t wait to try out the manual settings to see how the “auto modes” compare in terms of picture quality.  I’m liking the camera so far and time permitting, I’ll write a full review.  I would have uploaded a picture or two, but I discovered that the USB cord I have for my point-and-shoot does not work with this camera…meaning I’ll have to wait until next week to actually unload my camera’s content.  The camera doesn’t come with an SD card either, which is required to make the camera work…luckily, the 8 gig SD card I had in my point-and-shoot worked fine.

For those of you that are friends with me on Facebook, I’ll go ahead and apologize in advance for the onslaught of pictures that I’ll be uploading in the next couple of weeks.  Perhaps it’s time to look into Pinterest?  At any rate, if you experienced folk out there have any tips for a first-time SLR user, feel free to leave a comment or five.


The original article was published on April 26, 2013, here:


Photography literally means "writing with light". Your goal is to control exactly how much light you put into the exposure, so that in the end you get a picture that looks right TO YOU. Artistically, that could be very different to what another person might want, but what YOU want is all that matters.

Shutter speed is important to understand in how long the light falls into the camera's sensor. Shutter speeds of less than 1/50 second require a steady hand or better, a tripod. Faster shutter speeds like 1/125 will freeze anything moving less than 5 MPH. A motorcyclist whizzing by you at 130 down the back straight would still blur a bit at that speed. But maybe you WANT that effect, experiment. Fast shutter freezes movement, slow or long shutter times can produce blurred movements, or even star trails after a minute or two in a night time exposure.

Aperture is an adjustable diaphragm that opens to a certain diameter to allow more of the light, or less, as another means to control the exposure. "Fast" apertures like f/1.2 will have no depth of field. whatever you focus on, and anything else that same distance from the lens will be sharp and in focus. But further away or closer will be not as sharp, even blurry if the difference in distance is major. High F/stop numbers like f/16 or greater give more depth of field, making more things at different distances remain in focus.

ISO setting permits adjusting the sensitivity of the camera's sensor. This allows you to remain at a certain shutter speed and desired aperture under a range of levels of light, because you may have a need to do that so your picture has the qualities you want. When you are indoors with artificial light and no flash, you might put the ISO up to 1600. Or on a bright day, you might pull it down to 100 if you need a slower shutter speed to reveal motion and allow some blur in an action shot.

Hopefully this rings true with what you've picked up over the past year, good luck!
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