As the rumor mill hit fever pitch, Nikon chose to announce the successor to its popular D3000 entry-level digital SLR. The new D3100 is Nikon's first digital SLR to record full 1080p high definition video and also features full time autofocus. Its sensor has been increased to 14.2 megapixels, the sensitivity range given a huge boost and users can now frame shots via the LCD display as well as the viewfinder.

Dealing with the headline grabbing part first, Nikon's new D3100 is the company's first digital SLR capable of recording movies at full 1080p high definition at 24 frames per second. The facility is available via a dedicated HD movie button and records to H.264 AVCHD format. Another first is the camera's ability to autofocus during movie recording using a contrast-based system that is said to automatically focus on subjects when in Live View mode, which also now finds its way onto the D3100. The system can also lock onto up to 35 faces and is activated via a dedicated switch.

Nikon's advanced 3D Subject Tracking autofocus "continuously focuses on fast moving subjects throughout the frame, resulting in crisp, clear action shots" and in-camera Retouch options allow for creative or enhancing adjustments to be made on images without computer software. A welcome addition to the D3100 is support for capacious SDXC memory cards and transferring all that high definition movie action to the big screen is simplified with the inclusion of an HDMI-out port.

Nikon has not only increased the megapixels on the camera's sensor but also changed it from the D3000's CCD type to a new 14.2 megapixel DX-format CMOS sensor. The new sensor works with the EXPEED 2 image processing engine – which keeps an eye on color, contrast, exposure, noise and speed settings – to deliver "exceptional image quality with low noise." An integrated dust reduction system helps keep the sensor free of image-ruining accumulations and the company's Vibration Reduction II technology helps to eliminate camera shake.

The camera's ISO sensitivity has received a significant boost, now ranging from ISO100 to ISO3200, which can be extended even further to ISO12800 to help cope with the most challenging of lighting conditions. There's also an Active D-Lighting system which is claimed to automatically even out tones on dark or backlit images to help rescue under- or over-exposed shots. Other features include a Scene Recognition system that uses a 420-pixel RGB color 3D Matrix Meter to automatically choose optimal camera settings based on a sample image database containing tens of thousands of images, and an Auto Scene Selector feature in Live View which alters camera settings according to different shooting conditions.

If this all seems a bit overwhelming and you want to learn more about using a digital SLR but don't relish the idea of trudging through reams of magazine articles then the D3100's built-in guide mode could well be just what you're looking for. Nikon says that it's like having a personal photography tutor right with you all the time. Accessed via the Mode dial atop the camera, it provides step-by-step assistance that suggests and/or adjusts camera settings to help get the best possible shot. As well as benefiting novice digital SLR users, the enhanced guide mode may also prove useful for seasoned veterans too, offering easy access to useful settings for those moments when there's no time to properly set up a shot.

In addition to the now familiar settings dial on top of the new digital SLR, there's also a selector switch marked "Q". This activates a quiet mode for those moments when even the sound of the camera's mirrors could prove intrusive.

The D3100 kit will include an AF-S NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR image stabilization lens when made available in September, for a manufacturer's estimated retail of US$699.95

As you might expect there is also a range of accessories available, including a GPS unit, hot-shoe flashes, right-angle viewfinder and eyepiece magnifiers.

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