Stuck in Auto

edited January 2017 Posted in » Nikon D3100 Forum
I have had a Nikon D3100 with a Tamron 18-270mm lens for about 5 years now and I take thousands of shots a year, but I’m ashamed to say that I’m stuck in auto!
My defense, and it probably isn’t a very good one, is that I take hundreds of 5k Parkrun photographs most weeks, in sunny old England, and I just don’t have time to mess about with my camera because the runners are going past very quickly. There are about 300 runners a week, and I like to get at least one shot of everyone. With that said, I put it in “Sports mode” while this isn’t so much of a problem in the summer (which incidentally is about two weeks here), but in the winter months with cloud and rain, my pictures aren’t so good.
My question is, would I be better off learning more about my D3100, that is coming out of auto, or upgrading to a camera with a better sports mode?


  • edited January 2017
    If your camera does well in Sports mode in good weather, but not so well in bad, there may be little you can do to help that unless you get a faster lens.

    Newer cameras in the D3xxx line will give you an advantage in high ISO performance, and those in the D5xxx line will give you better AF performance as well. Each generation is a bit better on ISO, but while the newer cameras are likely to be better, they won't be all that much better without commensurately better lenses. You're almost certainly better off looking for a faster lens.

    While sports mode does take away some camera control, most of the choices it makes are pretty reasonable, and many are likely what you'd want anyway. Newer cameras will use about the same set of values, so the only real change will be in the ability of newer cameras to get good results at high ISO, allowing faster shutter speeds in poor light.

    Try to keep an eye on what focal lengths you find yourself using most, and you might find that you can get better results with a shorter or narrower range lens with a faster aperture and better AF performance.

    One thing you should do in the mean time is to check what AF area mode your camera is choosing. I don't know what the default in sports mode is, but that is a choice you can still make. Don't use Auto Area mode if you can help it, and beware of 3D mode, which can work very well but tends to jump to the wrong subject if your chosen subject does not stand out against the colors of the crowd. Try single point if your subject moves predictably and you can track him/her reliably. Switch to Dynamic Area if you have trouble keeping the runner in the focus point.
  • edited January 2017
    Thank you very much for your prompt and clear reply. I think I will go for the D3300 and hope that, as you said, more ISO will give me a faster shutter speed.
    I forgot to mention that my pictures just aren’t sharp enough especially around the face, and maybe that’s to do with my shutter speed being slower than that it should be.

    What a great forum, I’ve done a lot of reading from the other posts and as soon as I pick my new Nikon I will purchase the appropriate cheat cards.
  • edited January 2017
    A slow shutter speed will cause motion blur, but also make sure you're focusing on the face and tracking it. This is a good time to pixel-peep your images on the computer to see what, if any, parts are sharp. Motion blur is often distinguishable from focus blur, as it tends to be directional - more blur on one side than the other, and more like multiple edges or a jittery look than no edges at all.

    The D3300 should give you a good bit of advantage in sharpness over the D3100, and a little better processing power, continuous-frame speed, and such. Also, because of its 24 megapixel sensor, you might find that for some work you're better off using a wider angle lens (or zoom setting), which will give you a somewhat faster performance and greater depth of field, and then cropping later. If you get a good sharp image to start with, you can crop a lot without losing needed definition.

    I do suggest that before pulling the trigger you evaluate your current lens and make sure it's reasonably sharp in normal use. You can buy a new camera usually as a bare body, or with the kit 18-55mm lens, or sometimes bundled with the kit lens and the 55-200mm zoom. The Nikon lenses, though similar in aperture to the Tamron, are nice and sharp, and the vibration reduction is very good. The bundles can be a good bargain if you need the lenses anyway.

    edit to add: You probably know this already, but the D3400, which supersedes the D3300, is essentially the same, except that it actually drops a couple of features while adding bluetooth connectivity. Among the things dropped are the self-cleaning sensor and the microphone jack. The latter is only an issue for video, but I think the built-in sensor shaker is a good feature, and should not have been dropped. The D3400 does also have a larger Raw buffer, which means you can shoot more images in sequence without slowing down, and it has higher top ISO, but the D3300 is said to have less ISO noise despite this. I would stick with the D3300.
  • edited January 2017
    Thank you very much. I've taken on board what you have said in the previous post, and will read this post again with great interest.
    I have just watched your "Take sharper photos" video and it was excellent. Can't wait to get to the race on Saturday.

    Thanks again.
  • edited January 2017
    Not my video, I'm just a guest here. If the video is on this site, thank Moose.
  • edited January 2017
    My apologies.
    Thank you Bruto and thank you Moose.

  • Your much more than just a guest here @BRUTO, your help and advice is invaluable!
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