Digital SLRs can be daunting, and few models make it easy for newcomers to simply pick up and shoot. Luckily, Nikon is looking to change that, and returns again this year with an upgraded version of its entry-level consumer DSLR, the D3100 ($699 at Henry's with 18-55mm lens).
Unlike professional models, the D3100 doesn't require intimate knowledge of shutter speed or aperture - it can be operated just like a point-and-shoot, with a wealth of automatic modes for casual shooters. But the camera's real strength lies in its ability to teach, and can introduce those more advanced SLR concepts without making the user feel overwhelmed.
Guide mode, for example, understands not everyone is as pro when it comes to taking good photos. If you want a portrait with a shallow, blurred background, the camera will show you how. If you're trying to capture an evening scene, it can adjust your settings accordingly. The benefit here is that the D3100 does more than just give you a choice of settings on a dial - it shows you the effect each one can create as well.
The D3100's biggest addition is its ability to shoot high-definition movies in 1080p, making it one of the cheapest, video-capable DSLRs on the market. Unlike some other models, the lens will auto-focus while shooting - albeit slowly - and video quality is reasonable under most conditions. However, it's probably wise to keep this thing away from low-light settings unless you're using a better lens; the included 18-55mm kit only has an aperture of 4-5.5, which means that grain-inducing ISO must be used to capture dimly-lit scenes.
Nevertheless, Nikon has a solid entry-level shooter on their hands, and with the addition of HD video capabilities, you really can't go wrong for the price.