Nikon D40x SLR Review

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Nikon D40x

Steve's Conclusion

Nikon has refreshed their ever popular D40 model from last year, with the new D40x. New improvements over the D40 include a 10-megapixel image sensor (6-megapixels on the D40), increased continuous capture rate (3fps over 2.5fps), and a slightly more versatile sensitivity range from ISO 100 - 1600 (compared to 200 - 1600). This new model occupies Nikon's "entry-level" dSLR position, and comes as a body or body and lens kit. Nikon left many options alone, like the 2.5-inch LCD, 12 exposure modes, shutter speeds from 1/4000 to 30, 3 area AF system, Retouch menu, SD/SDHC card storage, USB 2.0 connectivity, and the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor kit lens.

Like the D40, the D40x offers compact ergonomics. Weight and size have not changed, but when compared to their predecessor, the D50, the D40/D40x is about 58 grams (2.05 oz) and 26.52mm (1.04 in.) smaller. With the included neck strap, I had no problems carrying the D40x around all day taking sample photos. It sat comfortably in my large hands, and offers a durable and professional feel. The controls are well positioned (in exactly the same positions as the D40's), easily accessed by your finger tips while you are busy framing your subject. We also liked the Shooting Information screen (see details on page 3), which is displayed on the 2.5-inch LCD. This offers all of the information on camera settings that you would normally find on the monochrome LCD, on a more expensive dSLR model. One advantage is that the display is much larger, which makes menu text and icons more legible. I was surprised that Nikon did not jump on the large LCD bandwagon and bump the size up to 3.0-inch; this 2.5-inch LCD is plenty large enough for reviewing images and browsing the menu system, kudos to Nikon for leaving it be.

The menu system on this new camera is identical to the D40's. To ensure you can see all of the available options, you must first set CSM/Setup Menu to Full (see page 4.) Like with the D40, I found the menus were logically organized, allowing for easy navigation and quick changes to camera settings. The D40x also sports Nikon's exclusive Retouch menu, which will help users spend less time post-processing images on their PC or MAC by offering image correction tools like those found on many consumer cameras. You can use Nikon's D-Lighting, remove Red-eye from your flash portraits, apply filter effects, etc.

Nikon continued the use of a penta-DACH mirror type optical viewfinder. It offers an approx. 95% view of the captured frame, with plenty of exposure information as well as a comfortable rubber eyecup. For those who are used to EVFs (Electronic ViewFinders) found on many consumer digicams, you'll appreciate the optical thru-the-lens view that doesn't go blank while following a moving subject in continuous capture (burst) mode. When shooting in burst mode, the mirror return was fast enough to provide an essentially continuous viewfinder image, as long as the camera is using a fast shutter speed. Overall, I found the viewfinder was a pleasure to use during our tests.

While the D40x is dubbed an "entry-level" dSLR, there are plenty of exposure options to suit almost any photographer's needs. With a wide range of manual controls (Shutter and Aperture priority, Full Manual), more experienced users can control as much of the exposure process as needed or wanted. In addition, the D40x provides 17 Custom Settings that allow you to personalize the operation to fit your individual shooting style. Parameters such as metering mode, focus mode, ISO speed and AF-area mode give novice users extensive control over the camera's auto exposure and auto focusing functions. The D40x even allows you to control focusing functions and ISO in the automatic Digital Vari-Program modes. Like many of Nikon's new dSLR models, the D40x provides assistance in the form of a Help button that calls up an explanation of each menu or function on the LCD monitor; think of it as a built-in user guide that will help you improve your shooting skills!

Shooting performance was almost identical to the D40, very impressive. From power-on until capture of the first image took only 6/10 of a second. Shutter lag, the time delay between depressing the shutter and capturing an image, was almost instantaneous (less than 1/10 of a second) when pre-focused. Autofocus shutter lag ranged between 1/10 and 6/10 of a second, depending on the degree of focus change required of the attached 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor lens. In single-shot mode, I was able to capture images at 4/10 - 5/10 of a second intervals without flash, and between 8/10 and 2.1 second intervals with flash, depending on subject distance. In continuous shooting mode, the D40x surpassed Nikon's promise of 3 frames per second. I was able to consistently capture 10 images in 2.8 seconds (approx. 3.5fps.) The D40x was very responsive right out of the box, without having to change any settings. Our measurements were made with the included kit lens (18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II AF-S), shooting Large/Fine JPEG images, Program AE mode, image preview On, ISO set to 100, using a ATP Pro Max 4GB SDHC memory card.

When shooting NEF (RAW) images in single exposure mode, I was able to capture images at 5/10 of a second intervals, continuously without filling the buffer. In continuous drive mode, 7 NEF images were captured in 1.8 seconds, and subsequent shots could be taken at 8/10 of a second intervals. Impressively, it took less than 5 seconds for the D40x to flush its entire buffer of NEF images to the SD (or SDHC) card. You can also shoot in RAW plus JPEG mode the D40x only allows you to save a JPEG/Basic image. Using it, I captured 6 sets of images in 1.6 seconds, with subsequent shots at 1 second intervals and the buffer flushing in 7 seconds.

Just like the D40, the D40x is compatible with Nikon F mount lenses. However, because these models do not feature an internal focus motor, autofocus can only be achieved with newer AF-S and AF-I CPU lenses (IX Nikkor CPU lenses can not be used.) This means you'll have to manually focus any of your older non-CPU lenses. The included 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor kit lens is very nice, offering a focal range of approx. 27 - 82.5mm (approx. 3x). I found it offered a sufficient field of view for most of your interior/landscape shooting needs at the Wide angle end, while offering a very moderate telephoto focal length that works well for close-up portraits. This lightweight lens does not feel cheap in any way, having the ability to focus rapidly and produces sharp images throughout the focal range. I noticed an average amount of barrel distortion at the wide angle extreme, but only slight pincushioning at the telephoto end. There were some traces of chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) visible in many of our outdoor samples. However, I was surprised that there was almost no visible vignetting, or darkness at the corners of the image, at the 18mm (27mm) end of the zoom range. This lens is great for general photography (portraits, landscapes, etc.), and compliments the D40x's 10-megapixel imager nicely.

The built-in speedlite has a guide number of 17/55 (m/ft) at ISO 200 or 12/39 at ISO 100. Using the kit lens, the maximum flash range is about 15.7 feet at ISO 200 or 11 feet at ISO 100. I used ISO 100 for most all of our sample photos, and when shooting indoors, the flash did very well at illuminating the subjects with in the ranges listed above. If you need more flash power, the hot shoe lets you attach external Speedlights and supports Nikon's Creative Lighting System and i-TTL flash control. Like the D40, I used the powerful SB-600 flash unit and was very happy with the results. The D40x controlled its zoom head, and used the SB-600's long range AF-assist lamp. Overall, I think the SB-600 or SB-800 would make an excellent accessory choice for those who enjoy portrait photography. Another useful tool that this model features is Nikon's exclusive D-lighting function. If you captured a flash portrait that looks a bit dark or you would like to see more of the background, you simply use this feature to help "brighten" up the picture. There are three levels to choose from, Low, Normal (default), and High. I found using the Normal option produced very nice results. In fact, images I converted in-camera with D-lighting looked better than ones that I used the D-lighting option in the Nikon Capture NX software. Be sure to take a look at our samples page to see several examples using the built-in flash and the SB-600 as well as the D-lighting feature.

The biggest upgrade on the D40x was the image sensor, with 10-megapixels of resolution, compared to the D40's 6-megapixels. However, when we first received the D40x I was a bit concerned that the overall size of the imagers on these models is almost identical. This means the D40x just has more pixels stuffed on the same size imager as the D40. After using the camera, and taking about 400+ photos, I found that like its predecessor, the D40x can capture beautiful photos both indoors and out. Using the JPEG/Large Fine setting produces sharp images that show very pleasing colors and good exposure. I found that the colors are a bit more saturated than the D40, which most users will appreciate as it gives the images a bit more "pop". Both models share the same 3-area TTL AF system, which I found is fast and accurate. I was also pleased to see that noise levels had not risen significantly with the D40x, considering that there are approx 40% more pixels on this imaging sensor. Noise can be detected slightly at ISO 200 in dark shadow areas, becoming more noticeable as you raise the sensitivity. Images at ISO 800 are very usable and even ISO 1600 looks relatively good in my opinion. There's also a HI 1 setting that, according to Nikon is "an equivalent of roughly ISO 3200". I recommend not using this mode unless in a real bind as noise levels are high and it's very unlikely you could make a nice print larger than say a 4x6. Be sure to take a look for yourself on our samples page, where we have an example at each of the ISO settings.

A good post processing or editing software is an excellent accessory for any dSLR, allowing you to quickly edit your photos, especially when using NEF (RAW) mode. The included Nikon PictureProject 1.7 doesn't offer very many editing options for NEF files, only allowing you to adjust sharpening, brightness, color booster, etc. You can see on our samples page two examples that were converted with this software, using the Auto Adjust option for Brightness and the Medium option for sharpness. If you already have PictureProject installed on your PC from a CoolPix camera, be sure to reinstall it with the CD included with the D40x. Otherwise, you will get an error when trying to edit your NEF files.

Nikon Capture NX is a very useful tool in the editing process, offering a wealth of adjustment options for NEF files as well as JPEG and TIFF formats. The only thing that discouraged me was that they only give you a 30-day trial. So, if you plan on shooting a majority of your photos in RAW mode, be sure to get Capture NX or one of the alternative RAW applications or plug-ins (Bibble, RawShooter, Adobe Photoshop CS Camera Raw) right away.

Bottom line - At the beginning of the year, we completed our testing of the D40 and were very pleased. This new Nikon D40x continued to impress us, offering speedy performance, great image quality, and loads of user-friendly exposure options. The addition of ISO 100 and a 3fps continuous drive mode (3.5fps in our testing) are both great additions to this popular model. As mentioned earlier, I was pleased that the increase of pixels on the same size imager did not equal a lesser quality of images. The D40x is a welcomed successor to the D40 and is sure to please dSLR users alike, whether you're a professional who wants a light camera for extended shooting or one who has just made the leap into the dSLR world. Only two things annoyed me about this model, and these were carried over from the D40. You have to enter the Setup menu to "unlock" the rest of the available Custom menu settings, and the File Number sequence function is set to Off from the factory (which means every time you transfer images from the memory card (or format the card), it starts over at image number 1 again). With a street price of $699 or less for the camera/lens outfit, I feel the Nikon D40x digital SLR package offers an outstanding value for the amount of camera you are receiving for the money.

Nikon has announced updated firmware versions for the D40x

Details - Nikon Firmware Update A version 1.01

The following issues has been resolved in A firmware version 1.01.:

  • With firmware Ver. 1.00 the number of images that could be captured (battery performance) when an EN-EL9a was used was less than when an EN-EL9 was used. By upgrading A firmware to Ver. 1.01, EN-EL9a performance is maximized so that more images can be captured (battery performance) when an EN-EL9a is used than when an EN-EL9 is used.
  • Number of shots possible (battery performance) with EN-EL9a (1,080 mAh)
    • Single-frame shooting mode: Approximately 510 shots (with testing according to CIPA standards)
    • Continuous shooting mode: Approximately 2,400 shots (with testing according to Nikon standards)

Windows Users download v.1.12 here
Macintosh Users download v.1.12 here

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