Nikon D40 SLR Review

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Nikon D40

Steve's Conclusion

At the time of this review, the D40 is the latest addition to Nikon's ever popular dSLR line, occupying the "entry-level" position, previously held by the D50 we reviewed in 2005. This model comes as a body and lens kit only, offering users a 6.1-megpixel imager, 2.5-inch LCD, 11 exposure modes, continuous capture at 2.5fps, selectable ISO from 200 - 1600, and the new 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor lens.

Thanks to the compact ergonomics of this camera, and the fact that it weighs a mere 17 ounces, I had no problems carrying it around all day without any discomfort. When you compare the specs from the D50 to the D40, you'll notice this newer model is about 58 grams (2.05 oz) and 26.52mm (1.04 in.) smaller than its predecessor. As with previous models, the D40 sits comfortably in your hands, while the durable polycarbonate body has a professional look and feel to it. The controls are positioned similarly to the D50's, however the D40 lacks the top-mounted data LCD found on all other Nikon dSLRs. It has been replaced by the Shooting Information screen (see details on page 3), which is displayed on the camera's 2.5-inch color LCD. This larger display allows for easier viewing of stored images as well as having a menu text that is more legible.

The D40's menu system is almost identical to the D80 , however with a few less options. To ensure you can see all of the available options, you must first set CSM/Setup Menu to Full (see page 4.) I found the menus were logically organized which allows for quick navigation. Like the D80, the D40 sports the new Retouch menu, offering image correction tools like those found on many consumer cameras. This menu will be an appealing feature to users who made the jump into a dSLR, but don't want to spend time post-processing their captured images. You can use Nikon's exclusive D-Lighting, remove Red-eye from your flash portraits, apply filter effects, etc.

While Nikon chose a less costly penta-DACH mirror type optical viewfinder, I felt it was a pleasure to use. 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.

While this is 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 take as much control as needed. In addition, the D40 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 D40 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 D40 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 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 6/10 of a second intervals without flash, and between 8/10 and 2 second intervals with flash, depending on subject distance.

In continuous shooting mode, the D40 surpassed Nikon's promise of 2.5 frames per second. I was able to consistently capture 10 images in 3.4 seconds (approx. 2.9fps.) Unlike the D80, which you must turn off Long exp. NR to achieve the claimed burst frame rate, the D40 was very responsive right out of the box, without changing any settings. Our measurements were made using an the included kit lens (18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II AF-S), shooting Large/Fine JPEG images, using Program AE mode with the ISO set to 200.

When shooting NEF (RAW) images in single exposure mode, I was able to capture images at 1/2 second intervals, continuously without filling the buffer. In continuous drive mode, 5 NEF images were captured in 1.5 seconds, and subsequent shots could be taken at 8/10 of a second intervals. Impressively, it took less than 3.5 seconds for the D40 to flush its entire buffer of NEF images to the SD (or SDHC) card. When shooting in RAW plus JPEG mode the D40 only allows you to save a JPEG/Basic image. Using it, I captured 5 images in 1.8 seconds, with subsequent shots at 1.1 second intervals and the buffer flushing in 6 seconds.

The D40 is compatible with Nikon F mount lenses, however it has no internal focus motor so 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 older non-CPU lenses. The included 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor kit lens is nice, offering a focal range of approx. 27 - 82.5mm. This affords a field of view wide enough for most landscapes and interior shots 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. While it lacks the telephoto coverage for football games or bird watching in the woods, it's a good lens for general photography and portraits.

The D40's built-in flash has a guide number of 17/55 (m/ft) at ISO 200. Using the kit lens, the maximum flash range is about 15.7 feet at ISO 200. While shooting our indoor portraits, I had no problems fully illuminating the subjects. I was able to capture a group portrait of five people with good flash exposure, and pleasing skin tones. 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 D80, I used the powerful SB-600 flash unit and was very happy with the results. The D40 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. Be sure to take a look at our samples page to see several comparison shots using the built-in flash and the SB-600.

Both our indoor and outdoor image quality results were very good when using the in-camera JPEG/Large Fine mode. The model utilizes a 6.1-megapixel Nikon DX format image sensor that records photos with a good amount of sharpness, accurate exposure, and rich color saturation. The D40 features a 3-area TTL AF system, it was fast and accurate, as you can see by our shooting performance numbers above. I was very impressed with the lack of image noise in our test shots, 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 would suggest not using this mode unless in a real bind as the noise levels are very high. You can see some examples for yourself by taking a look at the samples page.

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 D40. 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 - Nikon's D40 is not only an awesome little dSLR that captures great photos with robust performance, it also has a very pleasing price tag of $600 or less (and remember this is for the body and the lens.) In fact, we bought our D40 from B&H Photo for about $572 shipped! The only annoyances I had with the D40 was that you have to enter the Setup menu to "unlock" the rest of the available settings, File number sequence is set to Off from the factory (which means every time you format the SD card, it starts over at image number 1 again -- you either have to rename them or make a new folder), and I do miss the data LCD on top like that found on the D80. That said, I feel this model will make an excellent camera for any user who wants a more versatile camera over their consumer digicam, and don't feel like breaking the bank in the process.

Nikon has announced updated firmware versions for the D40

Details - Nikon Firmware Update A version 1.12

The following issues has been resolved in A firmware version 1.12.:

  • With firmware Ver. 1.11 and earlier, 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. 1.12, 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

Go to our
D40 Sample Photos

Want a second opinion?

DCView's D40 review

Imaging-Resource's D40 review

DC Resource's D40 review

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