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You are hereHome > Best Digital Cameras > Nikon D40 DSLR

Nikon Digital Cameras

   

Nikon D40 DSLR Review

Review Date: Jan 3, 2007

Category: Family DSLR

Nikon D40

 

HANDLING & FEEL

The Nikon D40 DSLR is Nikon's most compact and lightweight DSLR to date. It is crafted like the more expensive D Series DSLRs and handles pretty much the same way. The body is constructed of high grade plastic and has an unmistakable feel of solid quality. A large (enough) handgrip provides a secure and comfortable hold with your index finger and thumb falling naturally on the Shutter-release button and the Command dial, respectively.

In the hand, the Nikon D40 -- with the AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II Lens attached, and white, silver, chrome and gold engravings -- is a beautiful camera to hold and use.

Nikon D40 Lens Mount

The lens mount on the Nikon D40 is lacking a mechanical focus drive pin (the Nikon D40 does not have an internal focus drive motor). What this amounts to in practice is that lenses with built-in focus motor (the AF-S and AF-I series) can autofocus, but other lenses will need to be manually focused. If you do not intend to add any other lenses to the Nikon D40, this will not affect you one bit. If you have existing Nikon lenses and/or do intend to purchase other lenses that are not AF-S and AF-I, then you need to ask yourself if autofocus is a big deal for you, plus you may also have to use Manual mode. Recommendation is to stick to the newer AF-S lenses.

The lens mount system used in the Nikon D40 is the standard Nikon "F" mount with a 1.5x field of view (FOV) crop. The 18-55mm kit lens therefore translates to a 27-82.5mm equivalent field of view.

The Nikon D40 uses the Secure Digital (SD) Card (including the large capacity SDHC cards).

Here's how the top DSLRs measure up against one another, without lens attached and without battery and card:

Camera W
(mm)
H
(mm)
D
(mm)
Weight
(g)
Nikon D200 147 113 74 830
Panasonic L1 145.8 86.9 80 530
Canon 30D 144 105.5 73.5 700
Olympus E-330 140 87 72 550
Nikon D50 133 102 76 540
Sony A-100 133 95 71 545
Pentax K100D 129.5 92.5 70 560
Olympus E-500 129.5 94.5 66 435
Canon XTi/400D 126.5 94.2 65 510
Nikon D40 126 94 64 475

As you can see, the Nikon D40 is much more compact than the D50 that it is replacing. It is about the same size as the Canon Digital Rebel XTi/400D but is lighter and has a deeper and more comfortable grip.

AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II Lens

Mouseover image for Silver model

AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II Lens

The AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II Lens has dimensions of 69mm x 75mm long (2.7 in. x 2.9 in.) and adds in a further 210g (6.8 oz.). Filter/Attachment Size is 52mm. Minimum Focus Distance is 0.28m (11.4 inches).

STYLE
- Colours: black body with white and silver letterings, and chrome accents; kit lens has silver and gold letterings and chrome accents
- Looks: professional, a beautiful camera
   
FEEL
- Ergonomic and high quality
- Controls & menu are precise and easy to use
   
DIMENSIONS & WEIGHT
- Nice heft
- Dimensions: 126 x 94 x 64mm
- Weight: 475g (approx. 685g with kit lens; approx. 736g with kit lens and battery)
- Takes 1 rechargeable Li-ion battery EN-EL9 7.4V 1000mAh
   

SPEED OF OPERATION

(using SHQ)

- Startup is quasi instant
- Shot to shot time as fast as you can press the shutter, but dependent on AF.
-

Continuous Shooting: 2.5fps without NR on; 1.7fps with NR on; 1fps in HI

I used a regular SanDisk 2GB and the camera was set to P mode.

The burst rate progressively slows down as the buffer fills up and the camera has to momentarily pause to save images. I took the maximum 100 pictures in about 55 sec.

- No practical shutter lag
- Overall, superb performance
   

Included in the box is a rechargeable Li-ion battery (that can take approx. 470 shots in single-frame shooting and approx. 2,200 shots in continuous shooting mode on a fresh charge (CIPA)) and a Battery Charger MH-23 (with power cord) that will recharge a new battery in about 90 mins. Note that though a USB cable is included, there is no Video cable. [The optional EG-D100 Video Cable costs around CDN $19.99.]

Nikon D40 Top View Controls

The top of the camera has a clean layout. The D40 has a nice handgrip and your index finger falls naturally on the Shutter-release button. The Power Switch is around the Shutter-release button with 2 settings: OFF and ON.

Behind it are the Info (Shooting info) Display and Exposure Compensation buttons. By default, the Info Display comes on when you turn the camera on. It disappears after approx. 7 sec. of inactivity. Normally, the glare from the display can be a nuisance when you are looking through the viewfinder. Fortunately, the display turns off when you half-press the Shutter-release button or you can turn the display off by simply pressing the Info Display button. Pressing the Info Display button toggles the Info Display ON and OFF on the LCD screen.

The Mode dial allows you to select Auto, Auto flash off, PASM, and 6 Scene Modes: Portrait, Landscape, Child, SPorts, Close-up, and Night Portrait. Since the flash will automatically pop up when needed in fully AUTO mode, the Auto flash off mode is a nice addition for times when you do not want to use flash.

Nikon D40 Back View

Nikon has successfully designed the back of the Nikon D40 so that it does not look cramped or overwhelming for the first-time DSLR user. The controls are nicely sized and positioned and there's still lots of space for your thumb to rest comfortably without inadvertently hitting any button. I like the fact that the LCD is positioned right underneath the viewfinder (and not to the left or right) and the nice soft but precise touch of the large buttons (vs. pressing on hard plastic buttons).

The Nikon D40 has a large 2.5-in. high resolution LCD monitor with wide-angle viewing and the 230K pixels are put to the best use with beautifully legible text and graphics. There is no live view and this LCD is strictly used for Playback. It also functions as a Control Panel (info display).

On the left side of the LCD screen, there are 4 buttons: Playback, Menu, Thumbnail (Help), Playback Zoom/Shooting Setting. The last button is a convenient shortcut to directly access the shooting settings displayed on the Info display without going into Menu.

There is also a bright and large viewfinder with approx. 95% coverage. The exposure settings are displayed on a black strip at the bottom of the viewfinder. With thick glasses, I personally find them hard to read in sunny situations but thankfully can rely on the large LCD info display.

As mentioned previously, if the glare from the LCD bothers you when you look into the viewfinder, pressing the Info Button on the top of the camera toggles the Info display ON and OFF.

Falling under your thumb is the Command dial. You use the Command dial to quickly set your exposure values:

  • In Manual mode, it allows you to select a shutter speed; since there is no sub-command dial (usually placed below the Shutter-release button at the front of the grip), you press the +/- exposure compensation button and rotate the Command dial to select an aperture in Manual mode.
  • In Shutter-Priority mode, use the Command dial to change shutter speed.
  • In Aperture-priority mode, use the Command dial to change aperture.
  • In Programmed Auto [P] mode, rotating the Command dial switches you into Flexible Program [P*] mode (i.e. Program Shift) and allows you to select different combinations of shutter speed and aperture while keeping the same exposure.

There are 3 AF Area Modes to choose from: Closest subject, Dynamic area and Single area. In Dynamic area and Single area modes, you can use the Multi selector to specify one of 3 focus areas you want the camera to lock focus on (convenient when your subject is not centered in the frame). The focus brackets are black lines which blink red when you half-press the Shutter-release button.

To the left of the Command dial is the AE-L/AF-L button that allows you to lock exposure and/or focus. The Multi selector is used to navigate the Menu, in Playback, and to select a focus area. Press the Delete button twice to delete image displayed. To delete all images, you'll need to access the Playback Menu. The SD Card compartment door can be seen at the right.

Nikon D40 Side Left View (with 18-55mm lens)

Underneath the camera, as expected, the metal tripod mount is located in line with the center of the lens and the imaging focal plane. The battery compartment is in the handgrip and you should be able to change the battery with the camera mounted on a tripod. The battery compartment door has a small spring-mounted catch that locks the battery in securely; slide it and the door pops open and the battery slides approx. 1/5 out; it does not fall out and you need to pull it out to remove it completely.

The Fn button is the customizable Function button which is defaulted to the Self-timer. The Self-timer can be set in Custom Settings to be 2s, 5s, 10s or 20s. While the number of choices is great, only the one you select will be available when you press the Fn/Self-timer button. I would have preferred that each press of the Fn/Self-timer button would simply cycle thru each available Self-timer choice plus the Drive modes (Single and Continuous).

Instead of defaulting to Self-timer, this Fn button can be customized to Shooting mode, Image quality/size, ISO sensitivity, or White Balance. When in Classic menu, pressing the Fn button highlights the function and you then use the Command dial to select a setting.

Above the Fn button is the Flash mode button: press it to raise the flash. Keep it pressed and rotate the Command Dial to select a flash mode: Auto, Auto+red-eye reduction, Auto slow sync+red-eye reduction, Auto slow sync, Rear-curtain sync.

Below the Fn button is the Lens release button. Depress it and twist the lens clockwise to remove it.

Visible on the kit lens is the A-M mode switch that allows you to switch back and forth between autofocus and manual focus modes. The big ring in front of that switch is the manual Zoom Ring, and in front of it (almost to the tip of the lens) is the thin manual Focus Ring. Manual focus is easy and quick. AF is lighting fast: half-press the Shutter-release button and your subject snaps into focus. In low-light there is a very effective AF-assist illuminator.

As you would expect, there are tons of customizable settings to choose from, more than we can reproduce here (unless we reproduce the whole manual). They will be more or less familiar to Nikon users, but can at first seem too many and too complicated for the point-and-shoot target audience. Reading the User Manual carefully should clarify most of the available choices.

Besides the CLASSIC DISPLAY, the new GRAPHIC DISPLAY looks "cool" and the menus display nicer with a grey background instead of the depressing black background. I'm not too convinced that the Shutter-speed/Aperture visual indications serve any useful purpose, but they do look cool. The WALLPAPER DISPLAY allows you to select a picture in your memory card and use it as background.

Overall, the programmer/designer did an excellent job on the menu design.

The following screen shots are courtesy of Nikon. We reproduce them here because they list all available display items (which do not all display at the same time in reality):

CLASSIC DISPLAY

- Top line: Mode, plus warning/error message
- Right column: Settings (Image Quality, Image Size, WB, ISO, Shooting mode, Focus mode, AF-area mode, Metering)
- Bottom line: Flash sync mode, Exposure compensation, Flash compensation
- Highlighted area: Shutter speed, Aperture, ISO-Auto indicator, Electric Analog Exposure Display (aka, Manual assist), Focus area selected, Optimize image indicator, Beep indicator, Manual flash indicator, Battery indicator, Number of frames left
- Press Info Display button to turn on/off

GRAPHIC DISPLAY

- Top line: Mode, Manual flash indicator, ISO-Auto indicator, Optimize image indicator, Beep indicator, Battery indicator, plus warning/error message
- Right column: Settings (Image Quality, Image Size, WB, ISO, Shooting mode, Focus mode, AF-area mode, Metering)
- Bottom line: Flash sync mode, Exposure compensation, Flash compensation, Number of frames left
- Middle area: Aperture visual display (the size of the "iris" indicates the aperture), Shutter-speed visual display (the dashes around the Aperture visual display), Focus area selected, Shutter speed, Aperture, Electric Analog Exposure Display (aka, Manual assist)
- Press Info Display button to turn on/off

WALLPAPER DISPLAY

- Same as for GRAPHIC DISPLAY, minus the Aperture visual displayand Shutter-speed visual display
- Oh, and plus a wallpaper which you can select from the images you have currently taken
- Mercifully, the wallpaper disappears and is replaced by a clean background when you press the Shooting Setting (Playback Zoom) button
- Press Info Display button to turn on/off

Here are our regular screen shots (with screens captures with either grey or black background):

SHOOTING MENU - CLASSIC DISPLAY

- Optimize image
- Image quality
- Image size
- White balance
- ISO sensitivity
- Noise reduction

SHOOTING MENU - GRAPHIC or WALLPAPER DISPLAY

- Same as above
- Note that if you have selected GRAPHIC DISPLAY or WALLPAPER DISPLAY, the menus display with a grey background; otherwise, they display with a black background

OPTIMIZE IMAGE

- Normal
- Softer
- Vivid
- More vivid
- Portrait
- Black-and-white
- Custom

IMAGE QUALITY

- NEF (RAW)
- JPEG fine
- JPEG normal
- JPEG basic
- NEF (RAW)+JPEG basic

IMAGE SIZE

- Large (3,008x2,000; 6.0 MP)
- Medium (2,256x1,496; 3.3 MP)
- Small (1,504x1,000; 1.5 MP)

WHITE BALANCE 1 of 2

- Auto
- Incandescent
- Fluorescent
- Direct sunlight
- Flash
- Cloudy
- Shade

WHITE BALANCE 2 of 2

- White balance preset

WHITE BALANCE AUTO

- WB can be fine tuned by +/-3 in increments of one.
- Choose lower values to make pictures appear slightly more yellow or red
Choose higher values to lend images a bluish tinge

ISO

- 200
- 400
- 800
- 1600
- HI 1 = boosted to 3200

 

CUSTOM SETTING MENU 1 of 3

- Reset
- Beep
- Focus mode
- AF-area mode
- Shooting mode
- Metering
- No memory card?

CUSTOM SETTING MENU 2 of 3

- Image review
- Flash level
- AF-assist
- ISO auto
- Fn button
- AE-L/AF-L
- AE Lock

CUSTOM SETTING MENU 3 of 3

- Built-in flash
- Auto off timers
- Self-timer
- Remore on duration

FOCUS MODE

- AF-A = Auto-servo AF
- AF-S = Single-servo AF
- AF-C = Continuous-servo AF
- MF = Manual focus

- AF-A automatically selects a focus mode based on whether subject is stationary (AF-S) or moving (AF-C)

AF-AREA MODE

- Closest subject
- Dynamic area
- Single area

SHOOTING MODE

- Single frame
- Continuous
- Self-timer (2s, 5s or 10s set in SETUP MENU)
- 2s Delayed remote
- Quick-response remote

METERING

- Matrix
- Center-weighted
- Spot

ISO AUTO

- Off
- On
- Max. sensitivity
- Min. shutter speed

ISO AUTO - MAX SENSITIVITY

- Select the maximum ISO the camera will ever go up to when ISO AUTO is selected
- Choose from 400, 800 or 1600

ISO AUTO - MIN SHUTTER SPEED

- Select the minimum Shutter speed that will trigger the camera to go to a higher ISO from the one you selected in P and A mode
- Choose from 1/125s to 1s

FN BUTTON

- Self-timer [default]
- Shooting mode
- Image quality/size
- ISO sensitivity
- White balance

SELF-TIMER

- Whichever delay you select here will be the default when you press the Fn/Self-timer button (if that's what you customized the Fn button to be) or when you select the Shooting mode to be Self-timer

 

SETUP MENU 1 of 3

- CSM/Setup menu
- Format memory card
- Info display format
- Auto shooting info
- World time
- LCD brightness
- Video mode

SETUP MENU 2 of 3

- Language
- Image comment
- USB
- Folders
- File no. sequence
- Mirror lock-up
- Firmware version

SETUP MENU 3 of 3

- Dust off ref photo
- Auto image rotation

INFO DISPLAY FORMAT

- Here, I've selected the WALLPAPER DISPLAY for all Scene Modes

INFO DISPLAY FORMAT

- Hey, I can even select which image currently on the memory card I want to use as the wallpaper
- Select your wallpaper carefully so the info display remains legible

INFO DISPLAY FORMAT

- And here it is when I select Landscape scene mode
- Of course, you would want to select a background that does not interfere with the display, as I did here with the subject to the left and the right side of the screen as a solid dark colour

INFO DISPLAY FORMAT

- Here, I've selected the GRAPHIC DISPLAY for PASM modes

 

RETOUCH MENU

- D-lighting
- Red-eye correction
- Trim
- Monochrome
- Filter effects
- Small picture
- Image overlay

- Note: original image is preserved and the retouched image is saved as a new image

ORIGINAL

- Here is the original picture before applying any retouching

MONOCHROME - BLACK-AND-WHITE

MONOCHROME - SEPIA

MONOCHROME - CYANOTYPE

FILTER EFFECTS - SKYLIGHT

FILTER EFFECTS - WARM FILTER

FILTER EFFECTS - COLOR BALANCE

OVERLAY

- Notice how I reduced the "gain" of Image 2 so it appears "transparent"

OVERLAY

- Here is the final overlay images

- Note overlay can only be performed on RAW images

- New image is saved separately from the originals

 

D-LIGHTING

- D-lighting brightens shadows

- I purposefully dialed in a -1.0EV for this picture so the image is underexposed; the face is in shadows and too dark

D-LIGHTING

- Go into RETOUCH MENU and select D-LIGHTING
- Select Low, Normal, High brightness level

D-LIGHTING

- And, hey presto, the image is rescued!

- Note: depending on the image, noise can increase and become visible

Changing the settings directly on the Control Panel (LCD screen) is possible thanks to the [i] Settings button. Below, I show the three most important settings:

ISO SENSITIVITY

 

WHITE BALANCE

SHOOTING MODE

The Nikon D40 is not too expensive or big, and set to P mode, is easy enough to use for P&S photographers (provided someone knowledgeable customizes it for them first). I like the excellent ergonomics, quality build & feel, and compact size of the Nikon D40. A thorough read of The Nikon Guide to Digital Photography with the D40 (aka User Manual) is necessary to make the most of this versatile camera.

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