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Nikon D40 DSLR Review
|Review Date: Jan
Nikon D40 with
optional Speedlight SB-400
Friday, December 8, 2006 - Here's what I receive
in the box:
- Nikon D40 DSLR w/Body Cap
- No memory card [though I received a 256MB
SanDisk SD Card]
- Accessory Shoe Cover
- Viewfinder Rubber Eyecup DK-16
- Eyepiece Cap DK-5
- Shoulder Strap
- Li-Ion Battery EN-EL9 7.4V 1000 mAh with terminal
- MH-23 Quick Charger & power cord
- USB Cable
- Instruction Manuals (English and French):
Quick Start Guide, Guide to Digital Photography
- Software CDs: Picture Project 1.7
- AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED
II Lens [US
with front lens cover and rear cap [5 Year Nikon
- I also received the SB-600 Speedlight (with
stand and soft case)
The Nikon D40 succeeds in being an easy-to-use
as well as an excellent serious DSLR. I believe
the low price is probably what will attract most
photographers to it; however, it is the excellent
image quality and build that will sell them on
It's a Nikon, all right, built tough with very
responsive handling and performance. It's also
compact and lightweight enough so that size and
weight do not become an issue. Controls are well
laid out and the overall design is not overwhelming
to the first-time user and yet familiar to regular
Nikon DSLR users.
Image quality is excellent with details preserved
even at high ISO; noise is very low up to ISO
800, with ISO 1600 very usable. The only "fly
in the ointment" is the propensity for blown
Custom Auto ISO
One feature I particular like is the Custom Auto
ISO (available in PASM modes). This allows you
to specify the maximum ISO sensitivity the camera
will use as well as the minimum shutter speed
that will trigger the camera to resort to the
use of a higher ISO than the one you specified.
Note that this is not the same as the ISO Auto
setting in the ISO sensitivity section under the
Shooting Menu. This ISO Auto setting is only available
when you are shooting in AUTO mode. In PASM modes,
this setting is disabled.
In PASM modes, you need to set the Custom ISO
Auto settings in the Custom Setting Menu under
the ISO Auto section. Select your Min. shutter
speed, Max. sensitivity, and then set it to On.
Now, select an ISO in Shooting mode.
The camera will honour your chosen ISO until
it needs to select a shutter speed that is slower
than the minimum shutter speed you specified.
This triggers the camera to select the next highest
ISO until the shutter speed can be at or faster
than your specified minimum shutter speed, up
to the maximum ISO sensitivity you specified.
An "ISO-A" displays on your screen to
alert you to the fact that this feature is in
Once set this way, there is rarely a need to
change ISO anymore, and the absence of a dedicated
ISO button is not missed that bad (though more
advanced photographers would still have preferred
The viewfinder is large and surprisingly bright
for a penta-mirror (used instead of a penta-prism).
I personally find all the Nikon DSLR readouts
too small but you get used to them.
I find the AF to be very fast and precise and
the fact that there are only 3 AF areas not to
be limiting. The fact that I can just use the
LEFT and RIGHT arrow keys to select which AF area
will focus is great and very helpful when your
subject is not in the center of the frame. I miss
a framing grid since I seem to be taking many
pictures that are tilted these days.
The presence of in-camera retouching features
suce as D-Lighting and Red-eye reduction speaks
volume as to the intended audience.
Of note to those used to a non-DSLR only, a DSLR
such as the Nikon D40 has a combined mechanical
and CCD electronic shutter, as well as a mirror
that needs to be raised when the picture is actually
taken and lowered back down to reflect light back
into the viewgfinder. The shutter and mirror noises
cannot be "turned off" as you can on
a non-DSLR for totally silent photography. The
shutter noise is, thankfully, quite soft and pleasant.
The supplied software, PictureProject 1.7, is
relatively easy to use and provide basic editing
functions. It can convert a RAW picture into JPEG
but unfortunately you cannot tweak any conversion
parameters. For that, you'll need to purchase
the optional Nikon Capture 4.4.
Nikon Speedlight SB-600
I also received the Nikon Speedlight SB-600 which
integrates seamlessly with the Nikon D40 for effortless
flash photography. It has a guide number of 42/138
(ISO 200, m/ft) (at the 35mm zoom head position).The
flash shooting distance range is 0.6m to 20m (2
to 66 ft) (varies depending on ISO used, zoom-head
position and lens aperture in use).
It has a head that tilts from 0° to 90°
horizontally and rotates 180° to the left
and 90° to the right and perfect for bounce
The SB-600 is a high-performance speedlight that
allows TTL auto flash as well as manual flash
operations. In TTL auto flash mode, the camera's
TTL auto flash sensor detects the flash illumination
reflected back from the subject and automatically
controls the flash output level to give a correct
There are two TTL flash modes: Standard (TTL)
and Balanced (TTL BL).
- Standard TTL flash (TTL) correctly exposes
the subject without any regard to the background.
- The Automatic Balanced Fill-Flash (TTL BL)
is the default mode. It adjusts the flash output
level for a balanced exposure of the main subject
I believe most beginners will be caught off guard
with the default Automatic Balanced Fill-Flash
mode (TTL BL) because the pictures that result
look, well, on the most part a bit underexposed.
Look at them carefully again and you'll notice
that, as the mode promises, the subject and background
are "balanced" so that both are lighted
and exposed without detail loss or blown highlights.
But, the main subject does look darker than one
would expect using such a powerful flash.
The Automatic Balanced Fill-Flash mode is, as
its name implies, a fill-in flash, i.e. to add
some light to the main subject in situations that
are already well lighted. For example, you might
want to use fill-in flash during the day outdoors
even when it is bright and sunny if the main subject's
face is in the shadows. In this case, a short
burst of fill-in flash is all that is needed to
ensure the subject's face is adequately exposed.
However, most people use an external flash because
the onboard flash is not powerful enough to light
a scene or is too direct causing harsh shadows.
Our recommendations to you:
- Change the SB-600 flash mode to Standard TTL
flash (TTL) and tilt the head for bounce flash.
This will ensure you get enough power and
a natural light effect. Reserve TTL BL for fill-in
- Or, if you like the subject/background balanced
effect and prefer to retain Automatic Balanced
Fill-Flash mode (TTL BL), then you will need
to experiment a bit and dial in different positive
flash exposure compensation values on the speedlight
to ensure the subject comes out exposed the
way you like.
You don't have to worry about zooming because
the zoom-head is automatically adjusted to match
the lens focal length. A wide-flash adapter is
built-in and you can manually slide it out of
the top and in front of the flash when using a
14mm lens. It also conveniently allows close-up
with flash. If the ceiling is too high or not
reflective enough to allow bounce flash, then
the wide-flash adapter can also be used for a
soft, diffused lighting when pointing the flash
straight at the subject.
Nikon includes a practically useful brochure
(in English and French for consumers in Canada)
titled "A collection of example photos"
that demonstrates the different flash capabilities
of the SB-600. A Speedlight Stand (AS-19) and
a Soft Case (SS-600) are also included as standard.
The SB-600 takes 4 AA-type batteries (not included).
There is a decal on the box touting a 2 Years
A more compact alternative to the SB-600 is the
new SB-400 that takes only 2 AA-type batteries.
I am not sure if it is available in Canada yet
at time of writing.
Though there are other DSLRs with similar features
as the Nikon D40, the latter seems to be
just the right size, weight -- and price -- for
many P&S photographers thinking of upgrading
to a better digital camera. The ease-of-use and
excellent image quality of the D40 will make the
Nikon D40 the first attractive DSLR for many families
who are tired of not being able to take good low-light
shots of their babies and children indoors.