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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 with optional Speedlight SB-400

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 cover
  • 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 | CAN] with front lens cover and rear cap [5 Year Nikon Canada Warranty]
  • 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.

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 highlights.

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 effect.

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 one).

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.

PictureProject 1.7
PictureProject 1.7

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 flash.

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 exposure.

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 and background.

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 flash only.
  • 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 Canadian Warranty.

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.

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