DigitalCameraReview.com
Nikon D40 Review
by  -  1/26/2007

The Nikon D40 was announced just in time for the holiday buying season.  Nikon’s goal with the D40 was to introduce an affordable digital SLR that is easy to use and compact to address a couple of the reasons why people decide against buying a digital SLR.  The D40 features a 6.1 megapixel DX format sensor, a 2.5 inch LCD with a nice graphical user interface, and it comes as a kit with an 18-55mm lens for under $600. 

nikon d40
(view large image)

 

NUTS & BOLTS

Viewfinder/LCD

Since this is a digital SLR, you get a true optical viewfinder.  The viewfinder is actually very nice and bright.  A diopter adjustment is available so that the focus point marks and information in the viewfinder are sharp.  The viewfinder covers about 95% of the actual captured image.  While shooting, camera settings (focus, metering, exposure compensation, aperture, shutter speed, etc) are very visible in green text and symbols below the frame. 

nikon d40
(view large image)

For reviewing your images and working in the menu system, there is a single 2.5 inch LCD that has 230K pixels of resolution.  To make the camera and its “info” display less intimidating, Nikon provides several options for the style of display, including a very polished graphical display.  You can choose from "graphical", "classic" and "wallpaper" display styles. The graphical interface displays all of the camera settings, but the information is laid out very simply. The classic view shows all the information that you need to know. The wallpaper mode lets you choose one of your images as wallpaper behind a layout similar to graphical mode. Shots of the interfaces are below.


Graphical interface

Classic interface

Wallpaper interface

Lens 

Since the D40 is targeted at beginning users, it’s sold as a “kit” with one lens included.  They include an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor lens.  The lens has a minimum focus distance of 11 inches, an aperture range of f/3.5-f22 at wide angle and f/5.6-38 at telephoto.  If you’re just starting out, this lens is a great start.  As your skills get better, you can start checking out the other lenses that Nikon offers.

nikon d40
(view large image)

Focus Modes 

The D40 has a 3-point AF system with a focus assist lamp for low-light conditions.  You can let the camera decide the correct point to use, you can use the center point, or you can set the camera so that it lets you set the focus point using the directional pad on the back of the camera.

There are a few focus modes that can be used.  AF-A lets the camera decide whether to use single AF for stationary subjects or continuous AF to keep moving subjects in focus.  AF-S mode starts the auto focus process as soon as you partially press the shutter release.  AF-C mode attempts to keep the subject focused continuously.  Finally, you can switch the kit lens to manual mode so that you can focus by hand.  

Flash 

The built-in flash pops up automatically, when needed, in auto mode and the preset scene modes (what Nikon calls Digital Vari-Programs).  When shooting in the ”exposure” modes (P, S, A, and M), the flash can be activated (popped-up) by pushing a button on the left side of the camera. 

Memory Media 

The Nikon D40 accepts only Secure Digital (SD) and SDHC media. 

nikon d40
(view large image)

Image File Format(s) 

You can save files as JPEG or NEF (Nikon’s RAW file format) files. 

Connectivity

For transferring files, there is a USB 2.0 Hi-speed interface.  There is also a video out jack for display images on a TV or other projector. 

Power 

The camera is powered by a 1000mAh lithium-ion battery.  Battery life for single frame shooting, by CIPA standards is 470 shots.  If you shoot continuous frames, the battery life is 2200 shots.  These numbers are achieved in ideal conditions – real life conditions won’t achieve these numbers.  The battery can be charged in about 90 minutes.

nikon d40
(view large image)

EXPOSURE  

As you would expect with any digital SLR, there is a full complement of shooting modes.  Nikon calls the easy modes Digital Vari-Programs.  This term encompasses auto, auto with flash off, portrait, landscape, child, sports, close up, and night portrait modes.  All of these modes are accessible by using the mode dial on top of the camera.  If you want more creative control, you can use program auto (auto exposure with user input), aperture priority mode (you set the aperture while camera determines shutter speed), shutter priority mode (you set the shutter speed and the camera sets the aperture), and full manual mode.  These modes are also accessible on the mode dial via P, A, S, and M indicators. 

Metering 

The D40 includes Nikon’s 3D Color Matrix Metering II system that evaluates the scene using a 420 segment sensor.  The scene is then compared to 30,000 scenes in an onboard database to determine the best settings for the shot.  You can also use center-weighted metering and spot metering.  I was very pleased with the metering performance of the camera.  

White Balance 

The auto white balance is determined using the 420 segment RGB sensor in the camera.  In addition to auto, there are six presets (incandescent, fluorescent, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade) and a mode that you can set the white balance by using a reference card, or copying white balance settings from a picture on your memory card.  You are free to change the white balance settings in the P, S, A, and M modes.  While shooting in any of the Digital Vari-Programs, the white balance is set to auto.  With the exception of the custom setting, the white balance presets can be fine-tuned. 

Sensitivity 

The ISO range on the D40 is from ISO 200-1600.  An additional “Hi1” mode is roughly equivalent to ISO 3200.  During the Digital Vari-Program there is an auto ISO option, in addition to the settings for a specific ISO.   By default, while in P, S, A, and M modes, there is no option for “auto ISO”, but this can be changed with a setting in Custom Setting Menu. 

In-Camera Image Adjustment 

On digital SLRs in the past, there really haven’t been a ton of options for in-camera editing since the typical user was just going to download pictures and do their tweaking in Photoshop or other editing tools.  As digital SLRs have come down in price, this “typical user” has changed to include casual shooters who like to have some options like this.  With the D40, you can apply D-Lighting, apply red-eye correction, trim images, create a monochrome (B&W, sepia, or cyanotype) image from an existing one, or apply filter effects (sky light, warm filter, color balance).  You can also create a small picture copy of an existing picture.  If you have two RAW images that you want to combine, you can do so using the image overlay feature in the retouch menu. 

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS 

The D40 is Nikon’s lightest and most compact digital SLR.  The body is plastic over a metal chassis, but it still feels very solid.  The matte black finish sort of lessens the “plastic” feel of the camera.  The battery and memory compartment doors are solid and it does have a metal tripod mount.  While the camera is compact, I think that the lighter weight and "deep" grip will allow people with larger hands to still get a good grip.  The shutter release is positioned well, as is the command dial on the back of the camera.

As far as controls, Nikon faced the challenge of making the camera appear simpler, yet setting up controls make it easy to tweak the camera settings.  A “typical” digital SLR has many dedicated buttons that give you one-touch access to things like AF mode, white balance, ISO, etc., so you can leave the camera up to your face while you change settings.  Nikon has minimized the number of buttons so one-touch access to most of these things is not there.  However, they realized that the user of this camera is not a person who already owns a digital SLR, but a person that would like to make the jump to a digital SLR from a point and shoot.  So, if you’re used to using a digital SLR with all of the buttons, you will probably not like the controls of the D40.   However, if you’re just learning your way around an SLR, you’ll appreciate it. 

nikon d40
(view large image)

Controlling the camera pretty much revolves around the Info screen.  To save battery, the camera turns off the display at a pretty quick interval, but a button next to the shutter turns it on so you can see the settings.  If you need to change the ISO, for example, you turn on the info screen, press the “I” button, use the directional pad to select the ISO setting, press Ok, and choose the ISO value that you want.  There is a programmable function (Fn) button that can toggle through the settings that you’d like it to.

Technical Specifications

Included

Rechargeable Li-ion Battery, battery charger, USB cable, PictureProject, rubber eyecup, camera strap, body cap, eyepiece cap, accessory shoe cap.

Optional

Wireless remote control, Capture NX, Camera Control Pro, AC adapter, AC adapter connector, video cable, semi-soft case, Speedlight SB-800/SB-600/SB-400/R1C1

PERFORMANCE  

Image Quality 

I was very impressed with the image quality from the D40, right out of the box (probably the most important aspect for beginning digital SLR users).  Colors were reproduced well, as long as the white balance was set correctly.  I highly recommend that you learn how to set a custom white balance, especially for indoor shots without the flash – your results will be much better.  Flash shots and indoor shots with lots of light from windows turned out well, but some shots under different types of lighting took on a color cast that can easily be resolved by setting a custom white balance.  Images had nice detail and good dynamic range.

Noise performance was also pretty good.  ISO 200 was fairly noise free.  Noise is visible at ISO 400 and 800, but would still be acceptable for fairly large prints.  Noise at ISO 1600 was easily visible. 

Timing/Shutter Lag

As you should expect from a digital SLR, the D40 operates quickly.  The start-up time is not amazing, but if you leave the power switch on, the camera goes into a standby mode from which it can wake up from just about instantaneously.

Focus times are very good, and the focus assist lamp helps out quite a bit to achieve auto focus in low light.  Shutter lag is minimal and more or less non-existent if you’ve completed a partial press of the shutter.  If you have to do a full press of the shutter, the click to capture time is about 0.2 seconds.  This time is needed to get a focus lock and calculate exposure.

Sample Images

nikon d40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon d40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon d40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon d40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon d40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon d40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon d40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon d40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)

(view medium image) (view large image)

Conclusion 

The Nikon D40 is the “gateway drug” into the world of digital SLRs.  The combination of nice price, high quality and ease of use is certain to lead to SLR addiction.  With the D40, Nikon wants to make sure that you’re not intimidated by the controls or size of an SLR and I think that they’ve done a good job.  Also, by including plenty of “help” features into the camera, it becomes very easy to figure out which setting does what.

Besides all of the features th make this a beginner-friendly camera, the D40 takes great pictures.  It provides all of the flexibility and creative options that a beginning SLR user will need.  The camera performs quickly and takes great shots. Sure, there are things about this camera that you could nit-pick, but I think that a package like this, with the quality and value that it provides, will be responsible for getting more people into using a digital SLR than any previous digital SLR.

I would highly recommend this camera to anyone looking for their first digital SLR and aren’t entirely comfortable with all the options that an SLR can offer.  When you first get the camera, you can leave it in auto mode and enjoy the quick operation and excellent image quality that you get from an SLR.  When you’re ready, you can start using the manual exposure modes and then start thinking about all the cool glass that you could get. 

Pros 

Cons