The Nikon D40 DSLR owes more to the entry enthusiast-level D80 than the entry-level D50 it succeeds. Our Nikon D40 review tests it out...
Nikon D40: Features
Nikon D40 Review – the D50 Sensor
Although the Nikon D40 shares many features with the Nikon D80, the sensor isn’t one of them – with the D40 using the same 6.1mp DX format CCD as the Nikon D50. And although it doesn’t contain as many pixels as the Nikon D80, the D40’s 23.7×15.6mm imaging chip still produces images up to 3008×2000 pixels in size; so you can expect a 10×6.6in print at 300ppi, or a full-bleed A4 print at roughly 250ppi. Both Raw and JPEG capture is possible with the Nikon D40 – with a simultaneous Raw and ‘basic’ JPEG option – and the resulting files are whisked away to SD or SDHC media.
Nikon D40 Review – Lens Compatibility, which lenses have
For the Nikon D40’s focusing, Nikon’s MultiCAM-530 module provides a basic 3-point AF configuration with closest subject, dynamic and single area AF options, although to keep the size (and perhaps price) of the camera to a minimum there’s no autofocus motor in the body. So, unlike previous models, the Nikon D40 only provides automatic focusing using AF-S and AF-I lenses – as these types have a focus motor built-in to the lens itself. While you can readily fit older ‘G’ and ‘D’ F-mount lenses to the Nikon D40 these will be limited to manual focus only, which also means you have to be careful buying third-party optics – only Sigma’s HSM lenses will provide AF functionality for the Nikon D40, for example.
However, some lens-related things remain unchanged: the Nikon DX format sensor still, in effect, applies a 1.5x focal length factor to lenses – so a 50mm lens gives a 75mm equivalent viewing angle.
Nikon D40 Review – AF Modes
Provided that you have a compatible lens plugged in to the Nikon D40, both single-shot and continuous AF is possible. For sports/action photographers the Nikon D40’s continuous AF can be used in conjunction with the continuous drive to deliver 2.5 frames per second for up to 100 large, fine JPEGs; dropping to 1.7fps when noise reduction is activated, and one frame per second when you select the Hi-1 ISO setting. High ISO is a welcome inclusion on the Nikon D40, in effect adding an ISO 3200 equivalent to the ISO 200-1600 range.
Because the Nikon D40 is aimed at the ‘first time’ or entry level DSLR user the emphasis is clearly on ease of use – and this is reflected by the shooting modes, which include a fully automatic option as well as eight preset Digital Vari-program settings for landscape, portrait, sport and the like. In addition to this the Nikon D40 offers a new ‘auto flash off’ setting, delivering ‘point and shoot’ simplicity, but increasing the ISO in low-light conditions rather than popping up the flash and potentially destroying an otherwise atmospheric shot.
Yet, despite the Nikon D40’s ‘entry level’ status the camera provides a lot of growing room, so as you gain experience you can dabble with the PASM modes (program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual) found on professional cameras and take your photography to the next level.
Nikon D40 Review – Image Processing
To help ensure you aren’t disappointed with your Nikon D40’s results a host of processing technology has been shipped in from the Nikon D80, with the same 420-pixel RGB sensor used for white balance and exposure. Exposures are determined using either 3D Colour Matrix Metering II, centreweighted or spot patterns and with the addition of ±5EV compensation in 1/3 EV steps, there’s no reason why you should get your exposures wrong, regardless of the lighting. Nor should you suffer from the wrong colours in an image, with the D40’s automatic white balance augmented by six preset values (which can be fine-tuned) and a custom WB option. In both cases there are again ‘simple’ and ‘advanced’ options to exploit as your knowledge grows.
Design, Performance & Value
Nikon D40: Design
Nikon D40 Review – Small Is Beautiful
Nikon has always produced cameras that are larger than many, but this has changed with the D40 and, compared to the Nikon D50, we’re talking a lot smaller and significantly lighter. Yet at the same time the plastic-shelled Nikon D40 retains a distinctly Nikon DSLR design, with the obligatory red flash on the comfortable right-hand finger grip and a control layout that largely mimics the Nikon D80.
Located on the top-plate, just behind the shutter release button is the D40’s mode dial – used for quickly selecting any one of the various shooting modes – plus an exposure compensation and an ‘info’ button. Meanwhile, on the D40’s front, left of the lens mount is the flash control and customisable ‘function’ button. Although you can set this to provide immediate access to either the white balance, ISO, quality or drive mode there isn’t the option to use it as a depth-of-field preview button. This is a shame as it means this feature simply isn’t present and, for the novice wanting to learn about depth of field, it ought to be.
Nikon D40 Review – Single Control Wheel
The lack of external controls on the Nikon D40 certainly won’t overwhelm the first-time DSLR user and – like the D50 – a single, rear-mounted control wheel is used, rather than control wheels front and rear, which is no great loss. All it really means is that you have to hold the D40’s exposure compensation button while turning the wheel to adjust the aperture in manual mode, while the shutter speed is altered if the button isn’t pressed.
Nikon D40 Review – LCD Screen
As the body of the Nikon D40 is significantly smaller than the D50, the 2.5in LCD screen takes up a significant share of the camera back’s real estate – but there’s still enough space for a well-placed four-way switch, plus the ‘delete’ button and exposure/focus lock control to the right of the viewfinder.
There’s also space to the left of the display for four buttons allowing you to access the menus, play back images and – as with the Nikon D80 – there are two separate zoom buttons for playback, which makes it easy to navigate around your images on the D40’s bright 230,000 pixels LCD display.
Nikon D40 Review – Viewfinder
Also in keeping with the Nikon D80 is the D40’s large, bright viewfinder. Clearly no compromises have been made in its design and, despite this being a ‘cheap’ camera, the viewfinder is anything but. Its 95% coverage is better than some more-expensive cameras and the viewfinder display is easy to read, even under bright conditions.
Nikon D40: Performance
Nikon D40 Review – Live LCD
With the D40, Nikon has incorporated a ‘live’ LCD – like that on the Olympus E-400 – to give immediate access to various shooting settings. Given that the camera has so few buttons this is definitely the right idea. The settings don’t get much space on the screen but, once you’ve made a selection, the Nikon D40 shows a graphic or image to visually show when you might choose it – a sport /action image for ISO 400 or a night shot for ISO 800, for example.
In addition to this is Nikon’s built-in ‘help’ system for the inexperienced photographer, so when you’re in the menu you have instant access to on-screen advice on the setting you’ve selected and why you might want to change it. If you’re not completely au-fait with the camera technology this is an incredibly useful inclusion to be thought of as an in-camera instruction manual.
Nikon D40 Review – Dissapointing AF
We’re not quite so impressed by the D40’s AF system though – which lets down an otherwise fine handling and performance experience. It’s not that the D40 only has three AF points or that it limits lens choice, but simply because it doesn’t always get things ‘right’ in the closest focus mode. Maybe it’s a lack of sensitivity, but all too often the D40 wants to focus on the most obvious point in an image rather than the closest one – even when the closer point is easily identified and locked onto when you manually set a single AF point.
The Nikon D40’s AF is also a little slow, but perhaps this is excusable given the price. ‘Slow but steady’ is the general rule and manually choosing a single AF point, focusing and recomposing the scene often proves the simplest and most effective solution.
Nikon D40: Value For Money
Nikon D40 Review – Great Images with Minimal Fuss
Only available as a kit with the new 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 MkII zoom, there’s no doubt that the Nikon D40 offers great value to the would-be DSLR user on a budget. For £450 (list price) you get a wide range of tried-and-tested features handed down from higher-end models, which means great images are produced with minimal fuss.
If you’re looking to buy your first DSLR then your search is over – the Nikon D40 is it. Whether upgrading from a compact or jumping in at the deep end the Nikon D40 has everything you need, delivers cracking pictures and it’s brilliantly easy to use. Better still the D40 delivers point-and-shoot simplicity when you want it and advanced, manual settings to grow into, so this isn’t a camera you’re going to need to replace in any hurry. In fact, you probably wouldn’t want to. For those looking for a budget bargain of a DSLR: the Nikon D40 really is it.
Nikon D40 manual
Nikon D40 manual – pdf
The Nikon D40 is available to download from the Nikon website
Buy a printed copy of the Nikon D40 manual
Get a printed manual, or printed tests for the Nikon D40 manual from the What Digital Camera camera manuals site
For general help and advice in using a DSLR, see our techniques section