The 10.2-megapixel Nikon D40x is intended to bridge the gap between the entry-level D40 and enthusiast-level D80, and as such takes a bit from both models.
The D40x is not a replacement for the D40′ and ‘it’s the differences that make the difference’ were the two key points at the low-key UK launch of Nikon’s D40x. So often were these phrases repeated that it seemed the company was trying to instil them into the minds of the assembled journalists like a yogic mantra.
And rightly so, too: one of the leading DSLR ‘players’ was presenting a camera with a name that makes it look like a D40 replacement and the on-paper differences are incredibly slight. It’s hardly surprising the naturally sceptical UK press appeared to need convincing.
Bridging the D40/D80 Gap
Yet Nikon resolutely insists the D40 is set to stay and the D40x will fill ‘a gap’ in their product range somewhere between the D40 and D80. To do this the D40x has a larger sensor and new shutter unit to differentiate it from the D40, while its compact, lightweight body and 3-point AF system separate it from the D80 – in essence it’s a bit of both.
Features And Design
As suggested, there are a couple of key differences between the D40x and the D40. The inclusion of a 10.2mp CCD and a shutter unit lifted straight from the D80 are the two prime variations, with the new shutter allowing the continuous frame rate to be increased to 3fps (frames per second) compared to the D40’s 2.5fps. At the same time this reduces the flash sync time (using either the built-in unit or a compatible hotshoemounted flash) from a class-leading 1/500sec to a more modest 1/200sec.
The D40x’s sensor also seems to have been influenced heavily by the D80, matching it perfectly in both physical size (23.6×15.8mm) and resolution (10.75MP total/10.2MP effective). Yet whether this is exactly the same unit as that fitted in the D80 is uncertain – Nikon remains tight-lipped. Either way, it means that the D40x can generate a maximum image size of 3872×2592 pixels (a 13×8.6in print size at 300ppi). Aside from this, little else separates the D40x and D40. As with the older model, images can be recorded in either Raw (.NEF) or JPEG format, with the option to record simultaneous Raw and ‘basic’ JPEG files. All file types are subsequently transferred to either an SD or an SDHC memory card.
The AF system is also taken from the D40, giving the user a respectable, but hardly earth-shattering, 3-point AF system offering single area, dynamic area and dynamic area with closest subject priority focusing. The MultiCAM-530 AF system used requires a motor in the lens to pull focus, so this model will only provide autofocus with AF-S and AF-I lenses. While this might not be an issue for first-time buyers purchasing it as part of a kit, it does mean some older AF optics are incompatible. While they may fit the camera they can only be focused manually. This is worth bearing in mind if you expect to be plundering the second-hand market for lens bargains, or anticipate looking at third-party lenses from the likes of Sigma and Tamron.
However, this is really the only downside – and it is only slight – as on the photographic side of things Nikon has stuffed the D40x with a comprehensive set of features. Automatic and ‘scene-based’ shooting modes are there to hand-hold novice DSLR-ers as they take their first steps, with pASM options when you want to take more control.
To determine the correct exposure Nikon’s 3D Colour Matrix Metering II takes care of most general metering situations and is backed by a centreweighted pattern that concentrates 75% of the metering ‘power’ on an 8mm circle in the centre of the frame. For even greater precision there’s a spot meter that reads from a 3.5mm circle (roughly 2.5% of the frame) which can be linked to the active AF point to deal with off-centre subjects. The D40x caters just as well for a wide range of lighting situations, with an ISO range extending from 100-1600 in full stop increments (the D40 had an ISO 200 minimum), plus a ‘Hi1’ setting that delivers an ISO 3200 equivalent setting for ultra low-light photography.
At the same time as the light intensity can change, so too can the colour temperature, and again the D40x has the tools you are most likely to need. As well as an automatic white balance system there are six preset values to match daylight, tungsten and cloudy conditions etc, plus the ability to set a custom white balance based either on an existing photograph, or by shooting a grey (or white) card as a reference.
We could cover the D40x’s design in a single sentence; it’s the same as the D40. However, if you haven’t read that particular test or would just like a refresher, what this means is the D40x is a compact and lightweight, plastic-shelled DSLR. It’s not the smallest or lightest on the market, but not far off. Aside from size, one of the biggest differences between the D40x and the D80 is its compatibility with accessories – it cannot take a battery pack/grip, for example; the D80 can. Yet even without the battery pack – which some would call a comfortable addition, but others an unnecessary bulk – the diminutive D40x has an ergonomic finger grip on the right, with a shooting mode dial, power and shutter release on the top-plate. Even in my large hands it still feels like a camera rather than a ‘toy’.
As the D40x essentially targets the novice market the controls on the rear are kept to a minimum to avoid over-complicating things, to the point that the D40x has a mere 17 control points. This may sound like quite a lot of buttons and dials, but given the D80 has a total of 26 it doesn’t take that long to familiarise yourself with the newcomer.
Indeed, with so few buttons on the back the D40x’s 2.5in LCD screen dominates the back of the camera and in use provides a clear, high-resolution view of either your recorded images, the ‘traditional’ menu listings or the ‘head up’ display when you’re in shooting mode.
This ‘head up’ display basically relays all the current camera settings, and pressing the info button at any time while this information is displayed turns the LCD screen ‘live’ to allow you to change items such as the ISO, white balance and image quality. As with the D40 you also get a useful ‘help’ screen whenever you select an option to guide you towards which setting you should use, when and why.
Like the controls on the outside, the menu system is organised to be as clear as possible, with five separate ‘files’ categorising the various options into playback, shooting, custom settings, setup and retouch. I have no real gripes with the way in which this information is ordered or displayed and the fact that it is displayed on a large LCD makes it easy to read the screen, even for those with less-than-perfect eyesight.
Similarly there are few complaints with the D40x’s viewfinder, as again, it’s the same unit found in the D40. As such you get a respectable 95% coverage of the scene, and a clear viewfinder display in all but the brightest of conditions.
Handling And Image Quality
Whenever we come across an ‘entry level’ DSLR it can conjure up visions of what could politely be described as a ‘second class’ camera, that has neither the speed, efficiency or general ‘professional’ qualities of a higher- end model. With the D40x you can quickly forget most of that, because despite being an ‘entry level’ model with a budget price-tag there aren’t that many corners that appear to have been cut in terms of performance.
A near-instantaneous start-up time sets the precedent for a camera that’s keen to respond to the photographer behind it, and this is echoed by the marginally improved 3fps continuous shooting speed. However, this isn’t an unlimited continuous shooting mode, and a quick test shows that the buffer will only accommodate a six-frame burst of large JPEG images at the camera’s top speed. Still, setting the D40x to continuous shooting and firing off 100 large JPEGs only takes 45 seconds – giving an average rate of 2.2fps, which isn’t bad. After this it takes about a minute until the camera has filed all the images away and the buffer is empty. This rough guide is based on a SanDisk Ultra II SD memory card – there are far faster cards on the market that could, and should, decrease this time.
Yet while this is all very interesting (to those that are interested in such things) the continuous AF isn’t quite going to guarantee that every frame is sharp when photographing high-speed subjects. It’s not to say it’s bad, just don’t expect to get 100 tacksharp images of Lewis Hamilton or his Formula One cronies as they hurtle across your path on a long straight.
For less-energetic subjects the Nikon D40x’s AF is a match for most tasks, with the performance unsurprisingly on a par with that of the D40 given it uses the same AF system and shares the same kit lens. ‘Slow but steady’ is the watchword and generally you’ll get the best from the MultiCAM-530 module when you select a single AF point, rather than letting it choose one. When left to its own devices it sometimes picks a less obvious focus point than you might expect.
When it comes to playing back images things look up again, with even combined Raw + JPEG files popping up on screen without delay. Moreover you can scroll through even the largest files as quickly as you can operate the pad on the camera’s back, so it doesn’t take long to flick through your shots to one you want to examine more closely. And when you do, the D40x obligingly provides two zoom buttons – one to zoom in to inspect the fine detail and a second to zoom out again; simple, but effective.
When it comes to image quality it really is a case of swings and roundabouts with the D40x. While the 10mp CCD produces larger images than the D40 it puts greater demands on the image processing, with more interpolation required to produce full-colour images and more noise reduction to avoid textured pictures from the smaller pixels.
The net result is the D40x produces softer images than the D40, which require greater amounts of sharpening, either in-camera or via editing software. At the same time, images from the D40x won’t require enlarging as much as those from a D40 to achieve the same print size, which means the softness will be less obvious and everything pretty much balances out. As I said, it’s swings and roundabouts…
And it appears that the softness in the D40x’s images is a result of noise reduction, as the pictures are largely noise-free. At ISO 400 noise is noticeable when images are viewed at 100% on screen or printed up to A3 in size and as the ISO is increased further, so luminosity noise increases. With images taken at ISO1600 this realistically limits prints to an A4 size, while the extended Hi1 setting (ISO 3200) delivers images that are overly soft, with lost detail and significant colour and luminosity noise affecting smaller prints.
As for the other aspects of image quality it’s hardly surprising that the D40x’s metering, white balance and kit lens all perform in a very similar fashion to the D40. As such, the 3D Colour Matrix Metering II can be relied on in most situations, though it can still be thrown into under or overexposing images containing predominantly light or dark tones respectively.
The automatic white balance performs admirably both indoors and out, and copes especially well with mixed lighting making it ideal for the less-experienced photographer. Images can come out a touch cold on overcast days, but this isn’t unique to this camera, or indeed manufacturer and is nothing to concern yourself with.
Value For Money
Compared to the D40, Nikon’s D40x isn’t bad value, with an additional £150 getting you a slightly more robust shutter and an extra 4 million pixels. It also offers good value alongside the D80 as you get the same pixel count and a generally similar spec – at least in terms of photographic controls – with money to spare. However, Samsung’s GX10 isn’t that much more expensive.
The newcomer may have 4 million pixels more, but this isn?t enough to make it a ?better? camera; what it gains in resolution it loses in picture quality, which only serves to balance the tally sheet. It ultimately seems that the D40x is trying to be ?forced? into a gap in the market that doesn?t currently exist. While it is by no means a bad camera I?d still say that if you want a straightforward entry-level DSLR save yourself a few quid and get a D40. On the other hand, if you want a 10MP sensor, save up a bit more money beforehand and go for the D80 ? the overall improvements justify the additional cost.