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...
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.