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.
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.