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DCRP Review: Nikon D40
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: December 2, 2006
Last Updated: April 2, 2008
The D40 is Nikon's new entry-level digital SLR. Priced at just $599 with an 18 - 55 mm lens, the D40 is one of the lowest priced SLRs on the market. Nikon didn't cut a lot of corners to keep the price down, either -- this is a very capable camera. It has a 6 Megapixel CCD, a large and sharp 2.5" LCD display, full manual controls, an elaborate help system, and the kind of performance that you'd expect from a D-SLR. Did I mention that it's also very compact?
The D40 sits alongside its big brothers: the D50 (for now) and the D80. What are the differences between these three models? Have a look at this:
That's a pretty big table, and it still doesn't cover all the differences -- I'll mention those as they come up in the review.
Is the D40 the ultimate entry-level digital SLR? Read on to find out!
What's in the Box?
At this point there's just one kit available for the D40, and it includes a lens. Here's what you'll find inside the box:
The D40 is sold with a lens (no body only kit yet), and you'll find a brand new second generation 18 - 55 mm lens in the box. Taking the D40's 1.5X focal length conversion into account, the kit lens has the field-of-view of an 27 - 82.5 mm lens. Overall I was pretty happy with this lens, though it has a bit of a problem with purple fringing. I'll have much more on photo quality later in the review.
The D40 doesn't come with a memory card, so you'll need to pick one up if you don't have one already. The camera supports both SD and the newer SDHC cards, which currently top out at a whopping 8GB. I don't think you need a card quite that large -- I'd start out with 1GB myself. Spending a little more for a high speed card is a good idea.
Nikon came up with a new battery when they created the D40, and it's called the EN-EL9. This battery has 7.4 Wh of energy, which is pretty good these days. How does this translate into battery life? Have a look:
The D40 and its new battery turn in above average battery life numbers. I suppose I should mention my usual list of "gotchas" about proprietary batteries like the EN-EL9. First, at $45 each, they're expensive. Secondly, unlike with cameras that use AA batteries, you can't use an off-the-shelf battery when your rechargeable dies. As you can see in the chart above, there's only one camera in this class that uses AAs.
The D40 does not support a battery grip, nor would I really expect it to.
When it's time to charge the battery just snap it into the included charger. It takes just ninety minutes to fully charge the EN-EL9. This isn't one of those handy chargers that plugs right into the wall -- you must use a power cable.
Being a digital SLR, the D40 has plenty of accessories available, and I've compiled some of them into this chart:
I'll talk a bit more about lenses and external flashes in the next section of the review. And yes, the AC adapter does cost $100, which seems pretty absurd to me.
[Note added 12/12/06: I mistakenly listed the video cable as a bundled accessory. It is optional. I apologize for the inconvenience.]
Nikon includes version 1.7 of their PictureProject software with the D40, and it's good, but not great. The interface is reminiscent of Apple's iPhoto, and I found the software to be responsive and stable. For those of you with Intel-based Macs, I should mention that PictureProject is not a Universal application, which means that it doesn't run as fast as it could.
Anyhow, above you can see the standard thumbnail view that you'll get when you first start up PP.
A view showing exposure info is also available. Double-clicking on an image enters the image edit window:
Here you can adjust things like brightness, color, and sharpness. You can also straighten images or use Nikon's D-Lighting feature to brighten up dark areas of your photos. Auto image enhancement and redeye removal features are also available. PP also makes e-mailing and printing your photos a snap.
Crummy bundled NEF reader for Adobe Photoshop
One thing you can't do, amazingly enough, is edit RAW (NEF) images. Unfortunately PictureProject only views the NEF file and saves it into other formats. There is a Photoshop plug-in included, but as you can see in the photo above, it's very limited.
If you want to do some serious RAW editing you'll need Capture NX (which you can read about in my D80 review) or Photoshop CS2, whose Camera Raw plug-in should support the D40 soon. Why do you want to edit RAW files? Well, these files contain unprocessed image data straight from the camera, so you can adjust virtually any image setting (from white balance to sharpness) and it'll be like you had used those settings originally. In other words, it's like being able to take the photo again. The downsides to RAW include the large file size and the post-processing requirement.
Another optional software product is Nikon Camera Control Pro ($80). Just as it sounds, this software lets you control the D40 over the USB connection, saving the images directly to your computer.
While it's not what I'd consider a page-turner, the D40's manual will answer any question you might have about the camera. There isn't too much small print, and there are lengthy explanations for each of the camera functions. The manual for the PictureProject software is on CD-ROM.
Look and Feel
The D40 is a compact digital SLR made of high grade plastic. The camera is actually smaller than some ultra zooms on the market, but it's not tiny. There's a larger grip than on the Canon Rebel XTi, though it's still a little too small in my opinion. And speaking of the Rebel XTi, the D40 feels a lot more solid in your hands than that camera -- no cheap plastic here.
When it's in your hands, the D40's important controls are within easy reach of your fingers. There are quite a few buttons on the camera, some of which aren't in the most logical locations.
The D40 looks quite a bit different than its brother, the D50. I apologize in advanced for these photos, they were taken in a conference room with mediocre lighting:
The most obvious difference here is the size of the two cameras. The D50 looks like a behemoth next to the diminutive D40. On the back of the cameras you'll see that the D40 has a significantly larger LCD display. Another big difference can be found on the top of the cameras. The D50 has an LCD info display, while the D40 does not -- instead, Nikon used the D40's huge LCD to display this information.
Now let's see how the D40 compares to other D-SLRs in terms of size and weight:
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
Canon Digital Rebel XT
5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in.
46.3 cu in.
485 g Canon Digital Rebel XTi
5.0 x 3.7 x 2.6 in.
48.1 cu in.
510 g Nikon D40
5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in.
46.3 cu in.
482 g Nikon D50
5.2 x 4.0 x 3.0 in.
62.4 cu in.
540 g Nikon D80
5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in.
64 cu in.
585 g Olympus EVOLT E-500
5.0 x 3.7 x 2.6 in.
48.1 cu in.
435 g Pentax K110D
5.1 x 3.6 x 2.8 in.
51.4 cu in.
560 g Samsung Digimax GX-1S
4.9 x 3.6 x 2.6 in.
45.9 cu in.
505 g Sony Alpha DSLR-A100
5.3 x 3.8 x 2.9 in.
58.4 cu in.