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DCRP Review: Nikon D40x  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: June 1, 2007
Last Updated: January 22, 2012

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Less than four months after introducing their entry-level D40 digital SLR, Nikon released a fancier version, known as the D40x. I think it's safe to assume that a lot of D40 owners weren't entirely pleased with this news!

The original D40 brought ease-of-use and a comfortable compact body to the D-SLR world, and it was a welcome development. It offered a solid design, great photo quality, a very user-friendly menu system, and the kind of performance that you'd expect from a digital SLR. Naturally, some features were "stripped" to keep the price down, most notably the lack of a built-in focus motor, which meant that older lenses were manual focus only. Still, the pros outnumbered the cons, and the D40 earned an easy recommendation.

So what's new with the D40x, which costs just under $200 more than its predecessor?

  • More resolution: the D40 had a 6.1MP sensor, while the D40x has a 10.2MP sensor
  • A faster burst rate: from 2.5 fps on the D40 to 3 fps on the D40x
  • New ISO starting point: the D40 started at ISO 200, the D40x starts at ISO 100
  • Slower external flash sync speed (1/200 vs 1/500 sec)
  • 10% improvement in battery life

Not bad upgrades if I do say so myself. But it leaves me (and many others, I'm sure) wondering: why did Nikon bother with the original D40 with the D40x obviously in the pipeline?

Okay, less ranting, more reviewing. Read on to find out how the D40x performs!

Since the cameras are 95% identical, most of this review will be the same as the one for the D40. Don't worry though, all product and sample photos are from the D40x!

What's in the Box?

Although there are "officially" two D40x kits available, I have found one more in the wild. The official kits are body only for $730, and with a 18-55 mm lens for $799. At Costco stores I have also spied a third kit, which includes the 18-55 lens, plus the 55-200 mm VR lens, a camera bag, and a 1GB memory card for under $1000.

Here's what you'll find in the box for each of these:

  • The 10.2 effective Megapixel Nikon D40x camera body
  • F3.5 - 5.6, 18 - 55 mm Mk II Nikkor DX zoom lens [lens kit only]
  • EN-EL9 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Body cap
  • Eyepiece cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring Nikon PictureProject
  • 125 page camera manual (printed)

If you choose the body only kit, then you'll need to supply your own Nikon F-mount lens. Be sure to read the details in the next section about autofocus support on older lenses, though. Both of the lens kits include the second generation 18 - 55 mm lens, which is pretty good, though it has some issues with purple fringing. The Costco-only kit I mentioned has the new 55 - 200 mm VR lens, which Nikon sent along with the camera. This model has built-in optical image stabilization (Nikon calls it VR, or Vibration Reduction), a must-have feature for a telephoto lens. It's a very compact lens considering the focal range, and at $250 (separately) it's a pretty good deal, too.

[Section updated 11/10/07]

The D40x 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 original 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:

Camera Battery life, 50% flash use
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon Digital Rebel XTi 360 shots NB-2LH
Nikon D40 470 shots EN-EL9
Nikon D40x 520 shots EN-EL9
Nikon D80 600 shots * EN-EL3e
Olympus EVOLT E-410 500 shots ** BLS-1
Olympus EVOLT E-510 650 shots ** BLM-1
Pentax K10D 480 shots D-LI50
Pentax K100D 300 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Samsung GX-10 480 shots SLB-1674
Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 750 shots NP-FM55H

* Not officially calculated using the CIPA standard, but same methodology used
** With live view disabled

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

As you can see, the D40x's battery life numbers are 10% higher than those of the original D40. In the group as a whole, the D40's numbers are just above average.

I'm afraid that I must make my usual comments about the proprietary batteries like the one used by the D40x here. They're expensive (priced from $37), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery when your rechargeables die. Only one of the cameras above uses AA batteries by default, though some others allow it with the use of an optional battery grip.

Speaking of which, Nikon does not offer a battery grip for the D40 or D40x.

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 D40x has plenty of accessories available, and I've compiled some of them into this chart:

Accessory Model # Price * Why you want it
Lenses Varies Varies While the D40x can use almost any Nikon F-mount lens, it will only support autofocus on AF-S and AF-I lenses, of which are there are about sixteen at this point
External flash

SB-400
SB-600
SB-800

From $104
From $184
From $313
Get more flash power and less chance of redeye with these Speedlights
Accessory shoe adapter AS-15 From $19 Attaches to the hot shoe and lets you connect a flash sync cable
Angle finder DR-6 From $182 Lets you look into the viewfinder from above
Wireless remote control ML-L3 From $17 Take a photo without touching the camera
AC adapter EH-5
EP-5
From $65
$40
Power your camera without draining the battery; you need to buy both of these parts!
Video cable EG-D100 $10 View photos on your television
Semi-soft case CF-DC1 $40 Protect your camera from the elements
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

Yes, it really does cost over $100 for the D40x's AC adapter. Gimme a break. Also, there's no video output cable included with the camera, so you'll have to buy one if you plan on connecting to a television.

I'll talk a bit more about lenses and external flashes in the next section of the review.

Nikon includes version 1.7 of their PictureProject software with the D40x, 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. The size of the thumbnails is adjustable, and there's also a "details view" which displays shooting data next to your photos.

Double-click on a thumbnail and you'll end up on the edit screen. 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. PictureProject only views the NEF file and saves it into other formats. That's it. There is a Photoshop plug-in included, but 1) it's very limited in what it can do and 2) it only works in the now outdated Photoshop CS2.

If you want to do some serious RAW editing you'll need Capture NX (priced from $115 -- read more about in my D80 review) or Adobe Photoshop CS3, whose Camera Raw plug-in supports the D40x.

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 D40x over the USB connection, saving the images directly to your computer.

The manual included with the D40x is pretty good. It's not the most user friendly manual I've thumbed through, but it will answer just about any question that may come up about the camera. There's a separate manual for the PictureProject software on an included CD-ROM.

Look and Feel

The D40x is a compact digital SLR made of high grade plastic. The camera is even smaller than some ultra zooms on the market, but it's not tiny by any means. It has a larger grip than on the Canon Rebel XTi, though it's still a bit too small in my opinion. And speaking of the Rebel XTi, the D40x feels a lot more solid in your hands than that camera -- no cheap plastic here.

When it's in your hands, the D40x'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 location (especially the flash and function buttons).

Now let's see how the D40x compares to other D-SLRs in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
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 D40x 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in. 46.3 cu in. 482 g
Nikon D80 5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in. 64 cu in. 585 g
Olympus EVOLT E-410 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.1 in. 38.6 cu in. 375 g
Olympus EVOLT E-510 5.4 x 3.6 x 2.7 in. 52.5 cu in. 470 g
Pentax K100D 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.8 in. 51.4 cu in. 560 g
Pentax K10D 5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 in. 62.7 cu in. 710 g
Samsung GX-10 5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 in. 62.7 cu in. 710 g
Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 5.3 x 3.8 x 2.9 in. 58.4 cu in. 545 g

No big surprise here -- the D40 and D40x have the same dimensions and weight. As you can see, there are smaller D-SLRs out there, but the D40/D40x twins are still on the lower end of the list.

Okay, enough numbers, let's start our tour of the D40x now!

Here's the front of the D40x, with the lens removed. There are some important things to note about the D40x's lens mount. First, compare the photo above to the same one on the old D50 -- see anything different? The D50 has the focus motor built into the camera body, and there's a "screw drive" on the lower left of the lens mount to turn the lens elements. To keep down the size of the D40 and D40x, Nikon removed the internal focus motor. What this means is that your lens must have the motor built in if you want autofocus. If you have an AF-S or AF-I Nikkor lens, then you're all set. However, if you don't, be prepared to focus manually.

Much to my surprise, my 1.5 year old 50 mm lens doesn't have one -- in fact, there are no "primes" with AF motors until you get up to the very expensive super telephotos. Back when I wrote the D40 review, a Nikon source told me that they expect the majority of D40 users to not use anything but the kit lens. Well, I don't know about that, but the bottom line here is if you want to use primes or older lenses, consider the D80.

Like nearly all D-SLRs, there's a crop factor to mention -- 1.5X in the case of the D40x -- so the 18 - 55 mm kit lens has the field-of-view of a 27 - 82.5 mm lens.

The button to the right of the lens mount releases the attached lens.

Directly above the Nikon logo is the D40x's pop-up flash, which is released electronically. It has a guide number of 12 at ISO 100 (same as the D40), which is better than the GN of 11 on the D50. Checking the competition, the Canon Rebel XTi has a GN of 13, as does the Olympus E-500. The Pentax K110D has a guide number of 11. If you want more flash power you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see a bit later.

Just to the right of the grip is the camera's AF-assist lamp, which is also used as the visual countdown for the self-timer, as well as for redeye reduction. In low light situations the D40x will use that lamp to help with focusing. It's nice to see have a dedicated AF-assist lamp instead of having to pop up the flash like on some other D-SLRs.

The last thing to see here is the receiver for the optional remote control, which is located just under the red portion of the grip.

As you can see, the D40x has a large 2.5" LCD on its rear. While the 230,000 pixel resolution is the same as on the D80 and D200, the viewing angle is not quite as good (though it's still very good). The LCD is also bright, sharp, with vivid colors. It's only used for menus, shooting info, and reviewing photos -- you can't compose photos on it.

Classic view Graphical view

Since Nikon axed the LCD info display on the D40 and D40x, the main LCD has taken over responsibility of providing shooting data. There are two views to choose from, called classic and graphic. The latter item has a visual aperture graphic that looks remarkably like the DCRP logo. Anyhow, both are pretty nice -- and they stay on until you press the shutter release halfway. You can have one view for the auto modes, and another for the manual modes, as well.

After pressing the "zoom in" button I can quickly change any of these settings Here you can see how the assist images describe when each white balance setting would be useful

By pressing the "zoom in" button the lower-right of the LCD you can quickly change any of the options shown on the info screens above. Nikon has done a nice job of explaining what the settings do: you can press the "zoom out" button to get a description of the feature, and there are "assist images" showing you when you'd want to use the selected option. The D40x is arguably the easiest to use D-SLR out there. Here's what options you can change in this quick menu:

  • Image quality
  • Image size
  • White balance
  • ISO
  • Shooting mode
  • AF mode
  • AF-area mode
  • Metering

I'll tell you more about those options later in the review.

Directly above the LCD is the D40x's optical viewfinder, which is large and bright. It shows approximately 95% With a magnification of 0.8X, the viewfinder is bigger than on the D50, but not quite as nice as the one on the D80 (understandably). Under the field-of-view is a line of data covering everything from aperture and shutter speed to shots remaining. Heck, even the battery status is there. A diopter correction slider on the right side of the viewfinder focuses what you're looking at.

To the left of the LCD are these four buttons:

  • Playback mode
  • Menu
  • Playback zoom out + thumbnail view + help
  • Playback zoom in + info screen setting change
The camera got my attention by flashing the "?" icon, and this is what it had to say A description of a menu item obtained by pressing the help button

The help button is useful in several different situations. When you're taking pictures you might see a flashing question mark on the LCD. This means that the camera is warning you about something, and you can press the help button to find out what's up (in the auto modes the message is shown automatically). In any of the menus you can press the help button to get a lengthy description of what each option does. Very nice!

Jumping now to the right of the optical viewfinder, we find the AE/AF lock button, which is also used for protecting images in playback mode. To the right of that is the command dial, used for changing manual settings.

Below those we have the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation and showing more info about a photo you've taken (by pressing up or down). Next to that we have the delete photo button.

The first thing to see on the top of the D40x is the hot shoe, right in the center of the photo. It supports i-TTL flash metering with the SB-400, SB-600, and SB-800 Speedlights, and you can also use Nikon's wireless Creative Lighting System with the SB-800. The Speedlight's AF-assist and zoom head are also controlled by the camera. You can also use third party flashes with the D40x, but you'll probably have to set both the camera and flash's exposure settings manually. The camera can sync as fast as 1/200 sec with an external flash -- down from 1/500 sec on the original D40 for some reason.

Moving to the right, we find the D40x's mode dial, which is full of options. They include:

Option Function
Auto mode Point and shoot with some menu options locked up.
Program mode Still automatic, but with access to all menu options. The Flexible Program feature lets you scroll through several shutter speed / aperture combinations by using the command dial.
Shutter priority mode You choose shutter speed, camera picks aperture. Shutter speed range is 30 - 1/4000 sec.
Aperture priority mode You choose aperture, camera picks appropriate shutter speed. Range depends on lens used. For the kit lens it's F3.5 - F36.
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself (same ranges as above). A bulb mode is also available for super-long exposures: the shutter will remain open for as long as the shutter release is pressed. You can use the remote control as well

Night portrait

These are all scene modes
Close-up
Sports
Child
Landscape
Portrait
Flash off Turns off the flash, except for AF-assist; if ISO is set to "Auto" it becomes sort of a "natural light mode"

The D40x offers both automatic and full manual controls. You can start off easy and then work your way up to the "fun stuff" when you're ready.

To the upper-right of the mode dial we find two buttons, the shutter release, and the power switch. The buttons are for turning on the LCD info screen, adjusting exposure compensation (-5EV to +5EV in 1/3EV increments), and for changing the aperture when in the "M" mode.

Now onto the side of the camera. Just to the right of the lens mount are two buttons, both of which are really poorly placed. They include:

  • Flash release + flash mode (fill flash, rear curtain slow sync, slow sync, slow sync w/redeye reduction, redeye reduction) + flash exposure compensation (-3EV to +1EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • Function button - see below

The function button is customizable. By default it toggles the self-timer on and off, but you can also have it change the shooting mode, image quality/size, ISO, or white balance.

At the far right of the above photo you'll find the D40x's I/O ports, which are protected by a rubber cover. The ports are for A/V out and USB. The camera supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.

On the other side of the D40x you'll find its memory card slot. The door covering the slot is of average quality -- it could definitely be stronger. The D40x supports SD and SDHC cards, as I mentioned earlier.

On the bottom of the D40x you'll find a metal tripod mount (in line with the lens, of course) and the battery compartment. The door covering the battery compartment is of average quality.

The EN-EL9 battery is shown at right.

Using the Nikon D40x

Record Mode

Just like the D40 (and D80), the D40x is ready to start taking pictures as soon as you turn it on. It doesn't have a dust reduction system like the Rebel XTi or E-410, so there's no waiting for that process to be completed.

Autofocus speeds will vary depending on what lens you have attached to the camera. With the kit lens, typical focus times were between 0.1 and 0.3 seconds, with slightly longer delays if the camera had to "hunt" a bit. Rarely did the focusing process exceed one second. Low light focusing was quick and accurate thanks to the D40x's dedicated AF-assist lamp.

As you'd expect on a digital SLR, shutter lag was not an issue. Shot-to-shot speeds were great as well: you can shoot as fast as you can compose the next shot, at least until you hit the buffer limit, which isn't easy to do.

After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to review and/or delete the shot you just took.

Now, let's take a look at the image size and quality choices on the D40x:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 1GB SD card (optional)
Large
3872 x 2592
RAW + Basic JPEG 10.1 MB 70
RAW 9.0 MB 79
Fine 4.8 MB 129
Normal 2.7 MB 225
Basic 1.2 MB 487
Medium
2896 x 1944
Fine 2.4 MB 251
Normal 1.3 MB 431
Basic 600 KB 888
Small
1936 x 1296
Fine 1.2 MB 487
Normal 700 KB 839
Basic 300 KB 1500

As you can see, the D40x can shoot RAW images alone, or with a Large/basic quality JPEG. It would've been nice had Nikon let you select the JPEG quality, but they had to differentiate it from the D80 somehow.

Images are named using the following convention: DSC_####.JPG, where #### is 0001 - 9999. File numbering is maintained ever if you switch or erase memory cards.

Let's talk menus now. The D40 twins have the same menu system as the D80 and D200, and it's beautiful to look at. It's divided into five submenus, which include playback, shooting, custom, setup, and retouch. For whatever reason, those assist images I showed you earlier aren't available in this menu, but the help feature is still there.

Here's the full list of menu options for you:

Playback menu
  • Delete (Selected, all)
  • Playback folder (Current, all) - that first option shows only the images created by the D40x
  • Rotate tall (on/off) - automatically rotate images taken in the portrait orientation
  • Slideshow - I'll cover this in the playback section later in the review
  • Print set (Select/deselect, deselect all) - for DPOF print marking
Shooting menu
  • Optimize image - some powerful tools are buried down here
    • Preset (Normal, softer, vivid, more vivid, portrait, black and white)
    • Custom
      • Sharpening (Auto, normal, low, medium low, medium high, high, none)
      • Tone compensation (Auto, normal, less contrast, medium low, medium high, custom) - the custom option lets you use a tone curve that you created in Nikon Camera Control Pro (optional)
      • Color mode (Ia, II, IIIa) - the first one is for portraits (sRGB), the second one is AdobeRGB and for images that will be retouched, and the third one is for landscape shots (also sRGB)
      • Saturation (Auto, normal, moderate, enhanced)
      • Hue (-9° to +9° in 3° increments)
  • Image quality (see above chart)
  • Image size (see above chart)
  • White balance (Auto, incandescent, fluorescent, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade, preset) - see below
  • ISO sensitivity (100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, H1/3200)
  • Noise reduction (on/off) - used when ISO is over 800 or if shutter speed is slower than 8 sec
Custom settings menu - the full list is only shown when the CSM/Setup menu option is set to 'full'. A reset option is actually the first item on the list.
  1. Beep (on/off)
  2. Focus mode (AF-A, AF-S, AF-C, manual) - if the camera focuses only when you halfway press the shutter release or if it continues to focus while it's held down
  3. AF area mode (Closest subject, dynamic area, single area)
  4. Shooting mode (Single-shot, continuous, self-timer, delayed remote, quick response remote) - see below
  5. Metering (Matrix, center-weighted, spot)
  6. No memory card (Release locked, enable release) - whether you can take a picture without a memory card inserted
  7. Image review (on/off)
  8. Flash compensation (-3EV to +1EV in 1/3EV increments)
  9. AF-assist lamp (on/off)
  10. ISO Auto (Off, on, max sensitivity, min shutter speed) - you can choose the max ISO the camera will use, or the minimum shutter speed you want the camera to use
  11. Function button (Self-timer, shooting mode, image quality/size, ISO sensitivity, white balance) - what this button does
  12. AE/AF lock (AE/AF lock, AE lock only, AF lock only, AE lock hold, AF-on) - what this button does
  13. AE lock (on/off) - whether pressing the shutter release halfway locks exposure
  14. Built-in flash power (TTL, manual) - if you choose the second item you can set the flash power between 1/32 and full)
  15. Auto off timers (Short, normal, long, custom) - how long the monitor stays on, and how long images are shown in post-shot review
  16. Self-timer (2, 5, 10, 20 secs)
  17. Remote on duration (1, 5, 10, 15 mins) - how long the camera waits for a command from the wireless remote
Setup menu
  • CSM/Setup Menu (Simple, full, My Menu) - see below
  • Format memory card
  • Info display format (Classic, graphic, wallpaper) - you can select the info display format for the manual and automatic modes separately; the wallpaper option lets you use a photo as a background
  • Auto shooting info (on/off) - choose whether the info screen is shown automatically; again, you can have different options for the auto and manual shooting modes
  • World Time - set the time zone, date, date format, and daylight savings time setting
  • LCD brightness (-2 to +2)
  • Video mode (NTSC, PAL)
  • Language
  • Image comment - attach text comments to your photos
  • USB (PTP, Mass Storage)
  • Folders (Select, new, rename, delete) - folder management
  • File number sequence (Off, on, reset)
  • Mirror lock-up (on/off) - for cleaning the CCD
  • Firmware version
  • Dust off reference photo - for the dust removal feature in Nikon Capture NX
  • Auto image rotation (on/off) - whether camera orientation info is saved in the EXIF data
Retouch menu
  • D-Lighting (Low, normal, high) - see below
  • Redeye correction - more on this later
  • Trim - crop photo
  • Monochrome (Black & white, sepia, cyanotype)
  • Filter effects (Skylight, warm filter, color balance) - see below
  • Small picture (640 x 480, 320 x 240, 160 x 120) - make a smaller version of e-mails
  • Image overlay - combine two RAW images into one

Lots to talk about here and I'll start with white balance. The D40x lets you choose from various presets, or you can set the WB manually be using a white or gray card as a reference. You can't set the color temperature -- you'll want the D80 for that. A fine-tuning option lets you adjust the presets from -3EV (yellow/red cast) to +3EV (blue cast) in one-step increments.

I have no idea why Nikon put some commonly used menu items into the custom settings menu (like metering and shooting mode). A faster way to adjust these is to use the LCD info screen, which I described earlier. One item found in the custom settings menu is the AF area mode feature. If you use the single area or dynamic area AF-area modes you can select from the three available focus points manually.

One of the improvements on the D40x is its continuous shooting performance. With a high speed memory card, I was able to take an unlimited number of JPEGs at 3 frames/second. In RAW mode (including RAW+JPEG), the camera took six photos at the same frame rate before it had to slow down to let the buffer memory catch up. For the sake of comparison, the Canon Rebel XTi took 11 RAW and 33 JPEG photos at just under 3 frames/second in my tests. The Olympus E-410 shoots at the same frame rate, but can take fewer shots overall (8 RAW, 11 JPEGs).


Using the My Menu feature

In the setup tab you'll find a "My Menu" option. This allows you to customize what goes in the menus, so you won't have to scroll through features you'll never use.

The retouch menu has a lot of things that were borrowed from Nikon's point-and-shoot cameras. The D-Lighting feature will brighten up the dark areas of your photos, with a slight increase in noise as a tradeoff. It's especially handy when your subject has a bright light source behind them. Here's an example:

D-Lighting off D-Lighting on (normal strength)

Quite a difference, eh? The retouched image is saved as a new file, so you're not destroying your original image.


Color balance adjustment in playback mode

The Filter Effects options let you "cool" or "warm" a photo, and you can adjust the color balance using the tool you see above. Just use the four-way controller and you can increase the amount of red, green, blue, or magenta in a photo.

The image overlay feature lets you combine two RAW images into one. You can adjust the gain (exposure) for each image, and the resulting image can be saved in RAW or JPEG format.

Enough about menus, let's do our photo tests now. With the exception of the night shot, I used the kit lens for all of the photo tests.

Holy saturated colors, Batman! That's the best way I can sum up the macro test shot. The D40x (like its "predecessor") has really saturated colors at the default settings -- maybe too much so. But the colors are pretty close to reality, and the figurine has the "smooth" look that is a trademark of digital SLRs. Even with that almost glossy appearance, the camera still picks up plenty of detail.

The minimum focus distance will depend on the lens you can use. The kit lens can get as close to your subject as 28 cm. If you want to get closer you'll want a dedicated macro lens, though there's currently only one macro lens that will support autofocus on the D40x (and it ain't cheap). You may want look at brands like Sigma and Tamron, as they may have macro lenses that will use AF.

On behalf of mother nature, I apologize for the quality of the night shot. You see, San Francisco is famous for its summer fog, and the last few weeks have been especially miserable. The fog gives the night scene an off-color "glow", and softens the image as well. What I'm getting at here is this: if there was no fog, the photo would look nicer.

Let's talk about the actual photo now, which was taken with the new Nikon 55 - 200 mm VR lens. The camera captured plenty of detail, with the typical smoothness of an SLR (some may call the results soft). With full manual controls, bringing in enough light was a piece of cake. There is some purple fringing to be found here, and I spotted some vignetting (dark corners) as well. Still, pretty good results on a crappy night for photos.

I have two ISO tests in this review, and the first one uses the night scene you can see above. I had the noise reduction setting turned on here, which I believe was only used when the ISO was above 800.


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

ISO 3200 (H1)

Both ISO 100 and 200 look good, and you don't start to see the any detail loss until ISO 400, and even then, it's not much. At ISO 800 we get both a color shift and noticeable effects of noise reduction (smudged details). You can also spot a hot pixel starting at this sensitivity. Noise and noise reduction picks up considerably at ISO 1600, with a lot of detail lost. ISO 3200 is a noisy mess. For low light shooting I'd think about keeping the ISO under 800 unless you're really desperate.

We'll see how the D40x performs at higher sensitivities in better lighting in a bit.

There's mild-to-moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. You can see what barrel distortion does to your photos in this example (look at the building on the right). I did not find vignetting (dark corners) or blurry corners to be a problem.

There was no redeye in our flash test, and I wouldn't expect any on a camera with a big pop-up flash (and a powerful redeye reduction lamp) like the D40x. The camera has a software-based redeye reduction tool, but there was no need to use it.

Here's ISO test number two. This one is taken in our studio and the results can be compared to those from other cameras that I've reviewed recently. While the crops below give you a good overview of the noise levels at each ISO setting, I encourage you to look at "the whole picture" to really see the differences.


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200 (H1)

As you can see, everything is buttery smooth through ISO 800. There's a tiny bit of noise in the black background of the ISO 800 shot, but that shouldn't stop you from making large-sized prints. The noise increases at ISO 1600, but there's still plenty of detail left. You can repeat that sentence for ISO 3200, which is best saved for smaller sized prints. The biggest competitor to the D40x is probably the Canon Digital Rebel XTi, and while it's a bit cleaner than the D40x at ISO 800, the two cameras are about equal at ISO 1600. The jury's still out on the D40x's other big competitor, the E-410, which I have not reviewed yet.

If I could describe the D40x's photo quality in one word, it would be "vivid". Nikon has turned up the color saturation to "Kodak" levels, which I think is a little over-the-top. If you agree then you'll want to play around with the various color settings on the camera. So what else? Exposure was spot-on in all of my real world photos. Being a digital SLR, photos are a bit on the soft side, and this too can be addressed by modifying a setting in the menu, should you feel the need. The camera is capturing plenty of detail, though, with nearly no noise, and no "smearing" from noise reduction. Purple fringing did pop up with both of the lenses I tested (the 18-55 and 55-200), but it was fairly minor.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, printing the photos if you'd like. Then and only then can you decide if the D40x's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

Digital SLR cameras do not have movie modes.

Playback Mode

The D40x has a pretty standard playback mode for a D-SLR You've got slideshows, thumbnail view, DPOF print marking, image protection, and "zoom and scroll" feature. This last option lets you blow up your image by up to 19 times, and then move around in the zoomed-in area. When you're zoomed in you can use the command dial to move between photos at the same magnification. I should mention that the D40x doesn't have the fancy slideshow feature like on the D80 -- no transitions or music here.

I mentioned the "Image Retouch" options in the previous section, but just in case you missed them, they include redeye reduction, D-Lighting, color filters, and image overlay. You can also crop and downsize photos that you've taken.

Deleting photos is easy, as there's a button right on the camera for that purpose. By using the playback menu, you can select a group of photos to delete -- a feature I always appreciate.

By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos, but if you press up or down on the four-way controller you can get a lot more, as you can see above.

The D40x moves from photo to photo instantly in playback mode.

How Does it Compare?

When the D40x was introduced, there were a lot of people who said "this is what the D40 should've been". While I agree with that sentiment, Nikon was clearly trying to hit a certain price point ($599 in the case of the D40), and I don't think they could've afforded to put the 10MP sensor in it. So, four months after the D40, the D40x arrived, offering more resolution, faster continuous shooting, and better battery life, all for about $200 more. Should the average person (a first time D-SLR buyer) spent the extra dough on the D40x? Probably not. Is it a still a great choice for someone looking for a compact and capable digital SLR? Absolutely.

The D40x is one of the most compact D-SLRs on the market, but it's not too small like the Canon Rebel XTi or Olympus E-410. Yeah, the grip is a little too small for my hands, but most people will find it to be acceptable (and better than the one on the Rebel). Build quality is also quite good, with high grade plastics and an overall solid feel. To cut down on the size of the camera, Nikon removed both the internal focus motor and LCD info display found on their other D-SLRs. The latter isn't a big deal, as Nikon did a nice job integrating shooting data onto the main LCD. You've got two views to choose from (I prefer the classic myself), and you can quickly change commonly used settings at the press of a button. The LCD itself is beautiful: it's big, bright, and sharp. As for the lens motor issue, this really depends on how you plan to use the D40x. If you'll be sticking to the kit lens and lenses like it, then you'll probably be fine. If you want throw on a 50 mm prime or use some older Nikkor lenses, then you'll probably want to get the D80 instead, as it'll be manual focus only otherwise.

The D40x has a nice collection of point-and-shoot features, plus the full manual controls that you'd expect on a D-SLR. While the scene modes on the camera aren't necessarily new, the impressive in-camera help system is. When you use the "quick menu" to change settings, the camera shows "assist images" that tell you the situation for which you'd use that setting. There are also detailed help screens for every menu item -- even those confusing one in the custom settings menu. Add in the stuff in the Retouch menu like D-Lighting and redeye reduction and the D40x becomes the most user friendly D-SLR on the market. Power users don't need to worry, though -- the D40x has plenty of manual controls too. You've got the whole set of manual exposure controls, plus white balance and focus. The RAW (NEF) image format is supported, as well. The D40x lets you customize all the menus (showing only the options you want to see), and there's a custom button on the side of the camera as well. One surprising omission: any kind of bracketing.

Camera performance is superb. Flip the power switch and the D40x is ready to go. Focusing times were very good, and low light focusing was excellent thanks to a powerful AF-assist lamp. Naturally, shutter lag wasn't a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal. The D40x's continuous shooting mode is better than that of the D40, taking six RAW or an unlimited number of JPEGs at 3 frames/second. Battery life is also improved upon, though the numbers are still average in the lower-end D-SLR class. As you'd expect, the D40x supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast photo transfer to your Mac or PC.

Photo quality was very good, though I'd tweak a few settings if I owned the camera. The D40x took well-exposed photos, with extremely vivid colors (which I'd want to tone down). Images are a bit soft -- typical of a D-SLR -- and if you agree you may want to adjust the in-camera sharpening. Purple fringing will vary depending on what lens you're using, and I noticed it on both the 18-55 and 55-200 lenses that I tested. Redeye wasn't a problem, but if it was, you could use the tool in the camera's playback mode to remove it.

I slipped most of the negatives about the D40x in the preceding paragraphs, but here are a few more. First, while the camera supports the RAW image format, Nikon doesn't really give you any software to work with it, instead forcing you to get Capture NX or Photoshop. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the D40x lacks some of the nice features of other cameras in this class, such as dust reduction, depth-of-field preview, and more than 3 focus points. Next, due to the design of its sensor, the camera has a slower flash sync speed than its predecessor, though I doubt that the typical D40x buyer would notice. Finally, it would've been nice had Nikon offered a battery grip for the camera, but I guess you can't have everything.

If you're ready to enter the world of digital SLRs, the Nikon D40x is a great way to do it. It offers a compact, portable body, great performance and photo quality, and a really user friendly interface. I wouldn't write off the original D40 either -- it offers the same features, just with fewer pixels and slightly weaker performance, for around $200 less. I would take a close look at the competition, though, namely the Canon Digital Rebel XTi and the Olympus E-410, as both offer more features than the D40x (such as dust reduction and better lens support), and sell for the same price. You can't really go wrong with any of the entry-level D-SLRs, though -- they're all excellent, so pick the one that you feel most comfortable with.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality, though see issues below
  • Solid construction; feels better in the hand than the competition
  • Robust performance (even more so than the D40)
  • Large, bright, and sharp 2.5" LCD
  • Shooting data well presented on the main LCD; settings can quickly be changed from the info screens
  • Full manual controls
  • Customizable menus and button
  • Useful features for beginners like D-Lighting, redeye removal, assist images, help system
  • AF-assist lamp
  • Redeye not a problem
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Images are overly saturated and a bit soft at default settings, in this reviewer's opinion
  • Limited selection of AF-S lenses means that many Nikkor lenses (mostly primes) will not support autofocus
  • No RAW image manipulation software included
  • Some purple fringing with kit lens
  • Missing some features offered by competitive cameras: bracketing, DOF preview, dust reduction, more than 3 focus points
  • Video cable not included; ridiculous AC adapter pricing
  • No battery grip available

Some other digital SLRs worth looking at include the Canon Digital Rebel XTi, Nikon D40 and D80, Olympus EVOLT E-410 and E-510, Pentax K10D and K100D, Samsung Digimax GX-10, and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A100.

As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the D40x and its competitors before you buy anything!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

Want another opinion?

You'll find another review at CNET.com. There are also previews available at Digital Photography Review and Imaging Resource, both of which should be full reviews in the not-so-distant future.