On 16 November 2006, Nikon announced a new entry-level dSLR camera, the D40. Despite the nomenclature, the camera is an upgrade for the popular D50, now some 18 months old. Here we take a look at the changes and how it performs.
6.1 effective megapixels
3 area Multi-cam 530 AF system
ISO sensitivity range ISO200 to ISO1600 plus HI-1(equivalent ISO3200)
File formats - Compressed NEF or Jpeg
2.5inch LCD screen
Compatible with Nikon F mount with AF coupling and AF contacts
Type G or D AF Nikkor Nikon AF lenses.
3D colour matrix metering II, and centre-weighted or spot metering modes
Exposure metering range - EV0 to EV20 with 3D colour matrix or centre weighted metering EV2-EV20
Exposure compensation up to +/-5EV in 1/3 stop steps
Shutter speed range - 30secs to 1/4000sec and bulb
Flash synch up to 1/500sec
Flash compensation -3 to +1EV in 1/3rd steps
Rechargeable EN-EL9 Li-ion battery (MH-23 charger)
Dimensions126 x 64 x 94mm (5.0 x 2.5 x 3.7 in.)
Weight - 475g without batteryWhere it fits.
You can see the full specifications of the camera in the press release HERE.
Despite the numbering, which is more likely a spoiler for Canon’s 10D, 20D, 30D sequence, this camera is an improvement on the D50 which it is set to replace. Aggressively aimed at those not happy with response times from digital compacts and bridge cameras, as well as film shooters who want an economic route into digital and first time family snappers, the camera majors on ease of use. To suit the first and third groups, the camera will only be available in kit form, packaged with an all-new AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II lens. It is here that the aim of getting film users to migrate to digital that the camera falls down, only being able to use their DX lenses fitted with SWM autofocus motors. It also restricts the range of third party lenses available to use on the camera.
Along with the camera and lens announcements, Nikon also announced a new Speedlight, the SB-400, that is obviously aimed as a partner to the D40, neither of which have dedication to Nikon’s creative lighting system.
Build and handling
Plastic comes in many different forms, and Nikon’s engineering plastics certainly seem to convey a better build quality than some of its competitors. The thing you notice though, on first lifting the camera, is the size and weight, both being below anything they have offered before (Pic shows the new D40 alongside the bigger D50). By a fraction, the camera is now the smallest in its class and is still very lightweight even when the battery, lens and memory card have been added to the headline figure of 475g.
In line with their recent announcements the memory card is of the secure Digital type (SD) and I wonder if the D200 will be the last Nikon with the larger CF type card? Only time will tell.
The majority of the reduction in size has been achieved by the introduction of a new battery, the EN-EL9 which looses the humps of the older EN-EL3 variations although the height and width are similar. To charge it, a new MH-23 charger is included in the kit.
The other major loss, caused by the reduction, is the top LCD showing shooting parameters. This is compensated for by an increase in the size of the rear LCD to 2 ½ inches and some smart new menu options including a graphic display, useful for those who have difficulties remembering that bigger numbers mean smaller apertures.
Other than that, the camera is still comfortable to use and did not cause any undue difficulties with its handling even for my large hands.
The mode dial, with its half dozen scene modes, PASM, Auto, and the new Auto(flash off) settings, have moved from the left of the prism housing to occupy the space once used by the top LCD and can now be controlled with the same finger as the shutter release, a decent improvement. Exposure compensation has a button just above the shutter release and an ‘info’ button lies next to it which turns on the rear screen with the shooting parameters in graphic form. This can be configured as a classic display, a customised one or the new graphic indication.
The rear of the camera is dominated by the 2 ½ inch screen, but manages not to reduce the other controls too much. Four buttons down the left of the screen, along with a fifth and a rocker array on the right, control the menus and playback modes, with an AE/AF lock button and thumbwheel alongside the viewfinder. The self timer/continuous frame selection has moved to the left of the lens mount, just below the manual flash-up button.
Modes and features
Over a dozen of the features from the D80 have been inherited by the D40 as well as four completely new features unique to the new model. The auto (flash off) program will be a boon to newcomers, enabling the camera to be used in a fully auto mode in situations where flash is not suitable and new algorithms written for the portrait mode are dedicated to this camera. The autofocus engine, a new CAM530 module, is claimed to be more accurate, although the drop from five to three AF points will not please some.
The creative (‘does the thinking for you’) modes are Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sport, Close-up, Night Portrait and the new Auto-flash-off which boosts ISO while stopping the built-in flash, as well as the normal P,A,S,M. (Programme, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual). The camera will record these modes in both NEF (Nikon RAW) and JPEG with the JPEG’s being available in fine, normal, and basic as well as a NEF + basic with the JPEGs being saved in three sizes: 3008 x 2000 [L], 2256 x 1496 [M], 1504 x 1000 [S].
There is a new help menu, accessed by pressing the second button up on the left of the screen. This gives hints and tips for newcomers to photography and the camera and compliments the graphic screen giving the parameters.
The camera also has a number of in-camera processing functions, including such things as image overlay and basic cropping prior to outputting the image to a pict-bridge enabled printer. All made to make things simpler and remove the necessity of having a PC.
On board Flash
The pop-up flash unit has a guide number of 17 at ISO200 in metres and covers an 18mm lens. However, the camera will not act as a commander for the Creative Lighting System and leaves the flash as a simple pop-up unit. At the 18mm setting on the new AF-S DX 18-55mm f/3.6-5.6G ED II lens, the flash did start to show vignetting towards the corners on an off white wall. For the most part of the range though, it proved accurate and can be used in four modes, auto flash, red-eye reduction, slow-sync and rear curtain sync, and the camera has an impressive flash sync speed of 1/500sec.
Coverage of the on board flash at 18mm shows some vignetting in the corners. Image pushed in curves to highlight.
The D40 inherits the new magnification system from the D80, giving simple press button operation magnifying the image on screen (the same buttons are used when cropping in-camera) and the camera has all the usual review options including a histogram. The rocker array with a central qualifier button is an improvement over the D50 and more akin to the D80. It scrolls through the images on the SD card or the menus comfortably, having positive movements.
A half press of the shutter button overrides all other modes to set the camera back to shooting mode with single shot, continuous shooting or self-timed options selected with subsequent presses of the button situated to the left of the lens mount. A press of either of two buttons, one by the shutter release or the other at bottom left of the LCD screen, will show you all the parameters that are set, as well as battery condition and estimated number of shots available.
Shooting in large fine Jpeg mode, Nikon claim 100 shots at 2.5 frames-per-second, but only five when shooting RAW. When shooting RAW however, the buffer filling only slowed the camera to around 2fps, a notable achievement.
Noise control is not a thing that Nikon are particularly famous for, but on this occasion they seem to have got it pretty near right with impressive results right up to the ISO1600 mark and even the Hi-1 setting being usable at a push for smaller prints.
The image quality is impressive, with the in-camera doing much of the work required to produce reasonable prints straight from the camera. The accompanying images show the colours produced from the built in algorithms without any tweaking.
Click on each thumbnail to see the original full sized images straight out of the camera. As shot, just compressed to level 9 in Photoshop for the web.
As an entry-level camera, the improvements over the D50 are all in the right areas. Sticking with the 6.1MP sensor is a sensible move, as most folk do not need the resolution offered by higher pixel counts and the saving in both hard disc storage and processing speed will be appreciated by many, even if they don’t know it. The image quality from it is good enough to beat most compacts anyway. The size and weight will appeal too, as there is virtually no weight penalty over the larger bridge cameras and, for the first time with an SLR, I could actually get it in a coat pocket comfortably.
For those entering the hobby for the first time, Nikon may well capture their imagination with this easy use camera and once captured, we all know the consequences.
Positive points of the Nikon D40 dSLR are:
Easier to use than its predecessor.
Useful additions to in camera abilities and menus
No weight penalty over prosumer with kit lens.
Good noise control
Negative points are:
Loss of top screen, although increased rear screen compensates.
New battery not compatible with others in the range.
Only supports SWM motor lenses
No optional vertical grip.