The original D40 was Nikon's entry level DSLR, but with a paltry 6Mp resolution it was starting to look sickly in comparison to the robust Canon EOS 400D entry level model that boasted 10Mp. One quick re-engineering job later and here's the D40x.
- Effective Pixels: 10.2Mp
- Image Sensor: RGB CCD, 23.6 x 15.8 mm
- Image Sizes: 3872x2592, 2896x1944, 1936x1296
- ISO Sensitivity: 100 to 1600 in steps of 1EV with additional setting one step over 1600
- Storage Media: SD, SDHC compliant
- Storage System: Compressed NEF (RAW), 12-bit compression
- File System: Exif 2.21, Compliant DCF 2.0 and DPOF
- White Balance: Auto (TTL white-balance with 420-pixel RGB sensor), six manual modes with fine-tuning and preset white balance
- LCD Monitor: 2.5-in, 230k low-temperature polysilicon TFT LCD with brightness adjustment
- Focus Area: Selected from three focus areas
- AF Area Modes: Single Area AF, Dynamic Area AF, Dynamic Area AF with Closest Subject Priority
- Exposure Metering: 3D Color Matrix Metering II (type G and D lenses); Color Matrix Metering II (other CPU lenses); Centre-weighted; Spot meter
- Exposure Modes: Digital Vari-program (Auto, Auto [Flash Off], Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, Close Up, Night Portrait), Programmed Auto (P) with flexible program; Shutter-Priority Auto (S); Aperture Priority Auto (A); Manual (M)
- Exposure Compensation: ±5 EV in increments of 1/3 EV
- Exposure Lock: Exposure locked at detected value with AE-L/AF-L button
- Shooting Modes: Single frame,Continuous (approx. 3fps), Self-timer, Delayed remote mode: 2sec delay, Quick-response remote mode.
- Shutter speed: 30sec to 1/4000sec in steps of 1/3 EV, bulb
- Hotshoe: flash synchronisation at up to 1/200sec.
- Flash Control: TTL flash control by 420-pixel RGB sensor, i-TTL balanced fill-flash and standard i-TTL fill-flash for digital SLR available when CPU lens is used with built-in flash, SB-800, SB-600, and SB-400
- Built in flash: Guide No. 12
- Further info here.
This camera is in the dogfight for entry level DLSR users, either those upgrading from film, or buying their first digital SLR. As such, competitors include ones from Olympus with the E-330 and of course, the Canon EOS 400D.
Modes and features
The action with the D40x takes place on the mode dial and the menu system. Externally, it's the mode dial that offers the usual PASM shooting modes, plus Auto, No flash (another program mode), Portrait, Landscape, Children, Sports, Macro and Night portrait. The first comment to make here then is over the inclusion of a Macro mode, which of course is lens dependent rather than being a setting in the camera. In reality this sets the aperture to f/4 or f/5, changes the ISO setting to Auto so that the shutter speed can be kept up, and isn't afraid to activate the flash. In terms of camera modes for beginners though, this is all a bit halfway house between what a compact could offer and the austerity of a regular DSLR.
Next to the On/Off switch and fire button are buttons for Info and exposure compensation. The Info button brings up all the shooting information, including a graphic of the aperture being used, though the value of this is dubious, with most beginners not appreciating what it means. A press of the i button on the bottom right of the camera activates control over all the functions being used currently, all positioned on the one screen. This is very handy considering that almost everything has to be accessed through the menu otherwise.
As the body is very compact, there's no room on the top for an information LCD plate, as with bigger cameras. All this information has to be displayed on the back of the camera. Around the back is a tiny exposure and focus lock button. This allows either, or, the focus and exposure to be read from one part of the picture, then locked, and applied to a new composition.
Next to the flashgun is the flash exposure compensation button, allowing various degrees of flash to be used from very light effects, through fill-flash to full on power. Below this is the Function button that is initially set up to work on self-timing. Aside from playback and menu navigation buttons on the back, that's it for the physical controls. Certainly if you want to use lots of features in a hurry then this camera is going to be a pain, but for beginners it hides the more complex features until you feel up to tackling them.
Everything else now has to be accessed from the Menu system, which has the annoying habit of turning off after about 15secs. Anyway, here is where all the good stuff like image quality (JPEG or NEF RAW or NEF and JPEG basic), White Balance, ISO range (100-1600 plus a high mode), the optimising of the image, metering and focus point selection and all the setup configuration. The White Balance settings cover the usual presets such as shade, flash, tungsten and fluorescent, with the option of fine tuning these by plus or minus three. Three what is anyone's guess. It doesn't use the Kelvin system of colour temperature.
The metering modes are the usual zone, centre-weighted and spot which work well. The focussing points are a little more limited being arranged in three points on the horizontal plane.
Build and handling
Being an entry level camera also means that it has to be as small as possible, apparently. Certainly the D40x is all handgrip and LCD and nothing else. It's comfortable to hold and use and heavier than it looks. The main point is that most of the functions, instead of being on dials where they can be accessed easily, are on the menu system, which slows down the use of the camera in the field. While the body has a cheapish plastic finish, it actually feels quite solid so that it will stand up to day-to-day use without falling apart. There's only one thumbwheel, so functions that require two parameters adjusting at once need to use a button as well as the wheel.
It's the hotshoe or the built-in flash. The hotshoe allows access to the SB-400, 600 and 800 flashguns that are the basis of the Nikon wireless i-TTL flash system. The built in flash is similar to that on the D200 and offers a guide number of 12, plus options for varying the power of the output.
Startup is pretty quick, although if you wait for the basic information screen to come up on the LCD it slows the process down. There is actually no need to wait for it because as soon as the camera is turned on it's ready to shoot. The shooting rate is a maximum of 3fps, but this is under optimal conditions, with a fast shutter speed selected. In practice it's more like 1.5fps and this is only for nine shots before the buffer fills up so the reality is some way short of the headline claim.
The autofocus is reasonable, being relatively speedy and fairly tenacious. Certainly at this price point there are no complaints. However, the focus system is fairly basic, only using three points on a horizontal line, although how these are used can be changed. It certainly isn't a sophisticated system.
The metering is generally very good, whichever system is used, and produces well balanced images in all kinds of conditions. However, it really is a bit of a pain to have to go and set the metering through the menu system.
Nikon make great claims that the camera is very beginner friendly, with a built in help system. It's there but it isn't really a helping hand as it's too inaccessible. The fact that the main display turns itself off as soon as the camera focusses on anything doesn't really help the rank beginner either. Where the help comes in, is in bringing up the info screen and then pressing the i button. Now, when each element of the settings is selected, the camera displays a thumbnail that shows the circumstances under which it should be employed. For some this is very useful, but for others it's not very clear as to what the alternatives mean - the focus point and metering for example. However, as a basic help system it's worth having, but it is rather buried within the camera's operation.
When we come to the colours, even on the standard settings, these are well saturated, more representative of what a compact would produce. The blue colours are generally brighter and so are the reds. However, mixtures of colours, aside from blue-green which is more like cyan, and yellow-green which is a weaker green, are pretty accurate.
Detail, thanks to that 10Mp resolution, tends to be quite good, though the kit lens with the D40x, the Nikkor 18-55mm is a little plastic feeling and lacks real sharpness. Certainly the results from the D40x will please anyone, from beginner to more experienced user as they are lively with plenty of impact.
The red and blue primaries are brighter than might be expected, but the green is very neutral. The colour mixes are largely accurate though the blue-green and yellow-green are a little off.
The portrait test produces a reasonable result with good skin tones, but the image is certainly soft and lacks fine detail which may be no bad thing in a portrait.
The landscape test shows a good detail in the foreground, and the grass is a lively colour despite the dismal conditions. The image lacks real sharpness though this is more due to the kit lens.
In this shot the colours really shone out of the scene with strong greens and very lively blues in the sky. There's also good detail throughout the image.
This is a tricky shot for metering as the contrast is too wide for the camera to capture. The tree should turn into a silhouette, but some detail has been lost in the sky.
With plenty of black the picture could have been overexposed, but the off-white petals could have been underexposed. However, the metering has coped well and the colours are nicely rendered.
There's some noise evident in the plain, grey area at ISO100 which isn't too good. Moving up to ISO200 the colour distinctly deepens, with the noise becoming more evident in the plain areas. At ISO400 it's more noticeable again, but also, the detail in the petals is softer - though the colour stays the same as the ISO200 shot. At ISO800 the detail is slightly more soft, the noise in the plain areas has become coloured and thus intrusive. At ISO1600 the noise is now quite sharp, making the image very bitty and only really suitable in colour for very low light situations where grainy images are expected. The high ISO mode suffers significant image degradation, becomes more contrasty and the colour darkens appreciably.
High ISO test.
While the D40x lacks some of the more sophisticated options of bigger cameras, it's certainly well specified in the budget market and readily capable of taking on the Canon EOS 400D. The body is light and compact, but this means that all the functions that would otherwise be on dials etc, are hidden away on menus. The lack of a top-mounted LCD is a drawback because the information that is displayed on the rear LCD never stays there for very long. The help system for the beginner is rather packed away and not immediately accessible. While the shooting speed of the camera is a long way off the marketing claims, with just modest performance, it's the ease of use of the camera and the results that count the most in this marketplace. On that score, the D40x is easy to pick up and start shooting with because the more advanced functions are kept out of the way initially, and the results, while lacking a great deal of sharpness thanks to the kit lens, are generally pleasing.
Small and compact
Good quality images
Well saturated colours
Good built-in flash
Shooting speed isn't great
Pictures not super-sharp
Some noise at ISO100
Help system is buried
The Nikon D40x kit comes with a Nikkor DX 18-55mm f/3.5 lens and has a street price of around £498. It can be purchased from the ePHOTOzine shop here.