Finding the right camera to advance your photography skills can be tough, especially for those who have never used anything other than point and shoot digital compacts. Though the past few years had seen DSLR cameras shedding complex functions and handling characteristics for better usability, most were still a daunting prospect for amateur photographers. However, the D40, Nikon’s smallest and lightest DSLR to date, looks all fired up to lay this intimidation to rest once and for all.
My First DSLR
Like all entry level DSLR cameras, the new D40 has also been stripped down to cater to budding photographers who are decidedly more cost conscious and have limited photography proficiency. Even so, the D40 is by no means crippled. Within its plastic housing is a 6-megapixel image sensor brought over from the D50; processing engine from the D200 and a 420-pixel sensor 3D Color Matrix Metering II from the D80. Distinctive about the D40 however, is its small footprint, which is fitting for the baby Nikon DSLR. Nikon has done a really commendable job keeping its dimensions at 126 x 64 x 94mm and weight at only 500 grams.
A key reason behind the D40’s small frame is the lack of an internal drive motor, which means the D40 has to rely solely on lenses with built-in focus motors (AF-S and AF-I) – not a big problem considering most lenses in the market have built-in focusing. As far as kit package goes, the D40 is bundled with a new and improved 18-55mm (F3.5-5.6) AF-S DX lens. Basic as it may be, the lens is versatile enough to be used for general shooting macro and landscape shooting. Another component missing from the D40 in the name of cost reduction is a monochrome LCD status panel such as those found on D70 and D100, for example. Instead, all important information is now displayed on the large 2.5-inch LCD - though functions like aperture and shutter speeds are still displayed within the viewfinder to assist framing.
Fire and Forget
Operating the D40 is simpler than its DSLR façade suggests. Much thoughts had been invested into the design of the D40 to make photography as uncomplicated as possible.
For this, there are three auto focus modes (single point, dynamic area, and closest subject), three driving modes (continuous, shingle shot, predictive), varying shutter speeds between 3 and 1/4,000 seconds, bulb, flash, and exposure compensation in 1/3-stop increments, as well as three metering modes (spot, center-weighted, and matrix). Also standard in the D40 are Nikon’s proprietary D-Lighting function, red-eye reduction, image overlay for RAW files and trimming functions. These allow users to reduce editing time on Photoshop and a computer for minor touchups.
Most impressive though is the inclusion of a range of customizable ISO levels. Apart from the norm of 200 upwards to 1,600, the D40 also has a HI 1 level setting that effectively brings the ISO capability of the D40 to a whopping 3,200. In practical terms however, ISO 3,200 is too noisy to be used for to capture any meaningful photographs. The D40 is not all about the serious imaging stuff though, as evident by its ability to display thumbnails to depict special effects such as borders and frames, a fun feature “borrowed” from digital compacts.
Unfortunately, the shutter lag and auto focus speed were not as fast as we had hoped. While the D40 has a fast start-up time of just 0.3 seconds, the same cannot be said about its shutter delay. A slow 1.6-second was what we encountered when taking shots in dim lighting conditions and even in a sunny day, a 0.7-second lag was not what we would call DSLR-like. Making up for this shortcoming is a relatively fast continuous shooting of 2.5fps, which is faster than competing models.
The Nikon D40 is an interesting DSLR camera. Despite being small and lightweight, it boasts a good balance of imaging quality and affordability like no other in the market, offering aspiring photographers a decent DSLR camera to start off their photography journey and seasoned photographers using Nikon cameras a capable backup unit. In truth, at USD$599.95 (with kit lens), the D40 is as good as it gets to turning your dream of owning a Nikon camera into reality.