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Primes vs. Zooms

3 Lenses

Do you prefer to get the right focal length with a zoom, or do you think in one format like a prime? Everyone's different. I'm a prime person, but I also appreciate a good zoom when I see one.

Last Updated: 18 Feb 08 (v3)

What's a prime?

A lens with only one focal length. This means that it will not be able to zoom in and out, i.e. your shooting is limited, to a certain extent. Also known as fixed-focals.

So what should you buy? A prime or a zoom? Well first you need to know what's your preference.

Take the test to find out

I've written a mini questionnaire that will hopefully get you closer to an answer. Taking it will help you find out which kind of person you are. Take your time, and think about each question and how it applies to you. If need be re-take it to see if you arrive to the same answer.

2 ways to download the test:
You can download and take the test in either GIF or PDF format. I recommend the PDF version.

Download links

  • GIF version
  • PDF version (link 1) (link 2)
    (note: try the first link, if it doesn't work then try the second link)
    Test Preview

    Below are advantages of going with primes or zooms. In the end it's your choice as to which you prefer.

    Advantages of primes

    - Smaller and lighter than equivalent zooms, with all other factors being equal. This is because you don't need a lot of glass to build primes. E.g. a 400mm f/5.6 prime is much lighter than a 200-400 f/5.6 zoom.

    - Primes are much sharper, especially wide open and at the corners. Because of their simpler optical formula, these lenses perform much better than zooms wide open. A zoom lens needs stopping down to get acceptable quality. You won't gain too much sharpness by stopping down a prime.

    - Almost always faster. This is probably the most appealing point. This allows more background blur and higher shutter speeds (or lower ISOs). In order to get their EF 70-200 f/2.8 IS to match their EF 200 f/2 IS, Canon would need to make it 2x the size and 2x the cost of the current version, and it STILL wouldn't be as sharp. This is simple maths.

    Advantages of zooms

    - More convenient and versatile. This is the biggest reason why zooms are more popular. People care more about being able to set a precise focal length. They don't like being limited to one focal length

    - Fewer lenses needed to cover the same focal lengths (however each one is larger, heavier, and less sharp).

    And another thing...

    I personally prefer primes for the normal range, around 18-150mm. They're more portable and offer better quality. However I like the convenience that my 18-55 offers, provided I'm willing to live with the compromises involved.

    One last point, primes have their own "character". Because of the fact that they have a simpler optical design, primes can get their own optical character. My Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI-S (look out for an upcoming review) has a slightly warm touch to its images and a crispness to its images. This crispness stems from the fact that the few glass elements used in the construction allow for higher image contrast. Zooms have a lot of glass inside them. When light enters the lens it will have more pieces of glass to bounce against, thus inevitably reducing contrast.

    Further reading

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Nikon digital SLR family

Last Updated: 17 Jan 08 (v2)

Nikon have a total of 6 digital SLRs in production today.


  • Nikon D40
    6 MP DX sensor (announced November 2006)

    Nikon's lowest-end digital SLR. Aimed at either the absolute beginner; those moving up from a point-and-shoot; or those looking for a low-cost gateway to the Nikon system. Famous for: price and image quality. Infamous for: supporting auto focus only on AF-S/AF-I lenses. Having 'only' 6 megapixels. The Nikon D40 replaced the Nikon D50.

  • Nikon D40x
    10 MP DX sensor (announced March 2007)

    A 'big-brother' to the Nikon D40. The biggest difference is that this has 10 megapixels (4 more over the D40). It is primarily intended to provide competition to the Canon EOS 400D in the crowded 10 MP entry-level market. Famous for: Having the same image quality as the excellent D40. Infamous for: auto focus with AF-S/AF-I lenses only. The Nikon D40x has no predecessor. It doesn't replace the Nikon D40 or D50.

  • Nikon D80
    10 MP DX sensor (announced August 2006)

    Nikon's feature-full intermediate camera. Priced above the D40/x line and offers more features, including autofocus with older AF lenses. Famous for: Image quality, features. Infamous for: Often flawed Matrix Metering. The Nikon D80 replaces the Nikon D70s.


  • Nikon D200
    10 MP DX sensor (announced November 2005)

    Offering a robust magnesium body and superb ergonomics in a compact body, the Nikon D200 is a camera mainly aimed at professionals looking for a backup body, and amateurs/enthusiasts looking for premium performance. Famous for: build quality, features, performance. Infamous for: Noisy high ISO. The Nikon D200 was a huge upgrade over the aged Nikon D100. Note: the new D300 has NOT replaced the D200. D200's are still being produced today.

  • Nikon D300
    12 MP DX sensor (announced August 2007)

    The Nikon D300 is a semi-professional camera. It has a lot in common with the much larger, professional level D3. Its main features are: a weather-sealed magnesium body; 6 fps (expandable to 8 fps with battery grip); 14-bit image processing (shared with D3); professional 51-point AF (shared with D3); 922k-pixel 3" LCD screen (shared with D3); Live View with Contrast-Detect AF (shared with D3); and a dust shaker. Famous for: professional features, value for money. Infamous for: Some early adopters are reporting faulty metering, these were replaced under warranty. The Nikon D300 doesn't replace the D200 according to Nikon literature.

  • Nikon D3
    12 MP FX sensor (announced August 2007)

    The Nikon D3 is a professional camera. It offers plenty of professional-level features and many firsts for Nikon. Most notably, it is the first Nikon to have a full-frame 35mm sensor (coined FX-format). It offers: an unprecedented 9 fps; 51-point advanced AF system; 14-bit image processing; 5.1 MP DX crop mode; 922k-pixel 3" LCD screen; Live View with Contrast-Detect AF; and a robust, fully weather-sealed body. Famous for: FX format sensor, image quality sets new standards. Infamous for: Nothing, except that the high price tag puts it out of the reach of many. The Nikon D3 seems to have replaced the D2Hs. But because it has no 'H' suffix, it is suggested that it also replaced the D2Xs. However, rumours of a high-resolution D3X have been circulating for months.

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    Why I didn't go for the Nikon D40x

    No image? Click here to attempt opening it in a new window The Nikon D40x was a camera that was released four months after the original D40. It was built so that those that felt that they need more than 6 MP will have the camera they want. It is priced to be in direct competition with Canon's EOS 400D. It wasn't intended to be a replacement model, just a “big brother” version of the D40.
    Note: This isn't an article written to justify my purchase. Read the post's title. It's an article about why I didn't buy the D40x instead.

    Besides a few internal differences, the D40x is identical to the D40. It uses the exact same body, the same screen, the same menus and interface, and all the things which made the D40 such a great camera. In fact the only external difference is the badge.

    Below are the most significant differences between the two: - 10 megapixel CCD sensor (D40 has 6 MP)
    - 3fps (D40 shoots at 2.5fps)
    - Lowest ISO of 100 (D40's lowest is ISO 200)
    - Lm100 (€235 or £160) more expensive
    - Flash x-sync: The D40 is one of the few dSLRs that can sync the flash right up to 1/500. The D40x, D80 and higher can only sync up to 1/200.
    - Slightly noisier shutter. Above 1/100 the D40 uses a silent electronic shutter, while the D40x uses a mechanical shutter right till 1/4000. This is the reason for the D40's higher x-sync speed.

    One of the reasons that I like the Nikon D40 is because it has a relatively low pixel count. More megapixels mean worse image quality, given the same sensor size and tech. Anyway, 4 more MP isn't that big a deal. While 10 MP sounds like almost double 6 MP, in fact it isn't. It is only a 22% increase. In order to double the resolution of 6 MP, you would need a 24 MP camera.

    Having more MP is a good idea if you plan on making huge prints and viewing them with your nose touching the print. 6 MP is more than enough to print beautifully up to A3 size, and even A2 with some work. Who prints that big anyway? Not the average D40(x) user anyway.

    Shooting at 3 fps compared to 2.5 fps is a non-issue. 0.5fps will not make a big difference. Get yourself a 9/11fps Nikon D3 if you're serious about continuous shooting(RRP Lm5,000).

    Going down to ISO 100 would have been very important if it was a compact camera (they suck at anything above ISO 100), but the D40's ISO performance is so good, you won't miss ISO 100.

    All in all, the D40x just wasn't worth the Lm100 premium for me.

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    Sony N1: Overview

    I have a Sony N1, and have published an extensive review.

    Go to the review now

    The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N1 has been replaced by the 10-megapixel N2. Besides the megapixel difference, the two cameras are almost identical. The N1 is still a good camera, and should still be available in some stores.

    No image? Click here

    Back in October 2005, Sony announced a new range a ultra-compact digital cameras: the N-series. Their first model was the compact and unique 8 megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-N1. It has a rather high price tag, and so the camera was aimed mostly above budget-level, for non-photographers who want great pictures and be able to show them off with everyone. The N-series slots in nicely above the ultra-compact T-series yet below the bridge-type H-series cameras from Sony.

    This type of camera was designed with the consumer in mind. It has a large, bright, wide viewing angle, high resolution screen. Just perfect for showing off the pictures and movies you've taken.

    Who should buy a Sony N1?

    The camera is targeted towards casual snappers who are looking for a good looking, reliable camera for memories' sake. It isn't really designed to be used by a demanding photographer.

    However in my review, I concluded that the image quality and manual controls meant that the N1 can punch above its weight. I'd say you could use it for high resolution landscapes and other still subjects.

    Key Features

    - Large, high-resolution LCD. Sony's Clear Photo® LCD technology.
    - Touch screen operation.
    - 8.0 effective megapixel Super HAD™ CCD.
    - Carl Zeiss® Vario-Tessar 3x Lens.
    - ISO range from 64 to 800.
    - MPEG video recording at VGA (640x480) resolution at 30 fps.
    - Built-in album function allowing storing of up to 500 photos.
    - Slideshow with Music.


    You can view thousands of photos taken with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N1 on its camera page on Flickr. You can view all the photos I've taken with the Sony N1 in my Flickr portfolio. There is also a Sony DSC-N1 group on Flickr.

    There are some more photos taken by the Sony DSC-N1 at PBase.


    The N1 has a few major reviews.

    Click here to view an in-depth review of the Sony N1

  • DC Resource's Review (by Jeff Keller). Jeff's enjoyable tone takes you through an honest, balanced review.
  •'s review. A detailed review full of product shots and example pictures. A little tedious to read through.
  • Yahoo! Shopping - User Reviews. The quality is obviously dubious, but it's still worth reading a few of the reviews (36 at the last count).
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    Sony N1 Review: (Part 6 of 6)

    No image? Try clicking here

    A detailed real-world review of the Sony N1 compact digital camera.

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    What I liked:

  • AF in good light is pretty good.
  • Impressive battery life.
  • Manual mode, and a proper Program mode.
  • Adjustments over Saturation, Contrast and Sharpness.
  • Nice big screen. Sharp in playback. Not so sharp in record mode.
  • Great implementation of Spot focus; just touch where you want in focus.
  • High ISO shots not terrible, they clean up nicely.
  • 8 megapixels means a lot of detail.
  • Pocket-sized for spur-of-the-moment shooting.
  • Stylish metal body; very good overall build quality
  • Pleasing overall performance, WB and colour both quite good.

  • What I didn't really like:

  • Downright miserable continuous shooting.
  • Red AF-assist lamp is very annoying (turn it off).
  • Contrast-detect AF hunts in low light.
  • Blown highlights.
  • No handgrip, handles like a bar of soap.
  • Touch-screen is flashy, but not as good as hard buttons.
  • LCD extremely prone to fingerprints and smudges. No protective filter.
  • Poor lens. Not very wide (38mm equiv.), and slow at full zoom (f/5.4)
  • No custom WB
  • Deleting an image takes long and is cumbersome

  • Conclusion

    I didn't have very high hopes for the Sony N1. Often, these compacts tend to be compromised photographic tools that put form over function. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.

    After testing the N1 extensively, plus 6 months of experience with it, I can say that its image quality at lower ISOs exceeds its price and competes very well with higher-end cameras. Its images are sharp, contrasty, with heaps of detail and great colour. Truly class-leading performance. Despite this, I somehow wasn't completely satisfied. They still had that certain "digital look".

    The decent startup time, acceptable focusing speed, good build quality, and slim profile means it's pretty well suited to street photography. Fortunately the N1 has a Manual exposure mode. This, for me, is a huge advantage over some other compacts in a similar price range.

    However, one thing struck me about the Sony. As nice as it is, I'll never grow to love this thing. It isn't really "photographer's camera". Pick up the N1 and you'll immediately notice that there's no grip. You'll then notice that there's no viewfinder. This camera was designed to be held at arm's length.

    Using the menus and the interface further enhances the feeling that this is not really well-suited to photographers. For example, adjusting exposure in Manual mode means touching an arrow on screen. Selecting ISO is a real chore.

    Sometimes, I felt like I was fighting the camera to get it to work the way I wanted it to. Even after using it for a long time, the lack of buttons is still a bitter pill to swallow.

    On the other hand, the Sony N1 can really sing. I can recommend this camera to social snappers as well as (very) patient photographers. Its image quality at lower ISOs can sell by itself for me.

    OVERALL RATING: 6.5 / 10


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    Sony N1 Review: (Part 5 of 6)

    No image? Try clicking here

    A detailed real-world review of the Sony N1 compact digital camera.

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    ISO Performance Test

    Confused what the ISO really means for photos? Click here for an in-depth explanation.

    The ISO section of any review will undoubtedly be the one most people are interested in. Ironically this is the section of very little importance. While it's true that high ISO noise can be detrimental to a photo, I've never encountered a situation where the noisy photos have been completely unworkable.

    Click here to view 100% crops of the test results. So, without further ado, here we go.

    - ISO 64: At base ISO there's no noise whatsoever. The photos have very rich colour and tonality.

    - ISO 100: The same can be said for ISO 100. There's no noise to speak of.

    - ISO 200: A bit of colour noise mixed with some moderate luminance noise. It's not too bad though and easily usable. There's a hint of noise reduction on the finest detail.

    - ISO 400: Usable, but not great. There's some strong noise reduction and colour mottling, combined with a loss of detail.

    - ISO 800: Needs some noise reduction software. The output is soft and fine detail is completely removed. There artifacts everywhere. No idea why there's a greenish tint.

    I guess I'd use ISO 800 in a pinch. But most of the time I'd like to stay at ISO 200 and below for the best quality. At ISO 400 and up we begin to see a rapid decline.

    This isn't a bad performance for a small 1/1.8" sensor but it simply pales in comparison to any decent digital SLR.

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    Sony N1 Review: (Part 4 of 6)

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    A detailed real-world review of the Sony N1 compact digital camera.

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    I placed the plastic model against a white background. I wanted to see its level of detail capture. Lighting was artificial. Auto WB made a mess of it, so what you're seeing is a colour-corrected version.

    The macro shot is very detailed, and contrast is excellent. Highlights are pretty well controlled for a compact - look at the paperclips. The image quality is worst at the edge of the frame. Look at the paper clips (purple fringing & corner softness).


    A simple test to see if the N1 would distort straight lines. At 38mm it produces around 4.5% barrel distortions. That's a lot. On the other end of the zoom range, there isn't really any distortion to worry about.

    Colour (subjective)

    The colour output from the Sony N1 was quite pleasing. Images are bright, contrasty and saturated. The default saturation level clips channels so I'd turn it down a notch.

    White Balance

    The Sony N1 has a total of 6 white balance presets. Automatic White Balance proved to be fairly reliable in good light, it had a warm tone in daylight. Indoors it's a different story. I badly missed a custom white balance option. The output was very warm and had an orange cast.

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    Sony N1 Review: (Part 3 of 6)

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    A detailed real-world review of the Sony N1 compact digital camera.

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    Manual Mode

    I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Sony N1 offers a few useful of manual controls. I can set the exposure settings manually, hurrah! However I missed being able to set a custom WB. The N1's Auto WB indoors sucks.

    If I was surprised to find a couple of manual controls, I was amazed to find that the N1 offers control over saturation, contrast, and sharpness. By setting them all at their lowest setting, I was getting very reasonable JPEGs, which were able to take decent amounts of processing before breaking up. Another kudos to Sony.

    Focus mode

    There's something a little bit special hidden in the N1's focus modes. There's no manual focus. There's the basic AF which everyone is used to, and there's a distance guessing game.

    If you choose to use the basic AF, then you'll find you can optionally AF using a choice deceptively called "Spot". Basically, touch where you want in focus. This works great for landscape work on a tripod. This is one of the Sony's best features, for the instant DOF preview makes it all work perfectly.


    In general, the N1 proved to be a decently snappy camera. It only sucks badly in continuous shooting mode, where it managed to shoot at just 0.9fps. Bugger. Switch it on and be prepared to wait around 1.7 seconds. Switch it off in around the same time. Not too bad.

    While the N1 isn't the fastest thing in the world, if you take your time when shooting you'll never find its speed to a real problem. If on the other hand you're a split-second kind of guy, steer well clear. Focus times were average.

    Battery Life

    Battery life is another area where the camera shines. I can pop off 300-400 shots before it needs a charge. Great performance, considering how much of a battery drain that screen must be.

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    Sony N1 Review: (Part 2 of 6)

    No image? Try clicking here

    A detailed real-world review of the Sony N1 compact digital camera.

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    Build Quality

    The N1 is made mainly out of metal which is cold to the touch. It has a feeling of luxury and exclusivity as soon as you pick it up. However the battery/card door is made out of flimsy plastic. The sides and top are also made of plastic by the way, not that you'd notice. Overall, very good build quality. Mine has a mark on the bottom, the metal is slightly dented, but that's only because of my negligence.


    The N1 looks and feels very nice. Sony seem to have taken cues from Apple's design. The front is a sort of texture - concentric circles radiating from the lens. A nice effect. On the top of the camera there's the shutter release and power button, as well as the microphone. On the sides, there is the battery/card compartment. The botton of the camera shows the cable socket, and the tripod thread. The thread isn't aligned with the centre of the lens, which sucks for panoramic work.

    The back is slightly busier, but not much. It is dominated by the 3.0" screen. There is a little 3-way switch, that toggles between movie-mode, still camera shooting, and playback. Towards the top-right there is the very small zoom rocker, and near the bottom are two discreet buttons.

    The Sony N1 tries very hard to look welcoming and non-intimidating to the average newbie. There are very little external controls (sadly), but as a result it's a treat to look at.


    Handling in one of the Sony N1's bad sides. It handles similar to a bar of soap. The camera has no external controls and no hand grip whatsoever. You're going to have to fumble through the menus to change any settings. Granted, the menu system is easy to get used to, and interaction using the touch screen soon becomes easy. However it never begins to feel intuitive.

    The camera seems to have been designed to repel as much user-involvement as possible ("Leave it to me sir, I know what I'm doing").

    In use, you get the feeling that the menu wasn't designed by photographers. It takes 4 screen touches to delete an image. However in fairness the menu itself is fairly quick, and you don't really leave your subjects waiting too long. The touch screen interface is a little faster than up/down/left/right buttons here.

    LCD screen

    Possibly the biggest feature of the Sony N1 is its screen. It's a 3.0", 230,000-pixel, touch-panel. Wow! Viewing photos on it is quite fun, images are pretty sharp when played back.

    Unfortunately, the live view doesn't really seem to take advantage of the high resolution. It's in image playback where the screen really shines. Be wary of excessive smudging and fingerprints!

    Continue Reading

    Sony N1 Review: (Part 1 of 6)

    No image? Try clicking here

    A detailed real-world review of the Sony N1 compact digital camera.

    Skip to:
    << Previous Next >>


    Back in October 2005, Sony announced a new range a ultra-compact digital cameras: the N-series. Their first model was the compact and unique 8 megapixel Cybershot DSC-N1. It has a rather high price tag, and so the camera was aimed mostly above budget-level, for non-photographers who want great pictures and be able to show them off with everyone. The N-series slots in nicely above the T-series yet below the H-series digital compact cameras from Sony.

    This type of camera was designed with the consumer in mind. It has a large, bright, wide viewing angle, high resolution screen. Sony says is just perfect for showing off the pictures and movies you've taken. I'll start the review with the key features.

    Key Features

    - Large, high-resolution LCD. Sony's Clear Photo® LCD technology.
    - Touch screen operation.
    - 8.0 effective megapixel Super HAD™ CCD.
    - Carl Zeiss® Vario-Tessar 3x Lens.
    - ISO range from 64 to 800.
    - MPEG video recording at VGA (640x480) resolution at 30 fps.
    - Built-in album function allowing storing of up to 500 photos.
    - Slideshow with Music.

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    SplashUp Review: the future of picture editing?

    Go to SplashUp now

    Previously known as "Fauxto", SplashUp can (in a nutshell) be defined as a Flash-based, browser-integrated image-editor. It's one of the better ones out there and can be almost be called "Photoshop Lite".

    During the recent times, a lot of web-based image-editing programs have been sprouting up. And why not? Web-based solution don't need any additional software to run.

    SplashUp offers you the option to open an image from 6 different places. You may open a from some photo-sharing sites (such as Flickr), locally, or else by providing the photo's URL. However I wasn't able to open an image directly from Flickr, SplashUp just kept on giving me error messages. Using a photo's URL works fine though.

    SplashUp is the only online photo-editor I know of which supports:
    - Layers. Plus: blending modes, advanced layer effects, and opacity changes.
    - The ability to open multiple images at the same time.
    - A windowed environment, made possible by Flash.
    - The creation of images from scratch.

    It also offers pixel-level editing, using a variety of brushes and gradients. It also has some pretty advanced text control.

    Much like all free services, this program isn't without its flaws/bugs. For one thing, it is missing a couple of major features. One feature missing is keyboard shortcuts. Keyboard shortcuts help streamline your workflow, they save time and mouse clicks. Everyone knows that CTRL+Z is an undo, why they didn't implement these in SplashUp is anybody's guess.

    Another feature which is amiss is probably a limitation of Flash itself. SplashUp is missing the context-sensitive right-click menu. When you right-click in Photoshop, you get a menu that's relevant to the tool selected, such as settings for the brush tool. SplashUp sadly misses this useful feature. Flash probably needs this menu for itself. Being totally implemented in Flash, it has to accept the limitations that its programming language has.

    Its largest fault however, is that it's buggy, and quite unstable. Specifically, after a while of using it, it tends to crash very often, requiring a restart. Given time, I'll bet that the developers can iron out the bugs. Lastly, the sharpening option sucks big time. There is a workaround - duplicate the layer, apply the 'Sharpen' filter, and reduce the opacity. But who likes workarounds?


    SplashUp is a fantastic achievement. It's speedy, resource-light, and offers a vast array of tools and advanced controls that many paid-for programs don't even offer. It wouldn't be unfair to call it a 'lite' version of Adobe Photoshop.

    Of course, SplashUp has it's share of negatives, of which there are many. The main one for me was that it's rather buggy and unstable. I hope that future versions will improve on this aspect (there are sections for bug reporting and feature requests, by the way).

    Because all you need is a web browser and a Flash player, it can be run from most computers. This makes it great for a quick edit to a photo of yours (even for example adding a watermark), wherever you are.

    Highly Recommended (with reservations)

    Go to SplashUp now!

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    Nikon D40: Overview

    No image? Try clicking here

    The Nikon D40 is an entry-level digital SLR camera. It replaces the Nikon D50. It was announced in November 2006, after lots of speculation and leaks.

    Click here to read an in-depth review of the Nikon D40

    Who should buy a Nikon D40?

    The D40 is a camera primarily aimed towards beginners. It can "teach" its users about the innards of photography through interactive learning. Here's an excerpt from an article in Time magazine by Wilson Rothman:

    The D40 is a teacher. One of its most fascinating attributes is the Info screen, which appears at the touch of a button, appropriately marked "Info." The screen contains all sorts of data, mostly photographic mumbo jumbo. But the screen also has a visual representation of that mumbo jumbo, so you can figure out what it means. For instance, as the number next to the letter "F" goes up, the image of the camera's aperture gets tighter. It doesn't take long to sort out, then, that the higher the "f-stop," the more closed the camera's aperture. Beginners will appreciate the fact that the D40 has a knob of preset modes, not just my favourite "auto" mode but "portrait," "sports" and more. What's cool is that, when you change modes, the screen shows the changed settings. Little by little, the notions will start to sink in: what the camera is trying to do to shoot action, what it needs to take a portrait at night, etc.

    However, the D40 is versatile enough to serve more than just a beginner. If you're an amateur photographer on a budget, you'll find the D40's price extremely tempting.

    Don't think that the D40's "idiot" modes will get in the way, they don't. If you're already experienced enough to know the basics, then you'll be able to shoot in the more advanced P, A, S, M modes. While this camera is designed for beginners, it doesn't get in the way of the more advanced photographers.

    The D40 offers an incredible amount of camera for the money, and every penny seems well spent. Every now and then it makes the more expensive Nikon D80 look over-priced and under-powered.

    AF issue with Older Lenses

    The D40 will not be able to autofocus with lenses that don't have an in-built focus motor. Reason being that, it doesn't have its own “screwdrive” focus motor. A lot of older and third party lenses rely on the motor in the body to focus. Hence, they will not be able to AF on the D40. The only ones that are able to autofocus are Nikon's AF-S/AF-I type lenses, and Sigma's HSM type lenses.

    If you plan to use the autofocus feature of older lenses, then the D40 is not the camera for you. The newer lenses should all work perfectly however.


    - Canon EOS 400D
    - Pentax K100D / K110D
    - Olympus E-410

    Main Features

    - 6 megapixel DX format CCD sensor (same used in Nikon D70 & D50, Pentax K100D)
    - Multi-CAM530 3-Area AF sensor
    - 3D Colour Matrix Metering II (420 pixel sensor) – for accurate exposures
    - ISO range from 200 to 1600, plus boost to HI-1 (approx. 3200)
    - Customisable Auto ISO
    - Up to 2.5 frames per second continuous shooting. Buffer: unlimited amount of JPEGs
    - 2.5", 230k pixel LCD monitor with high viewing angle
    - Monitor-based status screen – called the "Info" screen
    - In-camera Help Manual
    - In-camera Retouching Menu
    - Extensive list of Custom Functions, unusual in this price range
    - 0.8x magnification, 95% coverage viewfinder view
    - Small and compact, lightweight body
    - Value for money


    The Nikon D40 is a very popular camera, and has been reviewed by almost every major review station. Below are some links to the pick of the reviews..

    Click here to read an in-depth review of the Nikon D40

  • dpreview's Review (by Phil Askey). Probably the best review here. Technical, yet easy to understand. Extremely useful.
  • DC Resource's Review (by Jeff Keller). A nice conversational tone makes this one easy and enjoyable to read. Very informative.
  • Imaging Resource's Review (by Mike Pasini). A very exhaustive review. Goes into extreme technical detail. Supplied with loads of samples and a test gallery.
  • Review by Thom Hogan. Nikon expert Thom Hogan answers some technical user questions, and also provides thoroughly subjective observations on the camera.
  • Review by Ken Rockwell. Ken Rockwell's "opinionated, cranky style" is evident here. In this review, he avoids many technical aspects, in the sake of a simplistic review - but also makes some valid points about why he loves this camera so much.

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    Nikon D40 Review (Part 6 of 6)

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    A detailed real-world review of the Nikon D40 along with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.

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    About Auto ISO

    The D40 has a feature it inherited from its bigger siblings that the older D50 didn't have; Auto ISO.

    This is a feature that raises the ISO setting when it gets dark so I don't have to. You specify a minimum shutter speed, and a maximum selectable ISO setting for the camera to work with, and it adjusts the ISO settings around your shooting style.

    Let's say for example that in Auto ISO, you selected a minimum shutter speed of 1/30" and a maximum ISO of 1600. Now in bright sunlight it will select a low ISO setting, so that you get the best quality. When the light gets low it will automatically raise the ISO to maintain that 1/30" shutter speed. This means that you can set your aperture and shutter speed and forget about ISO. It's a boost to its shooting capability. It's also smart enough to select intermediate ISO settings if need be, such as 250, 640, 900 and so on.

    Retouch Menu

    The Nikon D40 has a nice little in-camera retouch menu. Using some of its options, you can perform basic retouching to your pictures. When used well, this can be used to process a couple of pictures which you know you'll never bother to process in detail anyway. Some filters aren't very effective though so it's almost useless having them there. The ones I use most are D-lighting - which lightens up shadow areas, and Colour Balance - which is great for correcting WB.


    The D40 is probably one of Nikon's most important cameras (as of writing). It opens up a whole new audience to the world of digital SLRs. It's so keenly priced that it easily competes with non-SLR cameras - a first for Nikon. If you're in the market for a high end compact camera, you might just be swayed at how much the diminutive D40 has to offer.

    It may be a budget model, but no obvious corners have been cut. It's a solid, well-made camera at a solid price point. Nikon know about great design (witness the D200), and it shows. It's extremely well-designed.

    I've been really impressed by this camera. Its fit, finish, and build quality are all a cut above the competition. Picture quality is superb, and tonality and colour are fantastic. Image processing is excellent, shooting RAW offers almost extra detail advantage. The output is cleaner than that of the D70 and D50, shows more detail, and has a complete lack of artifacts.

    The lack of an AF motor of its own is its biggest disadvantage. This effectively leaves owners of legacy Nikon glass isolated. You can still mount your lenses, but you'll have to like manually focusing with a smaller viewfinder (the film SLR viewfinders were huge). Over and above that disadvantage I was a little annoyed at things like a lack of Auto-Bracketing (a no-cost feature) and the fact that the ISO setting wasn't shown in the viewfinder. Plus, just 3 AF points with one cross-type can feel a little limiting.

    However, all things considered, it's a great camera. It turned in a very snappy and refined performance. You never feel like you're using a cheap, cut-down camera. Little things like a soft shutter sound, nicely designed menus, and a comfortable grip mean that its hard to not fall in love with this camera. It's a very easy camera to get along with.

    The Nikon D40 makes an ideal first digital SLR. Its great for beginners and people limited by funds. Since the retail kit also comes with a fairly good kit lens, I'd say it's extremely good value for money.

    OVERALL RATING: 9 / 10

    Highly Recommended

    Below are price comparisons between the USA, the UK, and Malta (at the time of writing). Note how the UK's prices are slightly higher than those of the USA, but Malta's prices are substantially higher than both! <></>
    USA: $ 450 - 550 (USD) Lm 133 - Lm 163
    UK: £ 250 - £ 350 (GBP) Lm 150 - Lm 215
    Malta: n/a Lm 220 - Lm 270
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    Nikon D40 Review (Part 5 of 6)

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    A detailed real-world review of the Nikon D40 along with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.

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    Image Quality

    Image quality on this camera is superb! According to Phil Askey's review on dpreview, he states that:

    "Image quality was probably the best of any current six megapixel digital SLR"

    In my own findings, the D40 just continued to impress with each passing day. The images are clean, sharp, artifact-free. Colour and tonality (often a forgotten aspect) is really nice, smooth and pleasing. I get really punchy images straight out of the camera, but still with plenty of room left for post-processing. Dynamic range is also great. Image quality at higher ISOs doesn't start to degrade until very late (see next section for more detail). Nikon have used the same 6 megapixel sensor as seen in the D70 and D50. The relatively low number of megapixels means lower noise and higher dynamic range. Overall, its image quality is faultless in most areas.

    High ISO performance

    The D40 has 5 ISO options. These are: 200, 400, 800, 1600, and a special Hi-1 mode (roughly equivalent to ISO 3200). Below is a series of test photos demonstrating the Nikon D40's ISO performance. I shot these in Aperture Priority, at f/8, with noise reduction set to OFF. All the shots were taken with the kit lens, fully zoomed in to 55mm. I used a custom white balance to remove the ambiguity of Auto WB.

    A kiwi has plenty of tiny details for us to judge how much the camera blurs at higher ISOs. This is to see how well it copes with the temptation to just smear everything away when the noise gets tough to deal with. All images are JPEGs, straight out of camera.

    ISO 200: As expected, no problems at ISO 200, with the camera capturing plenty of detail and zero noise.

    ISO 400: The same can be said for ISO 400. There's a tiny drop in quality but you won't notice.

    ISO 800: It's quite amazing to see that at ISO 800, things are holding up very well. Noise is starting to creep in but it's exceptionally well controlled. Things are still very sharp.

    ISO 1600: Things start to take a turn for the worse. It's a proportional increase in noise vs. detail. However considering this is ISO 1600, it's doing a remarkable job at holding up image quality to this degree. The noise is grainy and mostly luminance-based, which is very positive.

    ISO Hi-1 (~3200): When you go up this high, things start to take a turn for the worse. Noise is now a major part of the image. Detail has started to fade away.

    The colour has distorted to a slightly green tint. If I were using automatic white balance the camera is smart enough to automatically compensate for the colour shift. It doesn't show here, but at this setting, the dynamic range suffers noticeably - the shadows clip much earlier.

    This may look bad - and it is - but remember that this is worst-case scenario testing. This ISO setting can look great with a slight over exposure and some noise reduction.

    Overall: The camera does very well up to ISO 800. Images have very low noise and are very detailed. At ISO 1600 things take a slight drop, but it's still relatively well-controlled. ISO 3200 is a different story, and would need some noise reduction to turn in a decent print.

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    Nikon D40 Review (Part 4 of 6)

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    A detailed real-world review of the Nikon D40 along with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.

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    Speed & Responsiveness

    Speed is one of the D40's best assets. Thanks to a lack of delay in use, you never get the impression that you're waiting for the camera to do anything. You feel more "connected" to the camera.

    Start-up time is instant. Autofocus in good light is also instant. In low-light, the D40 focuses accurately, and only takes a second or so to lock focus. This is extremely impressive performance for an entry-level model. Moving from image to image in playback mode is also instant.

    The D40 can shoot at a max. of 2.5 frames per second, and on my SD card it can shoot roughly 120 shots at NORMAL compression before it pauses for breath. The camera has a great "smart" buffering system. It writes and reads in parallel, meaning it never gets in the way of your next shot. I tried to get the D40 to lock-up (buffer full), for as long a time as possible. Shooting continuous RAW+JPG (8.1MB), I got 4 shots at 2.5fps, which then slowed to ~0.5fps. It writes 4 RAW+JPEGS in 6 secs; which is about 5.4 MB/s. Impressive!

    All in all, it's also hard to fault the Nikon D40 in this area. It feels extremely responsive and very much like a mechanical film camera in the way everything just "happens" without any sort of delay.


    The D40's meter is the much-marketed 3D Colour Matrix II. It's very rarely fooled, even in difficult situations. It exposes very predictably, and very well. Looking at the histogram, the bulk of the tones is directly in the centre – where they should be. For my style of shooting, I usually add +0.3 to +0.7 exposure compensation, as I like to expose as far to the right as possible.

    White Balance performance was also very good. It has a slight warm tint by default for more pleasing output. Auto WB proved to be fairly reliable in all but the worst light. You can tweak the white balance 7 subtle steps ranging from +3 to -3. A negative setting makes photos warmer, while I positive setting makes them cooler. In artificial light I usually set it to Auto WB and +3.

    Kit Lens

    The Nikon D40 ships with a kit lens. This is called the: Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED DX II. As far as kit lenses go, this is one of the sharpest 18-55mm variants out there. I never found myself needing anything sharper. It's really impressive. The only thing I'd like is for it to go a little longer, maybe to 70-85 mm, and definitely brighter than f/5.6 at full zoom. It balances very nicely on the D40, and weighs next to nothing. AF speed is fast. It distorts at 18mm and has strong-ish purple fringing.

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    Nikon D40 Review (Part 3 of 6)

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    A detailed real-world review of the Nikon D40 along with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.

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    LCD screen

    The LCD screen is a 230,000 pixel, 2.5” unit. It is very large and sharp. Nikon have made really good use of it too. It's used to change settings, and also for playback. Being a digital-SLR, you can't use the screen to frame the scene, for that you'll have to use the viewfinder.

    The status screen presents all the relevant shooting information in one place. You can even change the format in which it's displayed. You can't ask more from this screen.


    The Viewfinder on the D40 is a Penta-Mirror. It's surprisingly bright and large. Magnification on the viewfinder is 0.8x, and frame coverage is 95%. It's exactly 3.3cm2 larger than that on the Canon 400D. Manually focusing with the kit lens isn't easy, you need some patience. The square focus brackets glow red to show you which one is selected. This is much classier than having red dots in my opinion. Overall it's pretty good. I just wish it showed the ISO setting in the viewfinder, and obviously if it were a little larger it would have helped.

    Menu & Interface

    The general lack of external controls means that to change settings I often have make use of the menu to change settings. Nikon's approach was to have emulate a monochrome status screen, placing all the most important shooting settings. It's easy to just see the settings at a glance, and works very well. Press the Info button near the shutter to turn on the info screen, and press the <i> button to start going through the settings. Changing a setting shows a preview effect on screen.

    Even though there is a lack of external buttons, there's a customisable Fn button which can be mapped to any useful setting. I mapped mine to ISO. I just hold it down and rotate the command dial to change the ISO. Quick and easy.

    "My Menu" is another great feature. Using "My Menu", you can hide some change-once settings (e.g. date and time). This makes it faster to browse through the menu, because you don't have to go through unnecessary options.

    The interface itself is really nicely designed, making good use of smooth, well-drawn fonts, and pleasing colours and gradients. It's definitely the nicest-looking menu I've ever seen in a camera.

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    Nikon D40 Review (Part 2 of 6)

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    A detailed real-world review of the Nikon D40 along with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.

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    Body & Design

    When you pick it up, the first thing you notice about the D40 is its size. It's one of the smallest digital SLRs available today. The camera itself is beautifully designed. It's probably one of the most appealing digital SLR cameras to look at. Even though looks don't count for much, I find it to be better looking and better proportioned than its competitors, including the Pentax K100D, and the Canon 400D. It has nice rounded sides, an uncluttered look, and a very nice “crinkle” style finish. The Canon has shiny, texture-less black plastic. The build quality also surprisingly good. It has a nice “dense” feel to it. The camera, thanks to its uncluttered, well-proportioned look, appeals strongly to beginners.

    For some though, it may feel a little too small. Especially if you have big hands. Also, the small size can also mean that changing some settings can be a little fiddly.

    Grip, Ergonomics, & Overall Comfort

    The grip is extremely comfortable, it's really easy to hold and shoot with. Miles better than the EOS 400D. It has a carefully sculpted rear thumb hook, and your thumb rests, perfectly positioned to operate the rear command dial, the AE-L/AF-L button, and the mode dial, as well as the 4-way navigation controller on the back. The shutter button is well placed, and I've always been a fan of the on/off switch around the shutter.. The only downside is that, because of its compact size, your pinkie finger tends to curl round the bottom of the camera, not stay put on the grip.

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    Nikon D40 Review (Part 1 of 6)

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    A detailed real-world review of the Nikon D40 along with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.

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    The Nikon D40 is a very popular camera, with every major review site out there covering it. With good reason. It's Nikon's smallest and cheapest digital SLR ever. This meant opening up a whole new customer segment to the world of digital SLRs, and more importantly, an affordable gateway into the Nikon system.

    This is not meant to be a comprehensive, scientifically accurate user review, I'll leave that to the experts. The real purpose of this is to report my first impressions, both as a first-time DSLR user, and also as a photographer. I'll be making several comparisons to the Canon EOS 400D (Digital Rebel Xti).

    AF issue with Older Lenses

    The D40 will not be able to autofocus with lenses that don't have an in-built focus motor. Reason being that, it doesn't have its own “screwdrive” focus motor. A lot of older and third party lenses rely on the motor in the body to focus. Hence, they will not be able to AF on the D40. The only ones that are able to autofocus are Nikon's AF-S/AF-I type lenses, and Sigma's HSM type lenses.

    If you plan to use the autofocus feature of older lenses, then the D40 is not the camera for you. The newer lenses should all work perfectly however.

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    Introduction to the blog

    Hello, and welcome to the Astute Photo digital photography blog.

    The blog is primarily intended to serve as a container for my thoughts on selected cameras. This will include brief anecdotal reviews, full-fledged testing, and even notes and recommendations on cameras (and other gear) that I haven't used. Based on paper specs, official reviews, samples, etc.

    It's not just about the cameras, photography as a whole is tackled in this journal. I will also be writing articles and essays from time to time. Other subjects might get brought up, but it's almost almost always related to photography. Over time I intend to be able to build up quite a number of articles, which will definitely help the beginner and hopefully make for some interesting reading too.

    Please bookmark it, and I hope you'll come back every now and then.

    A Little About Me

    My name is Simon Sant Cassia. I live in Malta (Europe) and have been into photography for about a year and a half. I like a lot of styles of photography and dabble in quite a few. If you're really interested, read my profile.

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