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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.


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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