At a Glance
Nikon D40 Digital SLR Camera
The D40 is a great value: Its help system offers solid learning tools, yet the camera doesn't skimp on advanced features.
A few years ago, $1000 was a critical price barrier for digital SLRs. Now, as interest in SLRs has grown among casual photographers, vendors have been racing to produce a $500 model. Though no camera has reachede that goal yet, Nikon's new D40 comes close. For $600, you get a very capable digital SLR camera with impressive image quality.
The D40 kit includes the small, lightweight camera and a separate 18-55mm lens (not available in a body-only configuration). Even at this low price, the build quality on the D40 is excellent. The rubberized grip and pebbled finish make it feel like a professional-level device. Nikon has done an excellent job of crafting a petite camera that is easy to hold steadily and isn't too cramped.
The D40's 6-megapixel sensor is low compared to the 10-megapixel sensors on today's point-and-shoots, but it offers plenty of pixels for comfortably printing up to 8-by-10-inch images. The D40's image quality is very good because the camera includes the same image-processing circuitry included in Nikon's more expensive D80 and D200. In our lab tests, the D40 scored only slightly below those cameras in image quality.
Like its small-bodied competition, the D40 achieves its diminutive size by eliminating the top-mounted status display in favor of using the camera's rear LCD for status readouts. The top of the camera has a mode dial for selecting shooting mode, as well as buttons for exposure compensation and information display. You set all other options via the camera's menu system.
The 2.5-inch LCD screen is bright and fairly easy-to-read even in direct sunlight. It provides a detailed readout of current camera settings and is easy to toggle on and off by pressing the Info button, which is located just behind the shutter button. The info display includes a feature that is so handy and so useful for beginning photographers, that it's hard to believe no one has thought of it before: As you change aperture, the display shows an animated iris that opens and closes, so you don't have to try to remember whether a bigger number means a smaller or larger aperture. This is a great feature for novice shooters. The camera also includes a built-in help system that explains what each feature does, and shows an example of how the feature will alter your picture.
The D40 comes with every feature that most users in this market will want, including adjustable ISOs, raw mode, scene modes, and all of the image-processing features built in to the D80. Nikon's excellent D-Lighting feature for brightening images--plus in-camera red-eye correction, monochrome conversion, and more--is readily accessible from the camera's menus. The only conspicuously missing feature is a depth-of-field preview option.
At $600, the D40 is a great value, and a great tool for photographers who want to grow. The included help system and aperture displays are fantastic learning tools, and the fact that the camera provides full priority and manual modes, as well as RAW, ensures that you won't have to compromise as your shooting prowess grows.