At a Glance
Last December, Nikon introduced the D40, an entry-level digital single-lens reflex camera with a very good 3X zoom lens and a nice price of $600. A mere four months later, the company announced the D40x, an enhanced version of the D40 that raises the original's resolution from 6.1 to 10.2 megapixels and offers improved ISO sensitivity and a slightly better burst mode. These additions drive the price of the D40x up to $800 (as of August 8, 2007), but they also help Nikon compete more directly with Canon's extremely successful (and more expensive) Digital Rebel XTi. The end result is a very good camera that takes great pictures, perfect for casual shooters who are newcomers to digital SLRs, but who want a little more resolution than a typical entry-level model would provide.
For all its power, the D40x is a marvel of size and design--compact and lightweight, but solidly constructed. The buttons on the camera body are well positioned and easy to reach. The bright and clear 2.5-inch LCD on the back is viewable in all but the brightest sunlight.
Our unit started up immediately, and we could take our first picture less than a second after powering it up. The camera offers fully automatic shooting and a group of modes for different conditions, such as landscapes, portraits, sports, night shots, and close-ups. Alternatively, the D40x can operate manually or in aperture- or shutter-priority mode. A lamp on the front of the camera helps with autofocus in low light, and the pop-up flash has a red-eye mode. The flash also works well in fill-flash situations, so you can brighten the foreground to compensate for backlighting, for example.
With this camera, you can continuously shoot 3 images per second, up slightly from the 2.5 images per second possible with the D40. If you're shooting in Raw format, you can capture a maximum of 6 images continuously. In JPEG format I managed to shoot 15 to 20 consecutive shots at the maximum rate.
The D40x has a well-chosen set of features for novices. To help you avoid getting lost in the details, the D40x provides an excellent built-in help system: If you aren't sure what a setting will do, simply push the '?' button and a small help screen pops up on the LCD.
The camera's image quality is superb, especially from ISO 100 to ISO 800; color noise increases when you shoot at ISO 1600 or 3200, but that's a normal trait of digital SLRs in this price range. Noise became most evident when we used zooming or printed images out at sizes larger than 11 inches by 17 inches.
Nikon allows you to do some image conversion in the camera. For example, you can use the D-Lighting feature to brighten backlit images; or you can perform a rudimentary crop on an image, or overlay dark and light versions of a photo to create one that uses the best tonal range from each photo.
The D40x's only downsides will seem minor to most inexperienced digital SLR users. I could live without exposure bracketing--which involves taking a sequence of photos at slightly different exposure settings--but I wish that Nikon had given the D40x a depth-of-field preview feature, since it's such an important concept to understand. Also, though dust wasn't a problem with the unit I tested, some sort of dust reduction system would have been a nice addition.