Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent image quality, great resolution and detail, who needs eight megapixels?
  • Surprisingly good build quality, tight shut lines
  • Very compact and lightweight (especially with kit lens) yet still comfortable to use
  • Kit lens is better quality than many others
  • Great in-use performance, very responsive, short black-out time, very fast media write
  • Good fast auto focus system (only 3 areas but that's not a big issue for this camera)
  • Auto-focus assist lamp rather than requiring flash to be raised
  • Reliable, sophisticated, if sometimes a little conservative matrix metering system
  • For a Pentamirror the viewfinder delivers a surprisingly bright image
  • Extremely useful, customizable automatic sensitivity (ISO)
  • Easy to use playback / delete combination
  • All playback functions available in record review
  • Very attractive and intuitive menu system
  • Unlimited continuous shooting in JPEG mode (with a reasonably fast card)
  • Good SD card throughput and USB 2.0 transfer speed
  • In-camera retouching features including D-Lighting and Red-eye reduction
  • Support for SD and SDHC cards
  • Good large LCD monitor with wide viewing angles
  • Dedicated help button provides both shooting and in-menu assistance
  • Programmable Fn hard button
  • Value for money

Conclusion - Cons

  • No lens motor in body means non-AF-S/AF-I lenses are manual focus only
  • Disappointingly RAW+JPEG setting only records Basic quality JPEG's
  • No status LCD panel on top of camera (we hate to see these go)
  • No exposure or white balance bracketing
  • No hard buttons (without customizing) for ISO or White Balance
  • No depth-of-field preview
  • Occasional visibility of moire artifacts (although seldom)
  • Fixed exposure steps (1/3 EV)
  • Disappointing automatic white balance performance in incandescent light
  • No RAW adjustment with supplied PictureProject, only simple conversion
  • Limited image parameter adjustment (especially for color saturation)

Overall conclusion

The D40 is perhaps one of Nikon's most important digital SLRs. It's certainly their smallest and lightest, their most affordable and ships with a fairly decent kit lens too. But noteworthy is the fact that it's their first digital SLR not to provide Auto Focus to their large range of lenses which do not have built-in AF motors. This was a move which in the grand scheme of things was not unexpected and although disappointing to some is unlikely to be of too much consequence for the average D40 buyer (those with more specific lens requirements are expected to go for the D80).

One thing which stood out for us when we reviewed the D80 was its responsive performance, the feeling of instant connection between the photographer and the camera. So imagine I was very happy to find that the emphasis on responsiveness has been carried through to the more affordable D40. Indeed apart from a very slightly slower viewfinder blackout and probably slower auto-focus (although not measured) the D40 doesn't really feel any slower in use and for some functions is actually faster thanks to smaller files.

Nikon have also obviously worked to ensure that no corners were cut in image processing, after all when you make a digital SLR you are also effectively designing the 'film' that will be permanently locked into it (we have seen very few firmware updates which actually improve image quality; this mostly because the 'heavy processing' has to be done in hardware, not software). Image quality was probably the best of any current six megapixel digital SLR and good enough to question any advantage touted by an eight megapixel.

So the D40 has some shortcomings, over and above it's lack of an internal AF motor there were a few annoyances; I didn't like the fact that when I shot RAW+JPEG I was only getting Basic quality JPEG's, I didn't like that there wasn't a dedicated ISO or WB button (already) on the camera (you can program the Fn button but I would have thought it more logical to use the four-way controller on the rear from day one) and as with most recent digital SLRs automatic white balance was something you should really only use in natural light. Other things which will be of less importance to D40 owners are the lack of bracketing, depth-of-field preview and fixed exposure steps.

In everyday use the D40 is just what it set out to be, a very capable, compact, lightweight and easy to use camera which makes a perfect first step for anyone wanting to get into digital SLR photography. It provides enough control and a large enough range of manual settings to enable you to experiment and learn but also helps you to take great pictures in the process. It's one of those cameras you can just pick up and start shooting without fuss, that you can hand to a friend who's never used an SLR and know they'll be able to do the same. All of this and a pretty decent kit lens for $600, I'd say it's a bit of a bargain.

Detail (D-SLR)
Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 8.0
Ergonomics & handling 8.5
Features 8.0
Image quality 8.5
Performance (speed) 9.0
Value 9.0

Highly Recommended

Highly Recommended

Want to make sure you don't miss out on any future articles?
Sign up for our free weekly newsletter!

Enter the 'Nikon D80/D70/D50/D40 SLR Talk' Discussion Forum