Body & Design

The D40 becomes the most compact Nikon digital SLR to date, it's trimmer in all directions and yet maintains a comfortable grip and sturdy 'quality feel' construction. The slightly rounded top and sides give the camera a more inviting appearance, perhaps more appropriate to the first time SLR market. As mentioned despite being very slightly smaller than the Canon EOS 400D (Digital Rebel XTi) the D40 does not compromise comfort or ergonomics with a sensibly sized hand grip and careful rear molding. The rear of the camera is dominated by the 2.5" LCD monitor which now doubles as a camera status display screen as well as the normal image review and menus.

Side by side

Below you can see the D40 sandwiched between its bigger brother the D80 and the Canon EOS 400D (Digital Rebel XTi). As you can see the D40 is noticeably smaller than the D80 (as we expected) and even slightly more compact than the EOS 400D (although thankfully not at the expense of ergonomics).

Camera Dimensions
(W x H x D)
Body weight
(inc. battery & card)
Olympus E-500 130 x 95 x 66 mm (5.1 x 3.7 x 2.6 in) 479 g (1.1 lb)
Nikon D40 126 x 94 x 64 mm (5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in) 524 g (1.2 lb)
Canon EOS 350D 127 x 94 x 64 mm (5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in) 540 g (1.2 lb)
Canon EOS 400D 127 x 94 x 65 mm (5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in) 556 g (1.2 lb)
Sony DSLR-A100 133 x 95 x 71 mm (5.2 x 3.7 x 2.8 in) 638 g (1.4 lb)
Pentax K100D 129 x 93 x 70 mm (5.0 x 3.7 x 2.8 in) 660 g (1.5 lb)
Nikon D80 132 x 103 x 77 mm (5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in) 668 g (1.5 lb)
Nikon D70 / D70s 140 x 111 x 78 mm (5.5 x 4.4 x 3.1 in) 679 g (1.5 lb)

The image below shows the Canon EOS 400D (Digital Rebel XTi) and Nikon D40 with their respective 18-55 mm kit lenses.

In your hand

Not to repeat myself too much but it really is possible to make a compact digital SLR with a comfortable grip, and here it is. Nikon may have a slight advantage over Canon because of their smaller lens mount but whatever the case it's clear that they weren't going to compromise comfort, the D40's grip is smaller than that found on the D50 but is considerably better than that found on the EOS 400D (Digital Rebel XTi). A plastic body is par for the course at this price point but there's a range of different plastics and that used by Nikon feels more robust and higher quality.

LCD Monitor

A 2.5" LCD monitor looked big on the D80, on the D40 it seems huge. It appears to be the same unit too, 2.5" with 230,000 pixels and wide viewing angle (both left / right and from above). The D40 does away with the separate 'control panel' LCD display, instead the LCD monitor performs this function during shooting. The new user interface seen on the D200 and D80 makes its way here too with nice anti-alias fonts, icons and good use of color.

Camera information display

Press the 'info' button on the top of the camera and you will by default see an information screen similar to the one on the left below. This provides an overview of camera settings as well as a graphic representation of shutter speed (the line surrounding the aperture) and aperture. Press the 'set' (magnify) button and you can navigate around this screen to change settings such as image quality, white balance, ISO, drive mode etc. You can alternatively choose the 'classic' info display format which does away with the graphical representation of shutter speed and aperture and instead looks more like a standard control panel.

Graphic display format Classic display format

The diagram below shows a breakdown of all the potential information displayed in the 'Graphic' display mode.

1 Focus area display 14 AF-area mode
2 Shutter speed 15 Focus mode
3 Electronic meter / compensation 16 Shooting mode
4 Aperture 17 ISO sensitivity
5 Mode 18 White balance mode
6 Shutter-speed display (graphic) 19 Image size
7 Aperture display (graphic) 20 Image quality
8 Flash compensation value 21 Battery indicator
9 Flash sync mode 22 Beep indicator
10 Exposure compensation value 23 Optimize image preset indicator
11 Help indicator 24 Auto ISO sensitivity indicator
12 Frames remaining / Preset WB rec / PC 25 Manual flash control / External flash comp.
13 Metering mode    

Diagram reproduced with permission from the Nikon D40 user manual.