Nikon D40 Digital SLR Camera

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, February 2007
Published by: Nikon Canada, Nikon USA
Requires: An interest in digital photography
MSRP: US$599.95 (kit w/ 18-55mm lens), CAN$749.95 (kit w/18-55mm zoom lens)

While there's never any doubt that Nikon produces a wide range of great cameras, you have to wonder about an entry level digital SLR like the D40. Compare its price to the rest of the digital SLR camera competition and try to figure out how good quality can be packed into such a relatively inexpensive package. The fact is that Nikon, just like some of its competition, remains smart and forward looking. So the D40 ends up being a 6.1 megapixel model aimed at entry level digital SLR camera buyers who want the image quality, look, feel, options and functionality expected from an SLR camera, but without the enormous feature and function sets typically found in amateur and professional models, most of which scare the heck out of first time SLR buyers.

The Nikon D40 digital SLR camera is smaller than any of the other SLR cameras in the Nikon line. The top mounted LCD status display usually found on film and digital SLR cameras has been removed by the designers in order to accommodate the smaller size of the D40 body. All of the camera's configuration and status displays are available from the large, rear LCD, which offers what we judge to be a completely redesigned interface and menu system. Note that after a couple of days of regular use, we got used to it and made it work quite well for our needs. Nikon has done a creditable job with the new configuration and status displays and the new navigation wheel. We'll likely be seeing more of the same in other cameras from other makers if any more of these smaller form factor cameras are released. There's also a lot of detailed shooting data available in the bright, clear viewfinder.


Entry-level designs and form factors mean other changes too. The Nikon D40 uses Secure Digital (SD) media for storage, as opposed to the larger Compact Flash (CF) cards used in the rest of its digital SLR line. If you're moving up from a point & shoot Nikon or Canon, you'll be able to reuse your existing SD storage cards of course, and that's precisely the point. In another inviting acknowledgement of the needs of the most likely buyers, the mode selector dial on the top of the camera provides access to a full range of scene modes which are also normally found in better quality point & shoot cameras. This type of automation, coupled with a much more robust CCD sensor and the excellent quality and range of lenses available for Nikon digital SLRs, means that anyone with a relatively steady hand and at least a vague sense of light and composition can use the D40 to take wonderful photos. Don't be put off the 6.1 megapixel sensor either. Though higher resolution sensors abound, they're priced appropriately higher too. The most important point is that Nikon's 6.1 megapixel sensor is among the best available in any camera. In any event, point & shoot camera owners who are moving up to digital SLR will find the transition quite easy with the Nikon D40.

Smaller form factors should never sacrifice handling, grip and security. Cameras, after all, have to be held and pointed and be comfortable enough to carry and shoot all day if necessary. While typical point & shoot models don't usually offer much all-day shooting comfort, even a relatively compact digital SLR like the D40 should offer a solid grip and proper balance. Nikon excels ergonomic design among other things, and we were delighted at how well the D40 handled and carried throughout a couple of weeks of shooting. The synthetic surfaces over a solid frame provide excellent grip. The prominent right-side grip works extremely well for all but the biggest hands. Camera balance, whether using our favorite 17-55mm f2.8 Nikkor zoom or the much lighter 18-55mm kit zoom lens was always well controlled and predictable. The camera was a bit underweight when used with a large, heavy 70-200mm f2.8 VR zoom lens, but we predict that the combination will be rare. In fact, the D40 works beautifully with an enormous number of Nikon lenses. We had great success with a wide variety of lenses including: Nikkor 18-135mm zoom kit lens, Nikkor 17-55mm f2.8 zoom, Nikkor 18-200mm VR zoom, Nikkor 105mm VR macro, Nikkor 70-300mm VR zoom, Nikkor 50mm f1.4, Nikkor 60mm macro, Sigma 18-50mm f2.8 DC EX zoom, and the Sigma 200-500mm zoom.

The camera is bundled with the latest version of Nikon PictureProject, a decent piece of software designed to access, copy and manage photos directly from the camera. PictureProject isn't particularly flashy and doesn't offer a massive feature set by any means, but it continues to be competent and stable and should provide anyone who doesn't already have photo editing or photo viewing software with an easy to use solution. The bundled camera battery is also new for Nikon and it provides a lot of shooting. We were using the camera for two solid days, having taken hundreds of photos, before anyone thought to check the battery life. It just goes and goes, although steady use of the pop-up flash will reduce the total number of shots you'll get out of a full charge.

Cons: I miss the top mounted LCD usually found on digital SLRs — the D40 doesn't have one, instead using the enhanced rear screen to display camera status. This design change accommodates the smaller body size of the D40 and it all works very well, but I miss that status LCD. For this review Nikon sent us the D40 kit which includes the 18-55mm zoom lens. It's a surprisingly good piece of glass. However, the camera can also be purchased kitted with the 18-135mm zoom lens, not one of our favorites. The 18-55mm lens has a smoother zoom, good sharpness, very little vignetting and even less chromatic aberration. On the other hand, the 18-135mm lens is just as sharp, but cropped images printed at anything larger than 8"x10" may display some vignetting (darker corners) and some chromatic aberration (color fringing) in some scenes — some people notice and some people don't. When you purchase a D40 kit, choose the 18-55mm zoom or better yet, pay more for the terrific Nikkor 18-200mm VR zoom.

Pros: The Nikon D40 digital SLR camera is an ideal choice for budding photographers, talented amateurs who prefer a lot of automation, casual photographers who want to get the absolute utmost out of a 6.1 megapixel sensor and even a few professionals who need a light, inexpensive back up body which works with most Nikon lenses. Image quality is very good, with few rivals on the market. Great price for a lot of camera. The 18-55mm kit lens works well, but put the D40 together with the Nikkor 18-200mm VR zoom, clearly our favorite Nikon lens of all time (so far), and you've got a delightful match. Lightweight and strong and not a mark on either the camera or the kit lens after two weeks of enthusiastic review use. All of the people who handled the camera liked it, but our female research associates absolutely loved it. The smaller form factor combined with a really intuitive user interface and easy physical handling is obviously a great match for smaller hands. New SLR users won't experience much of a learning curve. Charge the battery, pop in an SD card and start shooting. You'll love this one. Highly recommended.

KSN Product Rating:



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