It's time to toss your compact and get serious with a feature-rich,
How does the D40 compare with Canon's high-end compact PowerShot G7 compact? In terms of resolution, the higher-megapixel Canon delivers more detail at low ISOs, but its high noise levels obscure that extra detail at ISO settings above 400. The G7's 6X optical zoom and image stabilization system are also a plus, but the faster AF speed and sensitivity of the D40, combined with its extraordinarily low noise at ISO 1600, make this the preferable camera for low-light shooting.
The D40 is able to maintain a continuous burst speed of up to 100 images at 2.5 frames per second (using a fast SanDisk Ultra II SD card or the equivalent) with the camera set to highest-quality JPEG. It can also record NEF RAW files or NEF RAW + Basic-quality JPEGs (albeit at shorter burst lengths).
Its battery life of up to 470 images is also an added bonus over the G7, which lacks RAW file support, the nearly instantaneous startup and shutter response, and the accurate optical viewfinder of the D40.
The D40's pop-up flash is stronger than the built-in flash of the PowerShot G7 and of nearly every other compact and EVF camera, but similar in power and function to those found on competitive DSLRs. Like the G7, the D40's high-speed flash sync of 1/500 sec enables fill flash in bright light or outdoor settings, and it supports several Nikon i-TTL external flash units, including the new SB-400. But there's no direct control over multiple flash units, a feature found on the higher-priced models from Nikon and other manufacturers.
The D40 doesn't reveal its entry-level status when it comes to its advanced image quality and exposure controls. But its innovative on-screen picture tutorials are designed to help any first-time DSLR user master most functions and settings without reading the manual.
It has a 420-segment 3D Color Matrix Metering II system (for type G and D lenses) similar to the one on the more expensive D80, plus Color Matrix Metering II (other CPU lenses) and a true 2.5-percent spotmeter. It also has eight easy-to-use Digital Vari-Program modes: Auto, Auto (Flash Off), Child, Close Up, Landscape, Night Portrait, Portrait, and Sports.
Nikon should be commended for the D40's innovative graphics and controls via the bright 2.5-inch, 230,000-pixel LCD. Nearly all functions -- including white balance, meter pattern, exposure compensation, flash modes, and AF settings -- can be adjusted through the LCD menus with the help of thumbnail photos that illustrate the effect.
In shooting mode, a quick press of an information button behind the shutter, or the magnification button next to the LCD, brings up the exposure settings screen on the LCD. And a second press of the magnification button lets you quickly scroll and adjust settings via the four-way toggle button. In playback mode, the LCD's high resolution allows for clear viewing of up to nine images at a time, plus up to 19X image magnification, as well as clear display of histogram and exposure information.
The D40's built-in image editing functions include cropping, redeye reduction, image resizing, and D-Lighting controls, plus several others. Again, the resolution and brightness of the LCD enable before-and-after previews of changes you make to captured images, which are saved as separate files.
The extensive use of the LCD monitor for exposure and image-quality adjustments leaves the D40 relatively uncluttered with external buttons and dials. But we wish Nikon had included an additional dial on the front under the shutter button for simultaneous control of the shutter and aperture when the camera is set to manual mode. Instead, you must press the exposure compensation button while rotating the rear dial to adjust aperture. In other modes, pressing this button lets you adjust exposure compensation through the viewfinder -- but, annoyingly, it also turns on the bright LCD in the process.
The Nikon D40 isn't for everyone, but it will certainly appeal to first-time DSLR buyers who want an excellent camera with controls and features that they can grow into and eventually master. It outperforms any compact camera in its price range, and while it has competition from other entry-level DSLRs (especially the Pentax K100D with Shake Reduction) it's a proud member of the Nikon family.