Best Buy: Nikon D40
This classy camera is as tiny as it is affordable, but it's no lightweight in handling, features, or performance. Except for its 6.1-megapixel image sensor, the Nikon D40 is physically identical to the newer, pricier 10.2-megapixel D40x. The D40x may have the edge in absolute resolution, but the D40's overall image quality is equivalent or better because it doesn't have to squeeze as many pixels into its sensor and thus can make the pixels larger. That reduces noise, which is very well controlled at higher ISOs. The D40's viewfinder is big enough and very bright. Its AF system is exceptionally fast, though the three large, widely spaced focus points are less well suited to moving subjects than the nine points in Canon's Digital Rebel XTi. Otherwise, the D40's 2.5fps shooting speed, unlimited JPEG bursts, and fast shutter response keep it highly competitive. It's the most comfortable small D-SLR we've used, but its size doesn't allow for a top-deck LCD. Instead, its LCD displays exposure settings, ISO, AF mode, metering pattern, and white balance -- 18 items in all. It's the best of its kind we've seen, as is the menu system.
In-camera postprocessing allows you to apply shadow enhancement, filter effects, cropping, red-eye correction, and image overlays to your photos. There's no automatic sensor cleaning, but dust retouching can be done with Capture NX using a reference image shot in-camera.