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Nikon D40x DSLR - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 02/01/2008
Rating: Recommended
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Introduction: Announced on the 6th of March 2007, the Nikon D40x is Nikon's entry level 10 megapixel Digital SLR, it features a 2.5" screen, a 3x optical zoom Nikon kit lens, 3fps shooting, a heap of user friendly shooting modes, and a compact body. The Nikon D40x is available from around £396 with a 3x optical zoom kit lens, this makes it very good value for money, as one of the cheapest 10 megapixel Digital SLRs. The camera is enclosed in a sturdy body and is available in black. The body is small, almost as small as the Olympus E-410, and measures approx. 126 x 64 x 94mm (without protruding parts), and weighs approx. 495g. excluding battery and memory card.

Nikon have this to say about the camera:

"The D40X is a lightweight and portable camera that proves that it can be both incredibly simple and tremendous fun to shoot images with a Nikon digital SLR. You only need to turn on the camera’s AUTO mode, look through the clear, bright viewfinder and shoot. The D40X responds fast so you can capture moments as they unfold, and its 10.2 megapixel resolution and world-class Nikkor lens deliver consistently sharp, vibrant images. The Help menus are available at the press of a button and work like a built-in instruction manual, with advice and directions for every camera setting. With every feature, button and menu designed to work together for a smooth, seamless performance, the D40X will bring out the best in you and your images."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3)


Front / side view - Auto focus / Manual focus switch, Flash button, Fn button, Lens release, side: AV out, USB.


Front view - infra-red receiver, focus assist lamp, Nikon Nikkor kit lens.


Front view - lens off, lens release button.


Back: Play, Menu, Info, Zoom out / Help, Zoom in / Information, Optical viewfinder with diopter corrector, AEL / AFL, 4 way controller, OK, Delete, 2.5" screen, control dial.


Top: Flash, Flash hot-shoe, Mode dial, On/Off, Shutter release, Info button, Exposure compensation.


Pop-up flash.


Side memory compartment - SD memory card slot.


Bottom - lockable battery compartment, metal tripod mount, EN-EL9 7.4v 1000mAh Lithium Ion battery - this charges outside the camera with the provided charger.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison.

Specifications / Features:

  • 10.2 megapixel CCD Sensor
  • Kit Lens: Nikon DX AF-S Nikkor 18 - 55mm 1:3,5 - 5,6 GII ED
    ~ 3x Optical Zoom equivalent to approx. 27 to 82.5mm in 35mm format
  • Store images on SD / SDHC memory cards
  • 2.5" digital TFT colour LCD; 230K pixels
  • ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, Hi ISO (3200)
  • 12 Shooting modes
  • Red-eye reduction, D-Lighting
  • 3-area Autofocus
  • 3 fps continuous shooting

Box Contents: (D40x Kit)

  • Digital Camera Body
  • AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II Lens
  • Strap
  • Body cap
  • Eyepiece cap
  • Rubber eyecup
  • USB cable
  • Quick Charger (MH-23) with AC power cord
  • Rechargeable Li-Ion battery (EN-EL9)
  • Accessory shoe cover,
  • Lens cap
  • Picture Project CD-ROM
  • Quick start Guide
  • Printed Instruction Manual (126 pages)
  • 2 Year Warranty and Registration Card

Slightly better than average box contents - you don't get a memory card as is the norm for all Digital SLRs, however you do get a high quality Nikon neck strap, and a printed manual. A decent case and lens filter is recommended, a good starter case such as the Lowepro Apex 110 AW or 120 AW is recommended.

Battery usage: Battery life is rated at 520 shots according to CIPA standards using the optical viewfinder. I was able to take over 577 shots before the battery went flat.

Camera Operation and Options: The camera mode is selected using the top dial. This allows the choice of: Auto, P, S (shutter priority), A (aperture-priority), M (Manual), Night Portrait, Close up, Sport, Child, Landscape, Portrait, and Auto Flash Off.

Photo mode/menus:

Screen display / built in help Menus - setting ISO

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown above) The screen resolution with 230,000 pixels is very good, and can display a histogram after each shot. The screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. In the display is - shutter speed, aperture setting, ISO, focus area, sound, battery life, shots remaining, surrounded by camera settings. You can also press the zoom button, and use the 4-way controller and change the options on the screen such as: image size, quality, white balance, ISO, shooting mode, focus, AF area mode, metering, flash compensation, exposure compensation, flash mode. The info button will switch the screen on and off, and the zoom out / ? button will show a description of the mode or option selected.

Optical Viewfinder: has a diopter corrector. There is no electronic viewfinder. The optical viewfinder shows additional information below, such as aperture, shutter, focus, flash, exposure compensation, shots remaining etc.

Shooting menu - optimize image Custom Setting Menu

Shooting menu Menu: Optimise image (normal, softer, vivid, more vivid, portrait, black and white, custom - image sharpening, tone compensation contrast, colour mode, saturation, hue adjustment), Image quality, Image size, White balance, ISO sensitivity, Noise reduction (on, off).

Custom Setting Menu: Reset, beep, focus mode, af-area mode, shooting mode, metering, No memory card, image review, flash compensation, AF-assist, ISO auto, FN button (can be customised to one of the following settings: self-timer, shooting mode, quality, ISO, WB), AE-L / AF-L, AE lock, Built in flash, Auto off timers (allows you to choose from short, normal, long, or custom), self-timer, remote on duration.

Setup menu Retouch menu - D-lighting

Setup Menu: CSM / Setup menu (simple, full, my menu), format memory card, info display format (classic, graphic, wallpaper), auto shooting info, world time, LCD brightness, video mode, language, image comment, USB, folders, file number sequence, mirror lock up, firmware version, dust off ref photo, auto image rotation.

Retouch Menu: D-lighting, red-eye correction, trim, monochrome, filter effects, small picture, image overlay.

Playback:

Playback View (one of the views) Playback menu

Playback (Review) mode options: Scrolling through the photos is fairly quick. The zoom is quick. There are numerous views available, zooming out will get you a 4, 9 thumb view. Pressing the up or down button you get a normal view, with basic information, two screens of more detailed information (EXIF information), highlight view, a full size histogram. Whichever view you choose, it will show this view as the review mode view when you next take a photo. When zooming in you can set an area to zoom into, and then scroll through the photos with that area magnified by using the control dial.

Playback menu: Delete, Playback folder, Rotate tall, Slide show, Print set (DPOF).

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures,

Mode:
Number Stored (1Gb SD) / Quality / Image Size (Mb)
 
Large 3872 x 2592
Medium 2896 x 1944
Small 1936 x 1296
RAW
81 (11mb)
-
-
FINE
132 (7.3mb)
231 (4.1mb)
499 (1.9mb)
NORM
258 (3.7mb)
442 (2.1mb)
911 (1.0mb)
BASIC
499 (1.9mb)
860 (1.1mb)
1500 (0.6mb)
RAW + B
72 (13mb)
-
-

As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended, unless you're prepared to sacrifice image size or use higher compression options to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes and compression options (although unfortunately no choice regarding aspect ratio), and inclusion of RAW image mode means you can ensure no image quality is lost before any further editing occurs. Unfortunately if you choose to take RAW and JPEG images then the JPEG is saved using the highest compression mode.

A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 1gb memory card, if you intend to take JPEG images, and preferably a 2gb memory card, or larger, especially if you intend to take RAW images. The larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. You can use SD or SDHC memory cards - I tend to use Sandisk Ultra II Plus USB SD memory cards as these let you plug the memory card straight into a USB socket making it easy to transfer images onto any computer, they are available as 1GB SD cards, or 2GB SD cards. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Nikon D40x:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 512mb: £2, 1gb (1000mb): £2, 2gb (2000mb): £8, 4gb (4000mb SDHC): £22 (with USB reader)
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera is very quick to switch on and take photos, from off, to taking a photo in 0.9 seconds. Focusing seemed fairly quick, except in very low light when the flash-assist is used - this can seem to take a long time to focus depending on the subject. The playback mode is also fairly quick. The camera shutter response seemed instant when pre-focused responding in 0.1 seconds or less - and shot to shot time was quick, with a delay of around 0.8 seconds between shots without flash. The flash recharge time was very good allowing a shot to be taken every 0.8 - 0.9 seconds, although it seemed to disabled the continuous shooting mode. The cameras menus seemed quick. Continuous shooting is very quick, at roughly 3fps for multiple shots at the highest resolution, dependant on card technology used, with some slow-down after 6 shots. Using SHQ JPEG, unlimited shots can be taken at 3fps assuming you are using a fast card.

Ease of use: The camera is easy to use, especially in the AUTO mode and the scene modes, even though the camera has a lot of options. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straightforward - the menus are responsive and fairly easy to read and navigate. The menus are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly. The modes are fairly easy to access, mainly thanks to the large screen, however you will need to delve into the menus to set the majority of options. It is useful to read the advanced manual to help familiarise yourself with some of the more technical features of the camera. As with nearly all Digital SLRs: to get the most out of the camera you may want to use RAW, this adds an additional step to the image taking process, meaning that you have to convert the images to JPEG before you can email them to friends or use them in other programs; You may also need to learn how to use custom white balance, and the preset white balance modes to get the best colour from the camera. There is very good built in help available for all menu options and modes which with help, however, I can't help feeling that Nikon could have made this camera easier to use by utilising the four-way controller to set common settings such as ISO, White Balance, etc.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The layout of buttons and controls could be better, or rather, there seems to be a limited number of buttons, and quick access to the most commonly used options and features is sometimes difficult as most options seem hidden in menus. There is one function button that can be customised, for example, so you can set ISO, however, if you also want quick access to White Balance, then you will need to use the back screen or menu system. It also seems a shame that the Info button can't be customised, as it seems to serve little purpose. The buttons feel okay, although some may find them small, and the four way controller is poorly labelled, it took me a long time to work out that pressing up or down will change the display in playback mode for example. The function button and flash button are also in fairly awkward positions. The shutter release is good. The scrolling wheel has multiple functions and in play mode is used to compare magnified sections of one image with the previous or next, making it simple to decide which shot is the one with least camera shake. I thought the camera felt very good ergonomically, and a large rubber hand grip, however there is no rubber grip at the back of the camera. The camera feels like a solid, robust and well built camera that is easy to hold despite the small size.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Nikon D40x Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Group photo
Heather and Flower (ISO200) Flash photo (ISO200)

Inside: The camera has very good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is no red-eye in the photo. It has a very good flash, and copes well with group photos, and on AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept quite low in these photos. The camera did a good job at focusing even in low-light. There is an focus assist lamp to help focus. Colour is richly saturated.

ISO Noise Test: Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels (ranging from ISO 100 - ISO3200), and manual ISO settings (ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, Hi-1 3200).

Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops, viewable at 100%, from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 10 megapixel Olympus EVOLT E-510 and 10 megapixel Canon EOS 400D.

Olympus E-510 (10mp, Custom WB) Nikon D40x (10mp, Auto WB) Canon EOS 400D (10mp, Auto WB)

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Olympus E-510 on the left, Nikon D40x in the middle, Canon EOS 400D on the right. Any tonal difference is due to white balance or lighting / metering differences. Nb. the Olympus E-510 images, the image is with the Noise Filter set to Standard.

Olympus E-510 (10mp, Custom WB) Nikon D40x (10mp, Auto WB) Canon EOS 400D (10mp, Auto WB)
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels (1.6s F5.6)
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels (0.8s F5.6)
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels (1/3 F5.6)
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels (1/5 F5.6)
ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels (1/10 F5.6)
   
ISO3200 - N/A ISO3200 - Actual Pixels ISO3200 - N/A

Noise results: Noise from the Nikon D40x is very low, lower than the Olympus E-510, and even slightly lower than the Canon EOS 400D, the Nikon also provides a full ISO range from ISO100 to ISO3200 - with the highest setting usable in some situations. Detail also remains quite good upto ISO800. At ISO1600 and ISO3200 detail is reduced, and there does seem to be some reduction in colour saturation, especially as ISO3200.

Image Stabilisation: The Nikon D40x does not feature built in image stabilisation - in order to combact blur / shake in images you will need to manually increase the ISO setting, rest the camera on a steady object, use a tripod or purchase a Nikon lens with build in image stabilisation / vibration reduction.

Outside:

Liverpool shops (ISO100) Rome, Italy (ISO200)

Outside: The camera has quite rich, saturated colours. There was very good detail, and the camera took a number of very pleasing images outside, with good contrast, but there was occasionally highlight clipping where white objects would be pure white. Purple fringing was low. In general 'normal' quality jpeg artefacts are not easily seen, however areas with strong contrasts benefit from use of the highest quality setting.

Zoom: This kit lens provides a 3x optical zoom starting at wide-angle (27mm equivalent) which is great for 'normal' everyday photography. I've included examples below to show what the zoom is capable of. There is no digital zoom on this DSLR or any other DSLR I'm aware of.

Wide-angle (~27mm) 3x Optical Telephoto Zoom Actual Pixels (100% view)

Exposure: The photos of the clock tower are exposed well with detail in the dark areas as well as the lighter areas - exposure in other photos was generally good. Purple fringing was not noticed in these photos. Vignetting was not noticed. It can be useful to under expose images with bright backgrounds (eg; sky) with use of exposure compensation, as the clouds in these photos are slightly over-exposed.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is very quiet, making almost no noise when switched on due to the lens already being in position. The manual zoom ring also means that zooming is silent and it gives you very good control of how you frame your subject. Like all SLR's the shutter noise is distinctive and provides some indication of the shutter speed. On the D40x it is noticeable, and if you're used to the silence of a compact point and shoot digital camera, then you may notice the shutter sound is considerably louder than your point and shoot camera.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing / Chromatic aberration was occasionally seen particularly in areas with high contrast (for example tree branches against a bright sky).

Macro Lens Performance:

Timex Watch Macro (55mm) Actual Pixels (ISO100) Rollover for sharpened version.

Using the lens set to telephoto zoom, you are able to get a better macro photo - colour and detail is good, and there appears to be very low noise at ISO100. The lens / autofocus allows you to get roughly ~10cm away from the subject to the front of the lens using the 18-55mm kit lens. Setting the white balance manually helps achieve better results, and even better results will be possible with a dedicated macro lens. I've turned one of the Timex Watch macro shots (taken at 38mm) into a wallpaper, one for widescreen monitors, and another for square monitors.

Video mode: This DSLR, along with every other current Digital SLR, does not feature a video mode.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is very good to excellent, the images have excellent colour, with high levels of saturation, contrast and detail, with very low noise. Noise from the Nikon D40x is very low, lower than the Olympus E-510, and even slightly lower than the Canon EOS 400D, the Nikon also provides a full ISO range from ISO100 to ISO3200 - with the highest setting usable in some situations. Images were slightly soft straight from the camera on default settings, especially compared to compact point and shoot cameras - but this can be altered in the image optimisation menu. For maximum detail and colour control RAW images should be taken, although JPEG images straight from the camera were still very impressive. Purple fringing was very low, as was red-eye. The camera did a good job focusing even in low light thanks to the focus assist lamp. I did not notice vignetting in photos, nor did I notice barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a very good range of image sizes, and a good choice of compression options (including RAW). Auto white balance and metering seemed to be good. The camera gives good control over image quality - selecting different picture modes allows you to change the colour mode (Vivid, Natural etc), saturation, contrast and sharpness. (9/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is stylish with a fairly compact black DSLR body with black rubber hand grips, and comes with a very good Nikon Digital ED lens. The camera has a very good 2.5" screen and the optical viewfinder can be used in bright sunlight. The camera feels very well built, and is comfortable to hold. The camera is fairly easy to use, but accessing the menu system and further options isn't always obvious, especially compared to the competition. The layout of buttons and controls could be better, quick access to the most commonly used options and features is sometimes difficult as most options seem hidden in menus.The camera speed is very good, with a very good switch on time, quick focusing time, excellent shutter response, excellent flash recharge time, fairly quick playback mode, quick menus, and excellent continuous shooting (without flash). The camera has a limited range of features, especially when compared to cameras like the Olympus E-510, and lacks even the more basic features you would expect on a compact point and shoot camera such as bracketing exposure mode, it also lacks any kind of dust reduction (now a feature on nearly all other DSLRs), it lacks image stabilisation (a feature on all but Canon and Nikon DSLRs), and lacks live view (a feature available on Olympus and Panasonic DSLRs). In fact, compared to the competition, this DSLR has the least features, and all other DSLRs offer more. (7.5/10)

Value for Money: The Nikon D40x with kit lens from around £397, is good value for money, priced in line with the Canon 400D. The camera also comes with a very good Nikon Digital lenses as standard. However other digital SLR cameras tend to offer more features, so have a look at the 10 megapixel Olympus EVOLT E-510, Canon EOS 400D, Olympus EVOLT E-410, Sony Alpha A100, and Pentax K10D. Available for slightly less are the 6 mp Pentax K100D (with image stabilisation), Nikon D40. (8/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Nikon D40x is a compact 10 megapixel Digital SLR that produces great image quality, with very low noise levels. Images are bright, detailed, and colourful with lots of saturation, and the camera produces pleasing JPEG images. This makes it a great starter Digital SLR, because you simply point and shoot and you should get great results. It has a powerful flash that copes well with group photos, and produces pleasing skin tones. It's also compact, good value for money, comfortable to hold, extremely quick in use, and comes with a great Nikon kit lens. However, it's when you start delving into the further options, such as custom white balance, or sharpness settings, that the limitations soon become apparent. The camera can be slightly awkward to use with most controls buried within the menu system, and although it has a great built in help system, that doesn't help when the buttons aren't labelled and you need more than one custom button. The camera is also limited in that it doesn't support all Nikon lenses, and lacks exposure compensation braketing, a feature all other DSLRs, and most compact cameras, have. Then when you compare this camera to the competition, you notice it doesn't feature dust reduction, in body image stabilisation, or live-view. Overall, this camera produces high quality images with very low noise, and is recommended if those are your main concerns, but those looking for a more advanced camera would probably be better off looking elsewhere.

Nikon D40x DSLR Rating: Recommended (8.1/10)
Available for £397 - or Get the best price below!

What I like:

  • Excellent image quality
  • Very good Nikon Digital kit lens
  • Very good 2.5" screen, viewable from most angles
  • Quick performance, quick switch on, continuous shooting etc
  • Comfortable, compact, solid black body
  • Little or no Red-eye in photos with flash
  • Very low noise levels - beats the competition
  • Orientation sensor
  • Very good battery life
  • Focus assist light
  • Built in help
  • 2 year warranty

What I don't like:

  • Unintuitive to use compared to competition
  • Poor labelling of controls (playback display is changed with up / down controls on 4 way controller for example)
  • No quick way to set the white balance - takes 5 button presses
  • No quick way to set ISO, without customising the Fn button
  • Lacks exposure bracketing or any other kind of bracketing shooting mode (all competitors offer this, even most point and shoot cameras!)
  • Limited features compared to competition ie lacks dust reduction (Olympus, Sony, Canon, Pentax), lacks image stabilisation (Sony, Pentax, Olympus), lacks live view (Olympus, Panasonic)
  • Lacks focus motor / limits use of lenses

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Nikon D40x Sample Photo Gallery.

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