We review Nikon’s 10-megapixel entry-level camera and see whether it delivers in the competitive sub-450 market
“For those unlikely to buy extra lenses, the kit lens is just the ticket, although as you progress as a photographer you may want distance markings on the focus ring”
There are many things worth pointing out about the D40x, but most immediately striking is its size. At only 126mm wide and under 10cm tall, you probably own at least one item of clothing with pockets big enough to accommodate it. This, of course, has huge advantages: it weighs under 500kg without the battery, which makes it almost perfect for grabbing every time you head outside, whether you intend to take pictures or not.
The D40x sits near the very bottom of Nikon’s DSLR family. Those familiar with the D40 will notice a number of similarities. The body is almost exactly the same, as is the 2.5in LCD screen. The body-mounted controls are the same, too. Indeed, the only truly significant difference (except the price) is that the D40x has a 10.2-megapixel CCD at its heart, rather than the 6-megapixel unit in the D40.
The difference in image quality isn’t huge: the main difference in pixel count on the CCD is that the D40x can print images at larger sizes than the D40. So if you’re intending to print your images on A3 size paper or larger, the D40x is the one to go for.
Otherwise, the D40x produces superb images. We were impressed by the low noise on all of our test images. The D40x allows up to ISO 1600, with an H1 mode equivalent to ISO 3200. In practice, noise becomes evident at ISO 400, but only very close up. Shots at ISO 1600 aren’t unusable, and make the D40x a good choice for shooting indoors without the pop-up flash. Colours are reproduced accurately, but for those fond of over-saturated photography, five custom image modes are offered to allow you to choose your own levels of saturation and hue.
Good kit lens
The stock lens accompanying the D40x is a Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. It’s standard consumer-DSLR fare: almost entirely plastic, and comparatively slow. But it returned decent shots: chromatic aberrations are occasionally noticeable, but not enough so that you’ll have to watch what you’re taking pictures of. There’s very little barrel distortion at 18mm, and almost no vignetting. For those unlikely to buy extra lenses for their new purchase, it’s just the ticket, although as you progress as a photographer you may find yourself wanting distance markings on the focus ring.
However, those looking for a camera to serve as a gateway to more advanced photography, the D40x is wanting. Unlike Canon’s low-end DSLRs, the D40x’s lens mount is different to that of the Nikon D80 and higher models, lacking the built-in focus motor of higher-end cameras. In practice this isn’t too dire a loss: the D40x is still compatible with a respectable number of Nikkor lenses, from cheap-and-cheerful super-zooms to fast wide-angle models. But there are some lenses omitted from the list: the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 works, but you’ll have to focus manually, for instance.
There are other frustrations too. There’s no secondary LCD screen, which means shot information is relayed by the main LCD. In itself, this isn’t a bad thing: the 2.5in screen is extremely bright and sharp, and lends itself well to shot review. But its brightness and size make it something of a drain on the batteries, and longer life could be had if it didn’t need to be on to make changes to aperture and exposure settings. And, unlike the screen on the Sony A100 and A700, it isn’t on all the time, requiring you instead to prod the Info button behind the shutter release. The delay between pushing the button and the screen springing into life is perhaps less than half a second, but it isn’t instant, and you’ll end up missing shots if you need to quickly change exposure time between bursts.
There are frustrations elsewhere: to change the ISO setting you first need to press Menu, then select ISO Sensitivity, then choose your setting. The menu is comparatively sluggish, and if interesting things are happening before your eyes you’ll resent needing to use it. Changing white balance is equally laborious. It’s a shame, as even the lowly Canon EOS 400D has a directional pad that doubles as a set of four shortcut keys for exactly these kinds of settings.
There’s no disputing the D40x’s out-of-the-box quality. If you’re starting out in photography from scratch it’s nearly perfect. It takes great images, the menu system is intuitive and even features a useful Help button for when things get too technical. The stock lens is excellent and battery life is good despite the need to use the main LCD. But as you progress as a photographer, the D40x throws up more and more barriers. You can’t use some of Nikkor’s more interesting lenses, for instance, working in fully manual mode is painfully slow, relying as it does on a vaguely sluggish menu system, and Nikkon doesn’t make a battery grip for it either (third party battery grips are available, however.)
The D40x’s best features are its tiny size, which makes it perfect for carrying everywhere, and its low price. The D80 might be a far superior all-rounder (even for beginners), but with its price in advance of £600 it’s a fairly serious investment. The Canon EOS 400D is close in price, and offers similar resolution, performance and features. On the one hand all of Canon’s lenses are compatible with it, but on the other you’ll need to buy one sooner rather than later, such is the dismal quality of the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 stock lens.
The D40x might only take you so far as a photographer, but it’s well worth it for those looking for a decent training camera before graduating to something more expensive.
Nikon D40x Info
Typical price: £350 (body only), £400 (with AF-S DX 18-55mm lens)
Great for beginners
Sluggish menu system
Verdict: A great little camera, but those intent on improving their photography will soon discover its limitations.
Rating: 4 stars
More info: Nikon DSLR website
- The D40x’s 2.5-inch LCD screen is bright and clear, and a good selection of shortcut keys make changing settings easy
- As with many entry-level DSLRs, there’s no LCD on the top plate but a generous range of preset modes on the function dial gives novices quick access to photo settings