Nikon’s new entry-level D-SLR is very much aimed at the novice but it’s still sufficiently well featured to work for the more experienced user.
Among the many changes that digital imaging has brought to photography is a greater popularisation of the interchangeable-lens single lens reflex camera. Consequently, many people who previously hadn’t ventured beyond the safety of a 35mm point-and-shoot camera are now jumping in the digital deep end with a digital SLR.
Not surprisingly, a good few of these D-SLR converts are struggling to come to grips with the significantly increased functionality of their new toys… a problem compounded by the fact that many aren’t even familiar with the basics of exposure control, focusing and the like.
Some of the D-SLR makers are trying to make things easier via graphic user interfaces (that’s displays to you and me) which provide more detailed information about what the various functions and features actually do. The best example of this so far is Pentax’s K100D and it’s against this camera that Nikon is pitching its entry-level D-SLR, the D40. Both are exceptionally compact in design, priced at under $1000 (packaged with a standard zoom) and have been designed with the requirements of D-SLR first-timers as a key consideration.
rst-timers as a key consideration. Nikon has trimmed down the D40 in a number of ways, including the adoption of a penta-mirror type viewfinder (as opposed to a prism), and the unifying of the displays so that everything is shown in the monitor screen on the camera’s back. Here you have the choice of three GUI designs which Nikon calls ‘Classic’, ‘Graphic’ and ‘Wallpaper’. Classic is a fairly standard layout, but which benefits from being multi-coloured with larger read-outs — courtesy of the 6.35 cm screen — so it’s much easier to read. The Graphic display shows all the same info, but with the addition of graphics which provide a visual representation of the selected aperture and shutter speed. These take the form of a ‘virtual’ diaphragm — which closes down as you select a smaller aperture — circled by a ring made up of segments representing the shutter speeds in one-stop increments. Exposure warnings are provided in plain English — i.e. ‘Subject is too dark’, etc. Even if the whole concept of apertures and shutter speeds controlling exposures is a complete mystery to you, it doesn’t take long watching these graphics and warnings to work out what’s going on. But there’s much more to the D40’s user interfaces than just this.
In all the display modes, the screen is essentially split into two areas — one devoted to the key exposure settings (i.e. apertures, shutter speeds and compensation) and the other to the key camera/ capture functions. These can be accessed in the conventional manner via menus, but they’re also available through the GUI by pressing a button marked ‘i’ that’s located alongside the monitor screen. This highlights the relevant part of the display, and the required function is selected by using the four-way rocker control located on the other side of the monitor.
Helpfully, each function is fully titled so you don’t have to struggle with abbreviations or cryptic symbols. However, when you access the function, not only do you get the sub-menu of
all the possible settings, but also images which illustrate either the application or the effect. So, for example, in exposure compensation, the accompanying image gets lighter or darker as you select the over- or underexposure settings. And, if you go to the white balance presets, the images show the typical situations in which each might be used (including somebody shown holding a white card for making a custom preset).
With the image size and quality settings, instead of an image you get a read-out which indicates the typical file size and the number of frames that can be stored on the installed memory card. It all works very well, the only complaint being that when the monitor switches off automatically, you’ll have to start all over again (so it’s a good idea to set this timer to a longer duration than just a couple of seconds). Pressing the shutter release to its half-way position switches off the monitor so it’s not a distraction when you put the D40 up to your eye. Beyond all this — and at any stage (even if you’re operating via the conventional menus) — you can use a help key to bring up a fairly detailed description of what the selected function does and how it is applied. In essence, then, the D40 has its instruction manual built-in… or at least an abridged form of it which is good news for those who have an aversion to opening and reading the printed book (you know who you are).