Buttoned Down

Nikon D40 Penta MirrorAnother of the measures employed to make the D40 extremely compact is the use of a penta-mirror type reflex viewfinder (its housing seen here below the popped-up flash).

By steering D40 users towards the camera’s ‘soft keys’ and menus, Nikon has been able to reduce the number of buttons and dials in the camera’s control layout. This leaves the main mode dial, four-way rocker (which is called a ‘Multi-Selector’ in Nikonese), input wheel and the keys related to using the GUI to perform the vast majority of the camera’s operations. In terms of shooting, for example, the only addition controls that might require attention are those for the AF/AE lock and the exposure compensation facility plus an ‘Fn’ button which can be assigned as a short-cut key to one of five functions. Consequently, the D40 looks a lot less daunting externally than many D-SLRs… something that’s also helped by its small size.

It shaves a couple of millimetres off the K100D’s dimensions in terms of width and depth, but is fractionally taller (94.0 mm versions 92.5 mm). However, it’s 85 grams lighter, but this difference may well be accounted for by the Pentax’s built-in anti-shake mechanism (which, by default, will provide some degree of dust reduction, although this isn’t an ‘advertised’ feature for this model). As we noted with the D80, Nikon has yet adopt anti-dust measures in any of its D-SLRs. And while we’re on the ‘missing list’, the D40 goes without auto exposure bracketing (and, for that matter, white balance bracketing), depth-of-field preview or a remote terminal for a hard-wired trigger.

The latter two are understandable in terms of keeping the manufacturing costs down, but the absence of an AEB facility is a little mystifying. And perhaps even more so, given the D40 is so well featured in other areas. For example, the ‘Retouch Menu’ from the D80 is provided, giving access to a useful array of in-camera functions for resizing, correcting or manipulating captured images. These include red-eye correction, colour balance ‘filters’, B&W conversion plus toning, and an image overlay facility for combining two RAW fi les. The filter menu offers ‘presets’ for a skylight or an 81A plus provisions for creating your own via adjustments along red-to-blue and green-tomagenta axes (with RGB histograms provided as a guide to the effect). In each case, a copy is made of the original image fi le which remains as captured.

Picture Processing You can, however, still capture an image as B&W via the D40’s ‘Optimise Image’ picture modes which are also as extensive as they are on the D80. There’s a basic choice of six modes — ‘Normal’, ‘Softer’, ‘Vivid’, ‘More Vivid’, ‘Portrait’ and B&W (but without any contrast control filters) — plus a custom setting which allows for the manual adjustment of sharpness, contrast, colour saturation and hue. Here, too, you can selected from three colour space choices, namely two sRGB settings tailored for either portraits or landscapes, and Adobe RGB.

The white balance control options comprise the mandatory auto mode plus six presets with provisions for fine-tuning all seven settings over a range of plus/minus three steps (blue to- red). A custom white balance can be derived from an existing image or created from a new measurement off a white or neutral grey card. As noted earlier, there’s no bracketing function and nor is there a provision for manually setting a colour temperature value, but frankly the D40 has everything its users are ever likely to need. Nikon’s fine-tuning for both the AWB and the presets is a neat and tidy solution pre-capture and, of course, the digital colour balance ‘filters’ are available post-capture.

As far as the remainder of the image processing functions are concerned, the D40 has both long exposure and high ISO noise reduction. Even with the facility switched off, some noise reduction is still performed at the camera’s ‘Hi1’ setting which boosts the sensitivity to an equivalent of ISO 3200. When active, the NR commences duties at shutter speeds of one second or slower and at ISO setting of 800 or higher. It’s a dark frame subtraction system so theimage processing time per frame effectively doubles.

Focus Switch

Nikon D40Pressing the ‘info’ button activates the graphic user interface, and the display time can be regulated via a timer. Pressing the shutter release will also switch off the display.

Nikon has stuck with its tried-and-true six megapixels CCD for the D40, as previously used in the now-discontinued D50 and the still-current D70s. As we noted with the Pentax K100D, six megapixels of resolution allied with well-managed image data processing is more than capable of delivering excellent results up to A3+ size reproductions. The affordability of large format inkjet printers is certainly making big enlargements much more accessible (and affordable) than was the case with film, but as with the K100D, the D40 is up to the job. So, is 10 MP better? Yes, but only marginally so and not enough to make anybody on a $1000 budget stretch their finances by another 50 percent… you’d get a lot more benefit out of using this money for a second lens.

Of course, Nikon is sticking with the ‘APS-C’ sensor format (which it calls ‘DX’), giving a focal length magnification factor of 1.5x. The D40 is packaged with a new version of Nikon’s 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 standard zoom which is designated ‘GII’. This is an AF-S type lens which means it’s equipped with a built-in autofocusing motor… which is the only way you’ll get automatic focusing with the D40. Yes, Nikon has fi nally made the switch from a body-integrated autofocusing motor to lens based motors and, in the process, the F-mount takes another step towards becoming fully automatic. The only mechanical linkage that remains now is the aperture indexing pin. However, the D40 is the fi rst Nikon autofocus SLR without an AF driveshaft protruding through its lens mount. Canon, presumably, can take some comfort in the fact that Nikon is now tacitly acknowledging it was right all along in terms of the efficiency and speed of AF lenses equipped with dedicated focusing motors. Of course, the writing was on the wall when Nikon fi rst introduced its AF-S series lenses (equipped with an ultrasonic drive system), but it has finally gone ‘all the way’ with the D40. What this means is that autofocusing is only available on this camera with AF-S lenses, but this now includes just about all the DX small format types plus many of the pro-level lenses. Of course, you can still use other CPU-equipped lenses, but will be limited to manual focusing. In terms of non-Nikon lenses, only Sigma’s SWM models will provide autofocusing on the D40. With the elimination of the body-integrated AF motor, the auto/manual focusing mode switch goes as well and this is now performed on the lens. Incidentally, Nikon used lens-based AF motors in the Nikon F3AF which was effectively the world’s first workable autofocus 35mm AF SLR (appearing in 1983), but then switched to a body-integrated arrangement after Minolta pioneered it in the milestone 7000 (1985) and, a year later, arch-rival Canon opted for a lens-based system.