Point Duty

Nikon D40Look Mum, no AF motor drive shaft! The D40 is the first Nikon autofocus SLR, either film or digital, not to incorporate a focusing motor in the camera body. Thus autofocusing is only possible with AF-S series lenses, but the choice of these is growing steadily.

The D40 is fitted with Nikon’s Multi-CAM 530 autofocus module which has only three sensor points (compared to the D50’s five and the K100D’s 11). These are quite widely spread to give good lateral coverage, and the central point is a cross-type array, but it’s not really clear why Nikon didn’t just stick with the five-point arrangement (presumably either cost or module size). Nevertheless, the benefits of the lensbased focusing motor — incidentally, not an SWM drive, but still low-noise in its operation — are evident in the AF speed. The D40 literally snaps instantaneously into focus and the low light/sensitivity operation is very reliable too (even without resorting to the built-in illuminator). Each of the AF points can be manually selected with the option of Nikon’s ‘Dynamic Area’ mode which will override your selection if the subject subsequently moves. Auto AF point selection is determined via closest-subject priority. Switching between the single-shot and continuous AF modes can also be performed either manually or automatically, with the servo-ed operation overseen by predictive focus tracking.

Exposure control is based on the 420- segment version of Nikon’s ‘3D Colour Matrix II’ metering, but there’s also a choice of centreweighted average and spot measurement methods (the latter representing 2.5 percent of the total frame area). The three main auto exposure modes are backed by a number of overrides, comprising program shift, an AE lock and a generous compensation range of +/-5.0 EV. All adjustments are in 1/3-stop increments only. There’s a choice of eight ‘Digital Vari-Program’ modes which are Nikon’s development of the subject program with additional adjustments made to contrast, colour saturation and sharpness, as well as the programmed exposure settings. TTL fl ash metering is performed via the 420-segment sensor with i-TTL controllability providing balanced fi ll-in fl ash via preflash metering. However, the D40’s built-in fl ash can’t perform as a wireless controller for external fl ash units so support for the advanced Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS) functions only comes when a compatible accessory fl ash is fitted (or the SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander module). In the light of the D40’s likely patronage, however, this is another omission that’s unlikely to be problematic.

Behind The Shutters

The built-in flash has a metric guide number of 17 at ISO 200 (which is the sensor’s native sensitivity) and the ‘on-board’ modes are auto, red-eye reduction, fill-in, slow speed sync and switching between first and second curtain sync. Depending on the exposure mode, various combinations of these are available so, for example, in the program and aperture-priority auto modes, slow speed sync with rear-curtain-induced triggering is possible. Flash compensation, over a range of -3.0 to +1.0 EV in 1/3 stop increments, is available in the auto and manual exposures modes. A custom function allows the built-in flash’s output to be controlled manually, with settings down to 1/32 of full power. Additionally, the metric guide number increases to 18 because the preflash metering is no longer in operation so all the available power is on tap.

The maximum fl ash sync speed is 1/500 second, made possible by the D40’s combination of a mechanical shutter for the slower speeds and CCD switching (or ‘gating’) for the shorter durations. Obviously the latter require the mechanical shutter to be open as well. This is an arrangement used on a number of lower-priced D-SLRs because it saves on the cost of a highspeed mechanical focal plane shutter, but there is a downside. Because fast shutter speeds are often used in bright conditions, but the mechanical shutter is open for longer than would normally be the case, the sensor can essentially be ‘overloaded’ with light which creates a blooming or ‘smearing’ effect. In reality, this will only happen with very bright light sources (particularly the sun), but nevertheless it’s a problem to be aware of.

In The Hand

In The Hand It doesn’t take long with the Nikon D40 to appreciate what a nice little camera it really is. Despite being close to the most compact D-SLR on the market (Olympus’s E-400 holds the crown), it has a good-sized grip that’s very comfortable to hold even if you possess biggish paws. As noted earlier, the control layout is very straightforward and everything operates logically and efficiently… aided, of course, by the comprehensive info and help displays.

The viewfinder is also very comfortable to use by virtue of being a good size and very bright thanks to the Mark V version of Nikon’s Type B ‘Brite View’ focusing screen. Only the focusing points are superimposed over the image area (and light up when active) with everything else arrayed along the lower edge. Eyepiece strength adjustment is built in.

Not surprisingly, the D40 uses SD format memory cards (with HC support) and it’s powered by a new, more slimline lithium-ion battery pack. However, it’s still got 1000 mAh on tap, and lasted all through testing without the three-stage ‘fuel tank’ indicator shifting off full… and this included running the monitor with its auto-switch-off timer set a full minute, and frequently referrals to the menus. Incidentally, the D40 has three timers — for playback/menus, image review and the metering — which can be collectively or individually configured via a custom function. And, on the subject of timers, the self-timer can be set to one of four delay times; namely two, five, ten or 20 seconds.