The Nikon D40X came on the market in 2007 and has a lot in common with the Nikon D40, its precursor. They are basically the same except for the Nikon’s switch from a 6-megapixel imaging sensor to a 10.2-megapixel sensor, in response to complaints from customers. Anyhow, let’s get to the details. This is a good first camera that would be a great fit for anyone wanting quality photos who doesn’t have a lot of experience with DSLRs.

The Basics of the Nikon D40X

We’ve mentioned that D40X is similar to the D40, so there are many things that won’t be a surprise to you if you’ve already tried the earlier model. The processing engine remains the same as well as the 420-pixel sensor 3D Color Matrix Metering II system. An upgrade from the 40D that we like is the four different buying options (the D40 could only be bought as a kit). You can get just the camera body; the camera with the 18 mm to 55 mm lens; as a kit including the 18 mm to 55 mm lens as well as 55 mm to 200 mm f/4 to f/5.6 VR lens, or with an 18 mm to 135 mm f/3.5 to f/5.6 lens.

Camera Body

This is a relatively compact camera, resembling most DSLRs aimed at the novice photographer market. The grip is comfortable and has a small indentation on the inside, but you probably won’t fit all four fingers on the camera body. The 2.5 inch LCD display shows the menu items and image playback as well as the camera settings. It utilizes Nikon’s graphic interface, illustrating what the various controls do, but new users may have to keep referring to the manual since the graphics aren’t easily understood. Once you get the hang of it, you may appreciate simply having to press the “i” button on the back of the camera to get to the shooting information, but until you memorize all the options, you may get frustrated trying to remember things such as how to change settings for ISO, metering or image size. It’s a good interface, but it could use some refining.

Lenses

The downside of the Nikon D40X lenses is having to stick with AF-S lenses, as there is no autofocus coupling pin with the D40X. You’re limited to either AF-S or AF-I lenses. The included lenses have been reported to function smoothly and are extremely reliable. Yes, you have to focus on your own, but that’s not always a bad thing, particularly if you’re using this as your first DSLR. It gives you the focus experience you need but in an easy format due to the D40X’s 0.8 viewfinder. We wish it had included a grid for leveling the horizon, but this isn’t an absolute necessity, particularly if you’re good at eyeballing the scene and judging the horizon line.

The D40X has a three-point autofocus system that is adequate for beginners, but it’s not as refined as some systems on entry level cameras by Canon or Pentax. When we tried the camera’s autofocus, it seemed a bit slow. Sometimes, the autofocus didn’t lock onto the subject or even choose the right object, although not often enough to be a problem for most users.

The D40X improves on the earlier D40 by offering more sensitivity settings, ranging from ISO 100 to ISO 1600 with an H2 setting thrown in for good measure. This is better than the D40, the Pentax entry-level DSLR, and the entry levels by Olympus and Canon.

Shutter speeds start at 30 seconds and run up to 1/400 second, giving you lots of options when photographing action shots or working with existing light. For exposure compensation, you’re getting an impressive range from negative or positive 5EV. Exposure controls run in third-stop increments, a definite improvement over half-stop increments as found on cameras like the Fujifilm S3.

Software Not Included

Nikon does include their Picture Project RAW procession software with the D40X, but this isn’t really a bonus. It doesn’t do much beyond the basics. If you want the far superior Capture NX software, you’ll have to shell out around $150. If you’ll be shooting in RAW, just assume you’ll need to tack $150 onto the cost of the camera before doing a price comparison with other companies’ entry-level DSLRs, which include solid RAW converter software in the price of their cameras. The Capture NX software does a great job, however, and it features some stellar picture editing tools.

The Flash

The built-in flash is a pleasant surprise on the D40X, more powerful than one would usually see in an entry-level camera. According to the company, it will be effective to 39 feet at ISO 100. It also balances fill flashes with surrounding light to prevent a washed-out look.

Perks for Beginners

There are some very nice features on the D40X that are aimed at beginner photographers using a DSLR for the first time, including several scene modes: night scene, macro, sports, landscape and children.

The menu is also designed for new users. You can access it through the menu button or an interface around the monitor shooting screen. Each time you change settings, it displays a small sample shot of the kind of image that’s compatible with that setting. There are also several help files available by pressing a button. If you’re a novice who would like a printed manual to quickly refer to, you’re in luck. The Nikon D40X has a 126-page manual you can quickly flip through instead of having to pull up the PDF every time you have a question or need guidance.

Does It Do the Job?

The Nikon D40X does a great job and is speedy, taking less than 0.20 seconds to start and take the first JPEG. After that, it slows to a respectable 0.48 seconds between shots for flash-free images. Using the flash slows it to 0.85 seconds, which is still good for an entry level camera. For RAW images, expect 0.75 seconds between images. The shutter lag is negligible, particularly for high-contrast images. In dim lighting, shutter lag is a bit longer at 0.9 seconds. For continuous shooting, expect to get nearly three frames per second for any size image.

The quality of the images with the D40X is very good, with excellent color accuracy and saturation. Details are rich regardless of whether shots are taken in shadow or bright light. Using the 18 mm to 55 mm lens, the images come sharp and true. You’ll get sharp detail and wonderful contrast. The only issue we have is the minor fringing in bright highlights. White balance gives you warm images in typical incandescent light. Images are more neutral when using the tungsten preset or the manual setting. Aside from this minor issue, the images you’ll create will have exceptional quality for an entry-level camera.

The Take-Away

As an entry-level DSLR camera, the Nikon D40X holds its own and improves on the earlier D40. It’s a solid performer with good flash and above-average images for its price. Our take-away:

Pros:

  • Nice size that’s compact but has some heft
  • Customizable menu
  • 2 megapixel sensor
  • ISO sensitivity from 100 to 1600, plus H1
  • Extremely low noise at higher ISOs
  • 0 fps continuous shooting
  • SDHC card support
  • In-camera retouching

Cons:

  • The kit lenses are a bit slow
  • You have to pay $150 extra for decent RAW editing software
  • Sometimes focus is slow or inaccurate
  • No auto-clean for sensors
  • No fine JPEG compression
  • Autofocus only with lenses that have their own drive motor

Pricing

When the Nikon D40X was launched in March of 2007, the list price for the basic model was $799, pricing it almost $200 more than the D40, which had been released only a few months earlier. Some felt the price adjustment was worth it, others didn’t. If you wanted a camera that could walk a beginner through capturing some great images without breaking the bank, the cost was worth it at the time. Since then, other models have come out that deliver the same features and more for about the same price.

If you really want to try out this camera, look for it in local camera shops and on eBay. Lots of people start with this Nikon, then trade it in after a year or two when they’ve gained the confidence to move on to a more complex model. Today, you can find a decent used one online from $150 to $400 depending on its condition and if a kit is included. eBay has several reputable sellers that offer these cameras.

Our Opinion

If you’re looking for an entry-level DSLR, the Nikon D40X is a good choice for reliable, superior quality images on a budget. For beginners, it has lots of little extras that will make it easier to learn the ropes of DSLR photography, and it has an interface that helps guide the user to the right settings. If you want an entry-level DSLR camera at reasonable price, the Nikon D40X is a stellar example of what Nikon does best – beautifully crafted cameras that produce exceptional images.

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