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Nikon announces entry-level D40 digital SLR  
Wednesday, November 15, 2006 | by Rob Galbraith

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Economy Size: The Nikon D40 and DX-Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II lens. Click to enlarge. (Photo courtesy Nikon) 

Nikon has officially unveiled the D40, a new entry-level digital SLR that melds together a 6.02 million image pixel CCD sensor, compact body and an overall design meant to be friendly to SLR neophytes.

While the basic specs for this new model have been floating around the Web for a couple of weeks, the camera's most enticing feature - its affordability - managed to stay under wraps: US$599.95 is the expected street price in the U.S. for the D40 in a kit with the DX-Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II lens.

Though the D40's feature set is a bit light for a working photographer, even for a second camera, its price and apparent ease of use may make it a good recommendation to a budget-conscious friend who's set to migrate from a digital point-and-shoot.

Nikon D40 Feature Summary

The Body The D40 is roughly 20% smaller than the current entry-level Nikon, the D50. At about 5.0" W x 3.7" D x 2.5" H (12.7 cm x 9.4 cm x 6.4 cm), it's nearly identical in size to Canon's EOS Digital Rebel XTi, though the D40 has a more-rounded handgrip. The D40 is Nikon's smallest digital SLR to date. As part of the shrinking process, Nikon did not include an internal focus motor or top LCD display. And like the D50, the D40 doesn't have a Sub Command Dial in the front of the D40's handgrip.

Viewfinder The viewfinder is a penta-Dach mirror type with built-in diopter adjustment (-1.7 to +0.5m-1). It features a magnification of 0.8x (50mm lens at infinity;-1.0 m-), 95% coverage, a Type B BriteView Clear Matte Screen Mark V and full-information viewfinder display. The overall experience of peering through the viewfinder should be similar to that of the D50 or D70s, though the D40's viewfinder image is slightly larger.

Autofocus The D40 utilizes a newly-developed 3-point autofocus system called the Multi-CAM 530; its centre AF point is cross-type. The AF algorithms driving the autofocus system are derived from the D80. The sensitivity range is EV-1 to EV+19 (ISO 100, 20C/68F). Servo modes include Single-Servo AF (AF-S), Continuous Servo AF (AF-C) and automatic AF-S/AF-C selection (AF-A) in which predictive focus tracking is activated as needed. Lenses can also be manually focused.

The D40 lacks an in-body focus motor; autofocus is possible only with AF-S and AF-I lenses. Other Nikkor autofocus lenses can be mounted on the camera and it will still take pictures, says Nikon USA Senior Technical Manager Steve Heiner, but a warning message will appear on the rear display and focus will be manual-only.

Metering A 420-segment RGB sensor is used for both ambient and Speedlight flash metering. The metering component is the same as that found in the D50 and D80. Nikon's 3D Color Matrix Metering II algorithms govern exposure analysis.

Flash The camera supports Nikon's full range of i-TTL Speedlights: SB-800, SB-600, R1C1 and the newly-announced SB-400. Its built-in flash will cover the field of view of an 18mm lens. It has a guide number of 59 (ISO 200, ft.) when the flash is set to full manual, or 55 when set to i-TTL. Flash exposure compensation is -3EV to +1 EV in increments of 1/3 EV.

The built-in flash will not operate as a Commander in a wireless Speedlight setup.

Sensor and Image Processing The D40 produces 6.02 million image pixel photos from a DX-size 23.7 mm x 15.6 mm CCD sensor. The sensor has been developed exclusively for the new model, say Nikon USA's Heiner, and is not the same as that found in the D50. The focal length cropping factor is approximately 1.5x, relative to 35mm film.

The image processing engine carries over from several recent Nikons, including the D2Xs, D200 and D80. The D40's Optimize Image section in the Shooting Menu offers fairly extensive control over the look of in-camera JPEGs; the menus options are nearly the same as those found in the D80 (only the ability to simulate optical colour filters when shooting on the black-and-white setting is missing). Also carried over from the D80 is the Retouch Menu, which is identical in the D40, says Heiner.

File format options and file dimensions File format options are JPEG (three resolution settings and three compression settings), compressed RAW .NEF and simultaneous RAW + JPEG (limited to full resolution and Basic quality).

Maximum file resolution, when the camera is set to RAW .NEF or Large JPEG, is 3008 x 2000 pixels (about 6.02MP). A full-resolution, 8-bits per colour photo from the D40 opens into Photoshop as a 17.2MB file; at 16-bits per colour, 34.4MB.

Shutter and mirror The D40 has a top shutter speed of 1/4000 and a top flash sync speed of 1/500. Nikon isn't releasing a shutter lag specification, though Heiner did offer that the shutter button is similar in responsiveness to the D50.

Startup time The camera is ready to shoot, when first turned on, in 0.18 seconds (180ms).

Frame rate and burst depth The camera will fire at 2.5 fps (this rate isn't adjustable) up to 100 JPEG (any resolution or compression setting), 5 RAW and 4 RAW+JPEG frames. The specifications suggest the D40 will work much like the D80 when holding the shutter button down: as long as a fast Secure Digital card is loaded and the file format is JPEG, the camera will simply shoot and shoot and shoot, up to the limits of the card's capacity, or 100 frames, whichever is lower.

ISO range The ISO range is 200-3200 in 1 step increments; ISO 3200 is dubbed Hi 1.0.

Power A removable, rechargeable 7.4V, 1000mAH Lithium-Ion EN-EL9 battery pack powers the D40. Battery life is rated at 470 frames with 50% use of the built-in flash. This number is derived from testing in accordance with the CIPA test method. The number of frames is over 4x higher when no flash is used, says Heiner.

The EN-EL9 is slimmer than the various EN-EL3 variants, and requires a new (included) charger, the Quick Charger MH-23. The optional AC Adapter EH-5 can also power the D40, but it requires use of (the also optional) AC Adapter Connector EP-5 to link everything up.

Camera configuration The rear LCD is command central for the D40. Nikon's new model is part of a growing trend in smaller-bodied digital SLRs to dispense with the top LCD and instead make the rear LCD a one-stop shop for all camera settings. The D40 employs its 2.5 inch, 230,000 pixel TFT display to provide direct access to the adjustment of exposure, focus and metering modes, focus point selection and more.

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Showtime: The D40 offers two distinctly different user interface layouts on the rear LCD. Plus, a photo can be selected as a background. (Menu screenshots courtesy Nikon)

There are two distinctly different user interface layouts to choose from, one of which is designed for the first-time digital SLR user with minimal understanding of photography basics. This layout and the controls it offers are all about handholding the photographer through basic photographic decisions: dialing in a smaller aperture, for example, prompts a graphic representation of a lens diaphragm to close down, while help descriptions for various shooting options include a small thumbnail picture that demonstrates the purpose or effect of that option.

Nikon has clearly put a lot of effort into steering new SLR shooters towards a better understanding and use of the D40's capabilities. This, along with the price, are likely to be what defines the camera in the marketplace.

The left side of the body incorporates a programmable FUNC button. It provides direct access to the chosen camera setting on the rear LCD. Program options include ISO, image quality, white balance, shooting mode and the self-timer.

The D40 also includes the My Menu feature of the D80, which enables the configuration menu screens to be tailored to only show a user-selected group of options. This is by far our favourite way to customize the display of a camera's menus.

Card slot The D40 includes a single side-loading SD slot and is both FAT12/16/32 and SDHC compatible.

Connection ports The camera's connection ports are:

A USB cable (USB Cable UC-E4) is included with the camera, but a video cable is not. Video Cable EG-D100 is an optional extra, at least in D40 kits sold in the U.S. (though this is probably true elsewhere too). The D40 is not compatible with a Nikon wired remote release. Connecting an external GPS unit is not an option. The camera lacks a built-in microphone for recording sound annotations.There is no PC sync socket.

Photos of the D40

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Nikon D40 Gallery: Views of the Nikon D40, its battery, charger, internal components and the DX-Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II lens. Click any photo to enlarge. (Photos courtesy Nikon)

Availability

The Nikon D40 bundled with its companion DX-Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II lens is slated to go on sale December 1, 2006 in the U.S. at an estimated street price of US$599.95. The Nikon D50 will remain in the company's digital SLR lineup, while supplies last.

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