Nikon D40x Review

There were furrowed brows at the launch of Nikon’s latest consumer level DSLR, not least among its UK employees. Concern centred on the new D40x’s flouting of the product-naming convention that sensibly suggests a new model should be identifiably different to its predecessor. The natural assumption here was that this was a rush-released upgrade to the D40.

Not so, Nikon apologetically explained, this was a new model in its own right that would sit between the entry-level and still-current D40 and the enthusiast-targeted and pricier D80. We have only one thing to thank for this potentially customer confusing move – Nikon’s desire to increase its share of the lucrative DSLR market (the fastest growing photography sector).

So what exactly is the new camera’s ‘x’ factor? Outwardly there are few clues, with, badge aside, diminutive dimensions and a control layout identical to its near-namesake. But inside is where the differences start, most importantly its internal chip (or CCD) now offers an extra four million pixels to raise the D40x’s resolution to a competitive 10-megapixels (importantly the same as that provided by Canon’s best-selling EOS-400D).

The D40 boasted ‘only’ 6MP, but still largely bettered the performance of its higher-priced 10MP rivals, so the suspicion here is that the extra pixels only serve to add numbers to the packaging. For, despite the fact that lens quality and internal processor have equally important roles to play, pixel count is still king when it comes to making a sale.

Where the D40 offered a camera that delivered the best possible results for the minimum effort, offering best quality RAW + JPEG capture alongside regular JPEG, the ‘x’ version maintains that user friendliness, upping continuous shooting speed for capturing action from 2.5 frames-per-second to three – an improvement so slight as to be literally blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. Battery life is also now good for up to 520 single shots or 2,000 continuous images.

You also get the choice of three styles of shooting information display via the high-resolution 2.5in LCD: classic, graphic or wallpaper; the former being the least fussy and so easiest to read in a hurry. This is automatically displayed on start-up and can be quickly recalled to check your settings with a press of the ‘info’ button behind the main shutter, itself handily encircled by the on/off switch.

There’s also a familiar mode-dial atop the camera with access to eight pre-optimised settings that allow you to merely point and shoot to begin with, and then switch to the grown-up likes of program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual modes as your confidence grows.

The same 18-55mm (3x zoom) kit lens is bundled with the ‘x’ as the plain old D40, which, in the absence of an optical image stabilisation or built-in anti-shake, threatens the odd blurry shot at maximum telephoto. It’s an adequate all-rounder that still manages to better most of its rivals’ alternatives in this price bracket, even if those with deeper pockets will want to upgrade or supplement it at some point in the near future. Luckily Nikon has just introduced a 55-200mm VR (Vibration Reduction) lens at £249 for those who do.

Like all DSLRs, no removable media is supplied with the camera, so budget for an additional high-capacity Secure Digital (SD) from the off.

Taking the D40x along to an advertising shoot for some behind-the-scenes, reportage-style portraits, the camera metered well on a mix of extreme light and shadow, producing pleasingly even exposures, natural if slightly cool colours and a competent level of sharpness given the DSLR’s amateur status. A focus assist-light aids when shooting in low-light, and there’s a built-in pop-up flash should you need one to fall back on, with a hot shoe above the optical viewfinder for a supplementary flash gun should more creative flash work (bouncing light off walls or ceilings) be required.

With light sensitivity ranging from ISO 100 all the way to ISO 3200, there’s obviously the issue of image noise – tiny, grain-like speckles that resemble a fuzzy TV picture – intruding into shadow. Though it’s visible at higher settings, Nikon has done a good job of keeping shots usable, and converting such low-light images to black and white, if desired, solves the problem.

In short, the D40x is quick to get you up and shooting, its controls and functions are easily navigated and its images better than those in its class. It therefore holds appeal for both beginners and enthusiasts, while affording enough room for the photography of each to grow.

OUR VERDICT

Despite Nikon’s “nobody could better the D40 so we decided to do it ourselves” flippancy, owners of the D40 shouldn’t feel pressure to update, the ‘x’ version’s additions have generally been made to bring the camera’s specs up to match competitors.

The D40x is a dream to handle and delivers the goods. It’ll be interesting to see where Nikon goes with its camera range next.

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