In most respects, the D40 provides the features of a typical budget dSLR. Its 6-megapixel resolution is on the low side for a camera introduced this year, but my test photos stood up to 13x19 prints and could probably have been pushed a bit larger. However, there were times when I think a higher-resolution sensor might have been able to resolve details a bit better--details such as a cat's fur, for example. The camera supports sensitivity levels from ISO 200 to ISO 1,600, plus a HI 1 level which equals about ISO 3,200. The lens's slowish f/3.5-to-f/5.6 aperture narrows your exposure options, however. Other shooting options include three autofocus types (single point, dynamic area, and closest subject) and methods (continuous, single shot, and predictive), shutter speeds from 3 to 1/4,000 second as well as bulb, flash, and exposure compensation in 1/3-stop increments, and three metering modes (spot, center-weighted, and matrix). If you plan on shooting raw, make sure to budget $150 for Nikon's Capture NX software; the bundled Picture Project software is insufficient.
Shutter lag and autofocus speed pop up as the D40's biggest weaknesses. It wakes up fast--0.3 second and you're good to go. But its shutter lag in good light is an almost embarrassing (for a dSLR) 0.7 second, and it more than doubles in dim light to 1.6 seconds. I frequently missed shots because of it. The autofocus system works fine for small changes--the subject taking a step, or refocusing on something nearby--but when switching from a far subject to a near subject or vice versa, it takes a perceptibly long second or two to lock.
However, raw and JPEG shot-to-shot time is an excellent 0.6 second (lower than the shutter lag because the camera doesn't need to focus a second time), as is the flash time, which only adds 0.3 second. In continuous-shooting mode, the D40 outshines the rest of its class with 2.5fps; the Canon EOS Rebel XTi is a mite faster, but the D40 can keep it up for far more frames.
If you're just looking for a great, cheap dSLR, the faster, higher-resolution Canon EOS Rebel XT is probably a better bet; and if you're an experienced shooter, you might want to spend more for the Nikon D80. But if you've got a budding photographer in the family or want to step up to your first dSLR, the Nikon D40 is a great choice.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Raw shot-to-shot time||Time to first shot||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Typical continuous-shooting speed|