Nikon did bring the viewfinder up to date, one of the things we complained about on the D50, by upping the magnification from 0.75X to the more common 0.8X. Interestingly, it still lacks a grid overlay, a feature I'd think many beginners would appreciate--plus some of us veterans who still have problems getting that horizon line right. And Nikon actually dropped the number of focus selection points from 5 to 3. When I shoot, I use only the center point--after a brief flirtation with eye-controlled autofocus in film cameras, I returned to that old focus-and-recompose school--so it didn't bother me. However, if you use the various automatic focus-selection-point modes it could make a big difference in your shots.
The D40 also gets high marks for photo quality, with very low-noise images, minimal lens distortion, excellent metering and exposure, and pleasing colors.
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|