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Nikon D40: The fourth digital SLR of the compact apocalypse

Nikon is the latest in a string of manufacturers to attack the entry-level dSLR market, and with the D40 it's making a particularly aggressive move

As the sapphire skies of summer deteriorated into the desolate greys of winter, digital SLRs came rampaging across the landscape. We've seen new entry-level models from Sony (Alpha DSLR-A100), Canon (EOS 400D) and Olympus (E-400), and now Nikon has galloped on to the battlefield with the D40.

All these cameras are preying on the weak, the frail and -- more specifically -- the compact cameras that have failed to deliver the flexibility, responsiveness and image quality of a digital SLR. By making entry-level SLRs smaller, lighter, cheaper and easier to use, manufacturers are rounding up photographers who are already comfortable with digital -- people who might previously have considered a superzoom camera -- and inducing them to upgrade.

Nikon is making a particularly aggressive move with the D40, which costs less than its predecessor, the D50, but is designed to appeal to a wider range of people. Headline specs include a 6.1-megapixel CCD, a 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD, three-point autofocus and an 18-55mm 3x optical zoom lens. Ease-of-use features range from scene modes and built-in help to a graphical interface that gives visual feedback on the camera settings. If you struggle to remember that f/2 is a large aperture and f/16 a small one, you'll like this option, which shows the aperture blades closing as the f-stop increases. The D40 measures 126mm by 64mm by 94mm and weighs about 475g, although that's without useful add-ons such as a lens, battery and memory card.

Compared to its closest competitor, Canon's EOS 400D (reviewed here), the D40 is almost exactly the same size, but slightly lighter. It takes SD memory cards rather than the larger CompactFlash cards used by the 400D, and is only available as a kit, whereas the 400D can be bought body-only if you already own a suitable lens. The D40's 6.1 megapixels and three focus points don't measure up to the 400D's 10.1 megapixels and nine focus points, but the recommended price of £450 undercuts the £530-ish that the 400D is currently selling for -- and the actual selling price for the D40 is likely to be less than the RRP.

Nikon says the D40 should be on sale in early December, although group marketing manager Jeremy Gilbert admitted at the launch that there won't be enough stock to meet the Christmas demand. We'll have a full review as soon as we get our hands on one. -ML