|Nikon D40 and AF-S DX 18-55 mm. f/3.5-5.6GII ED Nikkor|
|Price paid: U.S. $ 477
Optional accessories bought: HB 33 Lens-hood ($ 15), Infrared Remote Control ML-L3 ($ 18).
Purchase Date: December 2007.
Similar Products Used: Praktica LTL, Nikon FE, FM, D1X, D200.
Store: B&H, New York.
Takes to date: 14.000.
Samples of my images with the D40 (You can check Exif by clicking the camera icon at the top of the image), or check my Flickr Photostream with lots of D40 images...
I bought the D40 with the 18-55 kit-lens as a back-up camera, to team with the D200 for a trip to the Atacama Desert in early 2008, considering that in such a dusty environment it would be a nightmare to change lenses.
I also considered the 10.2 Mp. D40X (Discontinued) but it cost $ 562 for the body alone, and I would still have been forced to buy an additional AF-S lens, because I did not own any light motorized lenses.
Sure, I could mount the AF-S 17-35 mm. f/2.8D, but it is so heavy that one loses all the advantages of a lightweight and compact camera, which – in my mind – is the mayor advantage of the D40.
I never have used the 17-35 on the D40, as a matter of fact, unlike the HSM 100-300 mm. f/4 Sigma (review) which has seen far more action on this camera than I would have ever expected...
What finally cut the deal were the good – and justified so – reviews for the AF-S 18-55 mm. kit-lens. I do not use it much anymore though, because in October last year I bought a Sigma 18-200 mm. f/3.5-6.3G which has hardly left the camera ever since (review).
The first thing that surprised me when I took the camera and lens out of their respective boxes in the D40-kit-box is how lightweight they are. Second: the F-mount of the lens is made of plastic, and Nikon does not spend even a dime on a decent bayoneted lens-cap; it comes with a simple, semi-transparent plastic throw-away cap, and that's it.
Luckily, I knew that it does not come with a hood either, so, the HB-33 or 45 are an unavoidable additional investment of $15 to 20...
Now, is that bad? I think not. If you want to produce an entry level camera in its purest and cheapest form, you must cut costs wherever possible.
In most cases, buyers of the D40 will either not change the lens ever again, or swap it out at some point for something "better", more powerful, or more ideally suited to their photographic practice.
Nikon's most controversial decision was – without a doubt – the omission of a built-in AF motor.
This camera does not have the "screw" to move lenses without a built-in AF motor, restricting users to a limited assortment of AF-S lenses or their third party equivalents, which are also, generally, more expensive.
Nikon gilded the pill a little with the – very respectable – AF-S 18-55 kit-lens, the ideal complement of which could be the AF-S 55-200 mm. f/4-5.6G ED IF DX with or without VR (82.5-300 mm. equivalent).
Those who want even more range might also want to check out the AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED.
The gap between 55 and 70 mm. is absolutely irrelevant, and although this lens is a little soft wide open at the 300 mm. end, stopping down ought to solve most of that.
If it were my money, however, I would go with the 55-200 without VR, for it being optically better than the 70-300 and weighing a third less than the VR version (250 vs. 335 gr.)
If you can get this lens in either version as part of a kit deal, price may come down from $ 250 to as little as $ 100-150, which makes it's purchase a total no-brainer.
Take a look here to see the reviews for these, and a lot of other Nikkor and 3rd party lenses.
For the photographer who is happy with the IQ and resolution of this package, I can hardly think of a better deal: cheap, lightweight, sufficiently fast AF, 2,5 fps with no limit in JPG, infrequent lens-changes, and generally an unobtrusive little camera, which – for me – is definitely a plus.
Unlike the kit-lens, the F-Mount on the camera is as it should be: solid steel.
Those of us who have used other Nikon DSLR's before, will be comfortable almost immediately: the main controls are where you expect them to be, with the notable absence of the secondary control dial, the top control panel and the AF mode selector.
All the shooting controls are located under the INFO button on top of the camera and the "i" button on the back of the body (green dot, under the bottom button, marked with a magnifying glass +) which gives access to the shooting menu on the rear 2.5", 230,000 px. LCD panel, and a dual-format display.
A second push on the INFO button opens the quick menu, which allows changing the most relevant shooting parameters:
• QUAL. Quality, 5 options: RAW, RAW+JPG-B(asic), JPG Fine, Normal, Basic + 3 size options: L (large-3.4 Mb.) M (medium-2.0 Mb.), S small-0.9 Mb.)
• WB. White Balance, 5 options: Auto, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Daylight, Flash.
• FN (Function). ISO, 5 options: 200, 400, 800, 1600, Hi1 (3200).
• Shooting mode, 5 options: Single, Continuous (2,5 fps.) Self-timer, Remote Control with 2 sec. delay, Instantaneous Remote Control (with ML-L3 remote control, optional).
• Focus Mode, 4 options: AF-A (auto or closest subject), AF-S (single servo), AF-C (Continuous Servo), Manual.
• AF Area, 3 options. Closest subject, Dynamic area, Single area.
• Metering: Matrix, Center Weighted, Spot.
• Flash Mode, 5 options: (availability depends on the selected program) Auto (forced), Red-eye Reduction, Red-eye Reduction + Slow Sync, Slow Sync, Rear Curtain.
• Exposure compensation: +/- 5 EV (Exposure Values or diaphragm stops).
• Flash Compensation: -3.0 - + 1.0 EV
|Screenshots of the shooting menu: © Nikon|
The good thing about this menu is that all options have dynamic illustrations that show the result of the adjustments and examples of the settings best suited for a specific scene. Very good for beginners, and no interference for the more advanced, I think.
Obviously, I look at the shooting menu first, because I use A (aperture priority), almost all the time. The options are also shown in the S (shutter priority), P (program) and M (manual) modes.
However, in Vari-Program modes, most of the options are grayed out, and can not be changed by the user, with the exception of quality, shooting mode and - in some cases - the AF area.
Without a doubt, the most annoying limitation of Vari-Program is that in some cases one cannot set fill-in flash (slow sync, rear curtain), which are important to achieve satisfying results in back-light situations and for daylight portraiture in general.
Even so, the shooting quick menu offers a very good mix of full automation for the P&S user, semi-auto modes for the enthusiast, and a fairly complete control for advanced users (P/P*, A, S, M), where nothing important or necessary is missing.
The Vari-Program modes are: Auto, Auto + Flash Off, Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, Close up, Night Portrait.
Some are superfluous to my taste (like Child), while others (such as long exposure, party, fireworks) are missing, but then again, I guess it’s a matter of taste and this is what you get.
The other thing I like for beginners is that the screen shows warnings such as “subject too dark” with a blinking “?” symbol, the latter is also visible in the viewfinder.
Pressing the penultimate button “?” (with a magnifying glass -) presents a pop-up with suggestions of how to solve the “problem”. Although pretty basic, they can be quite useful for novice users.
I will not go into the detail of the menus (button MENU), because that’s what the manual is for, and also because those who enter there, are fanatical enough to want more than a P&S in a SLR body.
It suffices to say that they are well organized and have virtually everything you would expect from a professional DSLR, even though it costs a twentieth of the D3X.
However, there are a couple of things I'd like to point out as useful:
• Shooting Menu (1). Image optimization. There are 5 options for image optimization (Normal, Vivid, etc), plus a custom option with 5 criteria: Sharpness, Tone Compensation, Color Mode, Saturation and Hue.
You can adjust your pictures to your liking, but take notice that this only works with JPG. For RAW you need Capture NX or better, because the program that comes bundled (Picture Project) is far too limited, and Photoshop Camera RAW does not inherit these camera settings.
As a matter of fact, I had to upgrade to Photoshop CS3, because both CS2 and Nikon Capture v.4.4.x will not open D40 RAW's. The only solution is to convert a D40-NEF to DNG (digital negative) format, which Photoshop CS and above will then open with Camera RAW.
• The Setup menu. Custom settings are available depending on the selected program mode. This is good if you come from a P&S, but it takes some getting used to if you have previously used other Nikon DSLR’s.
• Config. Custom Setting 11: Fn (function) assignable button. You can assign the Fn button to directly access one of the most frequently used functions according to your shooting habits, as if it were a dedicated button. Among the 5 available alternatives, I consider ISO and WB the most useful.
• Setup menu (2). Image Comment. Useful to incorporate in your personal Exif data (tag embedded in the image header) of 36 characters max. Here I’ve got my © and phone number.
• Retouch Menu. WOW! There are 7 options for retouching, some useful, others less so. But I emphasize D-Lighting (retouch menu 1) which opens up shadows and tones down highlights, akin to the use of fill-in flash for backlit scenes.
Also, the operation does not change the original, but is saved as a copy (unfortunately always as JPG).
The D40 in the field.
Combined with the appropriate lens, this camera is a P&S with all the characteristics of a DSLR.
It weighs, complete with the kit-lens kit and battery just over half a kilo (522 gr.), only slightly more than my Coolpix 8700. Unobtrusive, with its range of 27-82 mm. equivalent, an ideal set-up for general photography, portraits and social work.
Coupled with a 18-200 (AoV/FoV 27-300 mm. equivalent) there is simply no situation where one comes up short, except in very specific photography – such as wildlife – where something with more range is needed.
I have shot aircraft in flight at the FIDAE air show in Santiago and condors in Chilean Patagonia with the HSM 100-300 f/4 Sigma, with more than satisfying results.
If AF-C is fast enough to follow and – if necessary – re-acquire a F-16 in flight, it’s simply fast enough.
What is also remarkable, is how clean it is. In good lighting conditions, you can use ISO 800 without noticeable deterioration of image quality and this camera is definitely cleaner than the D200, which sometimes already falters at 400 ISO.
In poor light conditions, the high ISO quality deteriorates significantly, but that is common in most digicams.
I have a couple of 2 Gig SD memory cards especially for the D40, since all my other cameras use CF. Continuous shooting gives 2.5 fps without limit in JPG, and I have never encountered the limit of its ability to take RAW bursts.
Writing time to a fast memory card is undetectable, even in RAW, which is heavier than JPG.
On a 2 Gig card fit 275 RAW images and around 570 Large-Fine JPG’s. This is the grace of a camera of “only” 6 Mp., which is – by the way – more than enough for excellent quality prints of A4 and larger (which no-one prints at home).
To conclude: what I like most about this camera is that it is very instinctive, a very natural interface between subject and photographer and rarely interferes.
Once one understands its – minor – particularities, it’s a very efficient tool, even for the most demanding photographer.
I know that no self-respecting pro or semi-pro who would ever even consider buying the D40, but – in my humble opinion – they are wrong: this is quite a remarkable camera.
The AF-S DX 18-55 mm. f/3.5-5.6GII ED kit-lens: if only all lenses were “Cheap Plastic” like this
This lens came as a surprise to everyone, starting with those devoted to reviews. I have lenses that are far more expensive, however, I have not found any notable defects in comparison.
My copy does not suffer from vignetting, which I have not noticed in any of the (14.000 plus) images taken so far, and stopping it down 1 or 2 diaphragms produces very respectable sharpness. CA can be a problem at larger apertures, but is easily corrected in post.
Nikon indicates the CF (closest focus distance) is 28 cm., but this is measured from the focal plane. If you take away the length of the lens plus camera body, this means that you can focus as close as 12 cm. throughout the entire focal range, which makes this a pseudo macro lens.
The conclusion of photozone.de:
Naturally these (Ed.: quality observations) have all to be seen in the context of the extremely low price tag, so all-in-all, it is almost surprising what the lens is capable to deliver. If you use ~f/6.7-f/11 you'll be a happy camper in most situations.
Nonetheless, there's no such thing as a free lunch and price level of the Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED DX II shows up in the build quality which is clearly sub-standard.
This is probably a sufficient reason alone for some to think about the AF-S 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G DX (Ed.: $ 400 - Amazon) or AF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G DX (Ed.: $ 280 - B&H) as alternative investments.
I'm not quite sure I agree with the free lunch part, even if it were only for the fact that no one buys this lens separately and that if you did, it would only cost a few dollars.
I have also found the build quality far from “sub standard”, but I guess that depends on what “standard” means to you; it is definitely better and more resistant than I expected. The “plastic” also makes for a lens that is extremely light, which can be a great advantage.
Before investing your $ 400 as the Germans suggest, perhaps you might want to consider a more interesting and multipurpose focal range, such as the 18-200 mm. Nikkor (± $ 600) or Sigma (± $ 350), apart of the AF-S 55-200 mm. Nikkor, which is optically superior to the latter, costs only about $ 250 and often even less, as it is frequently offered as part of a D40 (D5000) kit, both with or without VR.
• Excellent image quality. For casual use, this is all you need.
• Very good build quality.
• Lightweight and compact, especially in combination with the AF-S 18-55 kit-lens, which is better than most in this class.
• Fast in use: almost imperceptible shutter delay, good AF, fast writing, respectable 2.5 fps continuous shooting, no limit in JPG.
• Reliable metering, maybe a bit conservative for some, but I consider that a plus.
• Bright viewfinder.
• Auto ISO (although I have it turned off).
• Clean up to ISO 800 in good lighting conditions.
• Support for SD and SDHC memory cards.
• The battery lasts forever in comparison with my other Nikon DSLR’s.
• Cheap IR Remote Control, which works very well. Too bad that the more expensive Nikon cameras do not work with this same simple and efficient RC solution.
• Excellent, well-ordered menus. Nothing important is missing.
• Retouch menu, dedicated help-button, programmable function (Fn) button.
• “Problem” warnings on the rear screen and in the viewfinder, dynamic, illustrated help menu.
• No internal focusing motor. Although this – on the one hand – helps to keep price down, on the other it restricts choice to a fairly limited range of AF-S lenses, which are usually more expensive, too.
This is particularly true for more ambitious photographers, or those who already have Nikon glass, because there are many interesting and/or high-level non-AF-S (HSM, etc.) lenses one misses out on, like – in my case – the AF 35-70 f/2.8D Nikkor and AF 12-24 f/4G Tokina, for example.
• Lack of a top control panel, also a matter of economics. New users will not even realize this, and the ones with more mileage will get used to it sooner that they expect.
• No dedicated ISO and WB buttons. That is annoying, especially for ISO, sometimes. You can assign the Fn button to partially solve this, but it’s small and poorly located on the side of the lens-mount and below the flash mode button (see image below).
• No lock on the multi-selector. Those who – like me – focus with the left eye, will likely occasionally change the focus zone with their nose, when it is least opportune, of course.
• With only 3 focus areas I feel short-handed. I would have liked to have at least 5, in a cross configuration – one extra center top and -bottom.
• No protector for the back-screen, not even optional. That is a significant design flaw, as it scratches fairly easily.
• Comes with a totally sub-standard RAW converter (PP). It’s a shame that Nikon, despite long standing complaints from its users, is still charging almost $ 200 for Nikon Capture, which – although it gets the job done – is a slow memory hog, has a cumbersome user interface and is no operational marvel by any standard.Verdict:
If this camera were $ 200 more expensive, some of its shortcomings would be unforgivable, most notably the absence of an AF motor – which limits the lens options considerably – combined with very, very basic focus area options.
Additionally, it has 2 design flaws that have nothing to do with price, but which I consider serious. The lack of a multi-selector lock and the absence of a screen protector. The almost inevitable scratching of the screen will obviously reduce the resale value of the camera.
On the positive side, the D40 has some features that would look good on many more expensive cameras, most notably the excellent, cheap IR remote control, the illustrated help and retouch menu, and unlimited continuous shooting in JPG.
In summary: Maybe the best Nikon ever built? After 14,000 takes so far, and considering its price, I think that yes, it’s a helluvalota camera for a helluvalittle money.
Image Quality: 4.5
Build Quality (camera): 4.5
Build Quality (lens): 4. (Plastic F-Mount)
Design: 4. Lack of screen protector, multi-selector lock.
Value for Money: 5
1 = poor, 5 = excellent.
DxO Sensor Score: 56,2
Professional D40 reviews:
Professional AF-S 18-55 mm review:
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Comment from: lilantha [Visitor]
Setup menu (2), I have entered a wrong comment on this menu, how to delete it. Trash can button is supported only for current cursor position.
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Put your cursor on the first character of the comment using the command dial, then keep pushing the trash button until the current comment is gone.
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