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Nikon D40 – Still The Best Value For The Money

Posted on | December 31, 2009 | No Comments

I’ve shot a lot of cameras. From 70′s era Minolta SR series, Kodak “Instamatics”, Brownies, cheap and expensive point and shoot digitals and both ends of the spectrum that Nikon offers. Until I can afford a D-300S or Nikon makes something that I actually want in a mid range price, I’m sticking with the D-40.

Rather than bore you with what I like about the D-40, here’s what I don’t like about it:

  • Only one programmable button. I usually shoot on manual mode, I like to be able to control ISO, white balance, exposure compensation and flash compensation without taking my face off of the back of the camera. With the D-40, you can control flash type, flash compensation and either white balance or ISO, not both.
  • The standard rubber gasket for the view finder is not adequate. Fortunately, it has a quick manual adjustment just to the right so you can see everything the camera is trying to tell you. A plus is, once you can actually SEE it, the view finder info is mostly informative.
  • No vertical shutter release. Even the D-1 had one of those. C”mon Nikon! You market the king of entry level DSLR cameras and can’t be bothered with a vertical shutter release? Yeah, the body is small, but not TOO small to put an extra button. Oh yeah, we’re supposed to take advantage of the IR trigger.. says the third party battery grip makers :)
  • The hot shoe mount is kind of very fragile. No PC cable connection (correct me if I’m wrong, they know how to make those, yes? Ah yes open the market for the SU-800 and TTL cords to amateurs!) I know a few people who broke theirs off without much force. It goes back on easy enough with a little epoxy, but still, it could be anchored better so the flash breaks and not the camera body.
  • The slide and flip door to the SD card bay is rather fragile. I have not broken mine, but I know people  that have.
  • No way to turn off that annoying and blinking low light indicator in the view finder. This is highly annoying when shooting at night with a triggered light source that the camera does not know about. With non DX AF lenses, this means your focus indicator is also going to blink making you wonder if you need an adjustment until you get used to the low light blinking frequency. There should be a setting to disable such distractive yapping.
  • In the LCD display, the setting for exposure compensation is to the left, flash compensation to the right. However, the indicator for both in the view finder is reversed, flash compensation being to the left. Very confusing at first.
  • I’m not saying its wrong, but I often argue with matrix metering while using the D-40, especially with selective area auto focus. The camera wants me to go two steps lower (or higher) than what is called for, often resulting in over/underexposed images. However, in the case of macro focus, spot metering is an option and works quite well, depending on the composition of the shot.
  • The AF assist light is easily covered up by you fingers, especially when flipping the camera for a vertical shot. This goes back to gripe #3. It also can’t be forced to light when using AF lenses the camera can’t focus (the D-40 does not have a built in AF motor). This means using a flashlight in most circumstances. There should be a setting to force this light to come on any time the shutter release is depressed half way, I can’t find such a setting if it exists. Additionally, it could be a bit dimmer and stay on less if it threw the same grid pattern that the speedlights do.
  • I wish I could re-program those useless preset “kid, woman with a hat, etc” shooting modes. They  occupy needless space in the firmware. Anyone shooting a moving target frequently will just switch to manual, program, aperture or shutter priority .. or “auto” if they get frustrated enough.
  • Auto white balance is easily fooled by HID lighting as well as “warm” fluorescent lighting. Its very easy to get this wrong. If you change lighting while using anything but a pre-set exposure mode,  take a test shot and adjust right away. Oh yeah, if lighting changes, adjust your camera (duh)! Just don’t believe it until you see a histogram that works.
  • Default ISO of 200 means fiddling extensively with exposure compensation in extremely bright lighting. Shoot at 200 with a wide open f/1.8 lens (for DoF of course, I NEVER forget to set my aperture, really!) while a cloud passes by the sun and half of your shot sucks. Hardly news, though. I’d rather shoot at a faster speed with diffused ambient lighting.
  • The ML-L3 remote control should be included as part of the kit. Even cheap DVD players have a remote. I bought a $15 AM/FM/CD player, it had a remote. The ML-L3 would not break the bank as a value add. Even a certificate to get one half off would be cool.
  • The included strap has no quick release feature. We’re talking less than $0.25 in plastic to add it.
  • No obvious notes about focal length differences. 18-55 MM is actually 27-80 if you are used to a full frame film camera. Fortunately, cranked down to 18mm, the 18-55 can give you what you’d expect out of a typical 24mm. Anything lower, you’re looking at a $700 lens if you want auto focus, less if you can handle it yourself.
  • The shutter release gets clogged after 40k+ releases, but a little surgery and some WD-40 on the gears fixes that.
  • At this point in time, new D-40 kits should come with the 18-55 VR lens, in fact it would help keep the price up.

Really, these are minor nits. I do a lot of work with lights and appreciate the fast flash sync, which more expensive models do not offer. The D-40 is light, easy to carry and easy to shoot. Barring the D-90, no other subsequent models offer any worthwhile features to justify the additional cost. If you want video, buy a cheaper point and shoot. The D-40′s menus are intuitive and simple to navigate. Throwing it in M (manual) mode makes it familiar to anyone who has ever used any kind of SLR. I’d recommend a Canon G10 as a better starter camera for someone new to photography. If you want to entice a film enthusiast into the digital realm, hand them a Nikon D-40.

BTW: 10+ area focus turns good photographers into lazy bums that can’t move their legs and feet with the exception of macro shooters. The D-40 offers 3, more than enough if your legs work. Too many choices means too much time thinking and not enough time shooting. Try, just try getting a 4 year old to stand still while you cycle through focal possibilities. After that, ask a football player to do the same. I don’t shoot football players, they tend to complain more than kids at the end result.

Disclaimer:

I do not take my D-40 to bed, as such, I am not a parrot that is only capable of saying “Ken Rockwell”. This is my own take on the camera after using it extensively, coming straight from Minolta / Pentax era film photography.

The D-40 is still the best value for the money. If you want to take pictures and videos, buy a cheaper (and easier) point and shoot. If you are moving from a film SLR to the digital world, get a D-40 while you still can. One exception being if you have a collection of Nikon AF lenses, you’ll appreciate the D-90 being able to actually auto focus them.

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