Nikon's latest offering to the digital SLR market is the D40, designed around the theme "Simply Nikon". Smaller and lighter than the previous entry-level model, the D50, the D40 costs just £450.
The company has tried to combine features that make the camera easy for first timers to use, but then are able to provide more advanced options as the amateur improves. We got our hands on one at an exclusive launch event held in London, so that we can offer you our first impressions.
Although the D40 is compact and relatively lightweight, it feels well-built compared to many other budget options. It has the same 6MP CCD as the D50, and boasts the same powerful Nikon Image processing engine as the D80 and the D200, which is an improvement over the D50.
One of the most intriguing features, at least for beginners, is the new "assist images", which gives you a sample picture for a given setting so that you can choose the right one. It's a simple idea, but effective. Similarly, one of the display options for viewing current shooting settings shows the aperture and shutter speed with a visual diagram, to demonstrate the size of the aperture with the speed indicated around the outside of the aperture ring. This should help beginners grasp the relationship between the two, and remember the aperture's effect on the light hitting the sensor.
A new Auto ISO feature sets the ISO from 200 to 1600 as you change the aperture or shutter speed for a given scene. This is hugely useful, as the ISO's relationship to available light can be one of the most difficult concepts for beginners to grasp.
Handling is generally very good, with a number of buttons that may be ignored by the beginner, but much appreciated by the more advanced user. One criticism that we have is that changing custom settings, like choosing one of the three display options for current shooting settings, is a bit convoluted and hard to find. It's not likely to be a choice that will have to be accessed very often, but it would have been nice to pick up the camera and understand how to get there straight away.
Because there is no small panel to display shooting information, as on many consumer DSLRs these days, the large, 2.50-inch LCD takes on this function. The default is to have the display off unless you press the "info" button behind the shutter button; however, this can be changed so that it stays on all the time, if you wish.
The D40 also has a little Function button on the front near the lens; it's customisable to let you get, in one push, to oft-used settings, like ISO or metering. This level of customisation is quite advanced for an entry-level camera.
The general impression of the camera is that it's a well-made device that has had a lot of thought go in to it. Things that have been changed make it easier for the newbie to get around what may initially seem a daunting device.
However, the D40 will have to get over the almost-stigma of having offering just 6MP of resolution. The unfortunate fact is that most consumers, entry-level users, will walk in to a camera shop hungry for megapixels, and may unfairly dismiss the D40 out of hand in favour of something along the lines of 8MP or 10MP. Those who know a little bit more about cameras and photography will release that the 6MP D40 may offer useful functions that the others don't - but they most likely won't be in the market for an entry-level camera.