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Nikon D40x

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CAMERA TEST: NIKON D40x
By Dan Richards, Popular Photography
March 2007

Camera Test: Nikon D40x

Here's the latest engine swap in DSLRs: The entry-level 6MP Nikon D40 got a 10MP image sensor to become the D40x, putting it in the race with such cost-cutter ten-shooters as the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi and Sony Alpha 100.

The D40x ($799, estimated street with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX Nikkor; $729, body only) does not use the 10MP sensor of its upscale sibling, the D80, but, says Nikon, a "similar" APS-C-sized CCD. Figuring this was a lower-cost CCD, we worried it would show compromises in performance. Wrong. Image Quality data from the Pop Photo Lab proved about on par with the D80, the top camera in our 10MP DSLR shootout (February 2007). To wit: Excellent resolution through ISO 3200, stellar noise control (Extremely Low through ISO 400, Very Low through ISO 1600), Excellent color accuracy.

As for the specs of the new camera -- other than the 10MP imaging, addition of ISO 100, a boost in framing rate, and a drop in flash-sync speed -- it's the same camera as the D40. Not similar, not derived from, but exactly the same camera: controls, menus, chassis, autofocus, metering, the works. So it has the same strengths and weaknesses of the D40, which we tested in March 2007.

What's Hot
• Top Image Quality for the money
• Most compact 10MP DSLR yet
• Shooting lag? What shooting lag?

What's Not
• Needs AF-S lenses to autofocus
• Meandering menu sequences
• Limited AF system

Who's This For?
First-time DSLR buyers set on a 10MP model. Nikon system users who want a lightweight body that's not lightweight in performance.

For starters, the D40x is heavily menu-dependent; few settings can be accessed directly by an external control. The upside here is that the menus are very legible and provide help screens for virtually every item. The downside is adjustments that can get tedious. For example, to set a white balance preset, you branch through Menu > Shooting Menu > White Balance before you come to the selections.

Yes, you can program the function (Fn) button near the lensmount for one-press access to a setting -- but only one setting. And yes, pressing the magnification button lets you toggle quickly through common settings (picture size, white balance, ISO, drive mode, exposure compensation, etc.) and provides useful thumbnail photos showing the effect of various settings. But we still think that's a lot of toggle-tapping.

The D40x in this regard reflects the increasingly schizoid personality of all the so-called entry-level DSLRs: Designed to be non-threatening to the SLR newcomer, they have as few external control switches as possible. At the same time, cameras in this class have added more and more sophisticated functions, which end up hidden under layers of menus. The D40x has nearly the capability of the Nikon D80, but throws some tricky curves when you want to get beyond all-auto shooting.

The basic handling of the D40x is quite pleasant. The ergonomic front grip and back thumb rest, and the well-positioned shutter button and command dial, give it a feel something like a slightly miniaturized D80. The finder has relatively low magnification (although certainly better than the tunnel-visioned D50 and D70), but has enough eye relief so that eyeglass wearers can see the full frame plus finder readouts.

This is a tiny camera -- smaller even than Canon's EOS Digital Rebel XTi. In fact, the D40x qualifies as the smallest and lightest 10MP DSLR currently available, and serves as a potent counter to the complaint that high-megapixel DLSRs are Just Too Damn Big. (Large-handed users may even want more pinky room.) At just over a pound and a half with the kit lens, the D40x is no bother during a full day of shooting.

The D40x foregoes a top LCD control panel, placing the control readouts on the rear 2.5-inch LCD monitor. Most Pop Photo testers preferred this bright, clear display to the D80's sometimes unreadable top control panel. Nikon lets you choose the look of the control panel: Classic is a straightforward array with exposure readouts dominating the screen. Graphic shows an iris diaphragm, whose aperture opens or closes as you change exposure settings. Wallpaper is similar to Classic, but adds any picture as background. We preferred Graphic; it's the cleanest of the three.

With only one command dial, the D40x takes more deliberation to adjust exposures. To set exposure compensation, for example, you press and hold a small button behind the shutter button while simultaneously turning the rear command dial. The same goes for manual exposure -- to set aperture, press and hold the button while twirling the thumbwheel.


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