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Nikon D40x review

Barely four months after the introduction of the original D40 - which incidentally was on its way to becoming quite a popular camera - Nikon have released a follow up called the D40X. From the outside there is nothing to distinguish the Nikon D40X from its sister model except for the discreet labelling next to the lens mount. On the inside however, the biggest change is the upgrade from the original 6-megapixel Nikon DX format sensor to one with 10.2 million pixels, which delivers a maximum image size of 3872 x 2592 as compared to 3000 x 2000 on the original D40. Despite this, the size of the camera has remained exactly the same, still making it one of the smallest and lightest DSLRs on the market today, with all the comfortable handling characteristics discussed in our original test.

front of Nikon D40X rear of Nikon D40X

Other changes include the switch from a combined mechanical and CCD electronic shutter to an electronically controlled vertical-travel focal plane shutter with speeds of 30s to 1/4000s in steps of 1/3 EV. Continuous shooting rate has gone up from 2.5 fps to 3.0 fps. Owners of the new camera have remarked that the new mechanical shutter is noticeably louder than the one on the D40. Although we have to admit that its sound is different from the earlier model with a distinctly higher pitch, it is still discreet enough to blend in with the surroundings when taking pictures.

The new 10-megapixel sensor provides a lower base sensitivity and now includes the full ISO range from ISO 100 to 3200. Noise characteristics remain the same with low noise up to ISO 800 and excellent detail in highlight and shadow areas. The D40’s already excellent dynamic range has been improved to eight and a half stops on the D40X. This may not be directly noticeable in day to day picture situations but in certain high contrast situations it could prevent the sky from washing out, which would mean the difference between getting a white blob or a nice blue sky.

The original D40 had a flash sync speed of 1/500s. On the d40X however this has been lowered to a much slower 1/200s. Why Nikon have decided to do this remains a mystery to us, as a higher sync speed obviously has its advantages in providing well balanced fill-in flash under ambient lighting conditions. Also the lower sync speed reduces flash range outdoors, eliminating the advantage the D40 had of getting sharp flash shots of sports action.

Battery performance has been improved from 470 images per charge to 520 according to CIPA standards. There is still no built-in focusing drive motor however, so only AF-S and AF-I Nikon lenses with their own drive motor can be used with full program options. Some other features which the advanced photographer would have liked, have not been included in the new model. There is no Depth of Field preview or bracketing option as present on more expensive Nikon DSLRs. We have to take into consideration though that the D40X, although it delivers near professional image quality, is not really aimed at the discerning semi-pro but more at enthusiasts looking to upgrade from a fixed lens digital compact.

The D40X is meant to work seamlessly with Windows Vista when transferring images to a PC. For RAW image support in Vista, Microsoft have been working with major camera manufacturers including Nikon, to provide RAW image codecs for their respective formats so that you can view them in Windows Photo gallery just like conventional JPEG or TIFF images.

In the past there were some compatibility issues with Nikon’s NEF image formats in that handling them in Windows Photo gallery or Photo Info could render them unsuitable for processing in third party RAW converter software, including Adobe’s Photoshop. Nikon and Microsoft have actively investigated this problem and have now released an updated RAW codec (V1.02) for Nikon cameras.

The problem apparently was caused by the fact that Windows Vista adds a tag to all images including RAW files, whereas a program like Adobe uses .XMP-files - so-called sidecar files – to store metadata, and does not directly modify RAW files. Most photographers incidentally feel RAW files should remain original as they perform the same function as analogue negatives or slides and should not be modified in case you intend to go back to them later.

ISO 400

When we connected our Nikon D40X to a Vista computer the camera was instantly recognised and images were transferred to an automatically created directory without any problem at all. JPEG and NEF images were visible in Windows Photo Gallery and - with the exception of NEF files - were now ready to be worked upon. Just like in Picture Project (Nikon’s own image browser) JPEG photos can be adjusted, cropped, rotated or resized as necessary. Note that after "fixing" images in Windows Photo Gallery all changes are saved automatically when the programme is closed. Should you want to restore a picture to its original state you can use the "Revert to Original" option in Photo Gallery’s File menu, provided you have not already moved the originals to the recycle bin. The nice thing about Windows Photo Gallery is that it offers a few handy options to organise images efficiently. You can add captions and tags to any given photo, plus a star rating can be applied to the best pictures from a series, which makes finding them back so much easier. Tags, ratings and captions will stick to that photo in Photo Gallery and throughout Windows Vista, so that they will also be displayed when browsing photos in Windows Explorer.

normal colours soft colours vivid colours extra vivid colours
iso 100 iso 400 iso 800 iso 3200

When importing the downloaded and Vista-tagged NEF files in Adobe’s Photoshop later we did not experience any compatibility problems. NEF image files opened instantly and workflow could continue as usual. We believe however, that for the intended user group of Nikon’s D40X, the extra work required to process NEF files will not outweigh the benefits of JPEG images so that most owners are likely to stick to the latter and get perfect results just the same.

Why Nikon decided to release this upgrade so soon we can only guess, but rumour has it that the immensely popular Canon 400D might have played a role here. The new D40x - on paper at least - is meant to face the competition head on, with matching features to the Canon bar the anti-dust function. Whether it succeeds in surpassing the 400D however only time will tell, but current owners of the older camera do not have to trade in their D40 for the D40X just for a few megapixels more, as we found no significant change in image quality or performance. Both cameras are equally good and highly recommended in our view and their full compatibility with Windows Vista only adds to their appeal.


Additional information: Nikon D40x product details and other reviews
July 18, 2007

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