The pop-up flash has a good guide number of 17 at ISO 200 and is said to cover angles wide enough for the 18mm end of the kit lens. It does a good job, although the corners of the frame at the widest setting do loose out by about one stop with vignetting. Flash compensation, or 'level' as it is called in the menu, is easy to apply and covers the range from –3 to +1 stop in 1/3 stop increments.
The on/off switch is wrapped around the shutter-release button and the delay between turning the camera on and it being ready to take an image is so short at 0.18 seconds that Nikon claims you cannot get your finger from the switch to the shutter release before the camera is ready. One of the biggest reasons for buying a dSLR is the reduction in shutter lag -- the time between pressing the shutter and the camera taking an image. With the D40, there is no discernable lag.
The two auto and six scene modes choose the shutter speed and aperture values to get the correct exposure for you. If you are a little more adventurous, the PASM modes are available through the dial on the top, allowing you to choose the shutter speed and/or aperture for yourself. These settings are easily adjusted with the thumbwheel at the top-right side of the back of the camera.
Overall, the camera is feature-packed, with the emphasis on ease of use. The only drawback is that the body will only support lenses equipped with Silent Wave Motors (SWMs), which reduces the choice down to just 20 of Nikon's huge lens range.
Nikon is not well known for its control of electronic noise at high ISO speeds, but it has really done a good job with this camera. Although the ISO (sensitivity of the sensor) can only be adjusted in full-stop increments, it ranges from ISO 200 through to Hi1 (the equivalent of ISO 3200) and is usable right up to the 1600 mark -- even without the in-camera noise reduction facility switched on.
The in-camera algorithms make an excellent job of processing the files into JPEG format -- the most widely used format worldwide. Files can be further tweaked through the menu system prior to printing or saving to an external storage media.
Write times are good too. With a continuous burst at 2.5 frames per second (fps) in large fine JPEG, the camera is able to capture 100 frames without pausing for breath. Even in NEF, although this drops to 5 frames, we found it only slowed the camera down to around the 2fps mark once the buffer was full.
dSLR sensors are much larger physically than their compact brethren and the image quality from the 6.1-megapixel sensor will astonish you if all you've used before is a compact camera. Through the menu you can choose the size and quality of the pictures you take, with the choice of fine or basic, and large, medium or small. There is also the choice of NEF (Nikon's raw format) or NEF + JPEG. These last two options require a computer to process the NEF image and the basic software needed is supplied with the camera. More sophisticated options are available separately, both from Nikon with its Capture NX software, and from third-party suppliers.
The camera applies just enough sharpening by default and the colour balance, although this is a subjective area, will be pleasing to most. To our eyes, it renders colours quite brilliantly. White balance on the auto setting is quite accurate, but the camera provides the ability to override this with half a dozen manual presets should the conditions prove to be misleading to the camera.
We have already heard people moaning about the battery life with Nikon's move to the EN-EL9 battery, which is new and exclusive to this camera. With a capacity of 'only' 1000mAh, some 40 per cent less than the D50 battery, some are assuming it will not last as long. The new circuitry, however, is proving to be much less power-hungry than that before it. Nikon claims an estimated 470 shots with this new combination, but that is with the flash using a full charge for 50 per cent of the shots. In practice, you will get far more than this. In three days of playing with the camera, shooting test charts as well as general photographs with plenty of scrolling through the menu system, the battery meter did not move off the full mark.
Overall, we found the performance of the camera pleasing, although a minor niggle was some random chromatic aberration in high contrast areas of some images. This is a product of the lens, however, and shouldn't put you off the camera, as the distortion is repairable in post processing.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Elizabeth Griffin