Nikon D40 Design
The Nikon D40 borrows elements from the D50 that preceded it as well as from the more recent D80, but offers a user interface that's somewhat simplified compared to both. It's also very small for a Nikon DSLR, matching the diminutive proportions of the Canon Rebel XTi and Pentax K-100D, both of which have been noted for their small sizes. The comparison shots below show the Nikon D40 with the D50 and Canon XTi.
Nikon D50 vs D40
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Nikon D40 vs Canon XTi
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The shots above do a good job of showing how much smaller the D40 is than the D50, and how close in size it is to the Canon XTi. Though the Nikon D40's shoulders drop more than the XTi, the overall dimensions are actually almost identical. Canon Rebel XTi: 126.5 x 94.2 x 65mm. Nikon D40: 126 x 94 x 64mm.
The Nikon D40 is quite light, with the body, lens, battery, and SD card weighing in at only 737 grams, a full 65 grams lighter than the D50, and 24 grams less than the XTi. Despite its light weight, it never felt tinny or insubstantial, conveying instead a sense of solidity and pleasant heft.
The hand grip is indeed small, but for whatever reason I found it more comfortable than some small cameras I've handled in the past. It did require me to fold my fingers vertically a little, down the length of the grip, and my pinkie finger (and in some positions my ring finger as well) curled beneath the body, but I didn't feel like I was mashing my fingers against the body just to get a secure grip. I personally prefer a bigger camera, but didn't find the D40 uncomfortable to hold. People who find larger SLRs bulky and ungainly are likely to be very pleased with the D40s diminutive proportions.
The front of the camera shows the usual assortment of controls, trimmed down slightly from the D80. The lens release is on the left side of the lens flange (on the right in the shot above, with the camera facing you), and the bright incandescent AF-assist lamp is nestled between the top of the grip and lens flange on the other side of the body. The small dark spot on the grip is the window for the optional infrared remote controller. You can't see them very clearly in this shot, but there are two buttons on the lens flange, just above the lens release. We'll see these more clearly in the next shot below, but the lower of the two is the programmable Fn button, moved here from its position on the front of the D80's body. (The D40 does have a Fn button, contrary to all the pre-release rumors.)
The left side off the camera holds the aforementioned Fn button, which by default controls the D40's self-timer function. Above it is the flash release button, which also doubles as the flash exposure compensation control. A small hatch toward the rear of the camera hides the video-out and USB jacks. The hatch covering the connector jacks is a rigid hinged plastic design, rather than the soft rubbery type used on the D80. A lug for the neckstrap is located on the top corner of the body.
The right side of the D40 is fairly plain, holding only a neckstrap lug and door for the SD memory card compartment.
The top of the camera has changed a lot from the D50 and D80. Taking advantage of the deleted LCD data readout panel, the function dial has been moved from the left to the right side of the camera. This cuts out a lot of space on the left side of the body, and the right side has been scrunched some as well. The shutter button and on/off rotary control are in their usual location, as is the +/- exposure compensation button. To the left of the +/- button is the new Shooting Info button, which triggers the display of shooting information on the rear-panel LCD. I really wonder why Nikon devoted a top-panel button to this function though, since the i button on the rear panel triggers the same display, as do the Fn and Flash buttons, as well as the +/- button in P, S, or A modes. Thinking about it though, I guess its handy to be able to trigger the info display without having to get your other hand involved. The flash shoe accepts generic flash units, as well as any current models of Nikon's (excellent) speedlights.
The back of the camera is where the biggest differences relative to the D50 can be seen. First up is the new shooting display, shown here in its default Graphic mode. We'll talk more about this in the Operation section of this review, but we found the D40's shooting display to be very easy to use and highly functional. It displays the status of a lot of different camera settings, and makes it very easy to change any of them, using the rear-panel buttons and Multi-Selector. The D40 has only four buttons on the left side of the LCD, compared to six on the D50, and the OK button has been moved to the center of the Multi Selector, a more convenient arrangement than having the Enter button on the lower left corner of the body as on the D50. The overall impression is that of a much more friendly-looking user interface that we think will be less intimidating to novice users. The display also has a Classic mode that looks more like other camera status readouts, with larger letters and numbers that will be easier for those with limited eyesight to read.
The LCD display itself deserves some comment. It's huge, bright, and very high resolution, the same 2.5-inch, 230,000 pixel screen used on the D80. Larger LCD screens have become much more common on digital cameras, and it's easy to see why. The screen on the D40 is great for viewing photos, and its size and resolution make the menu screens both attractive and easy to read as well.
As usual, there's not a lot to look at on the bottom of the camera, just a tripod socket (metal rather than plastic, kudos for that), and the battery compartment cover. We don't have a comparison image to show you, but the new EN-EL9 battery is a fair bit smaller than the EN-EL3e used in the D80 (3.5mm shorter, 6mm thinner, and a full ounce lighter). This contributes to the small size and light weight of the Nikon D40, which still manages very good battery life (a CIPA rating of 470 shots, the flash used on half of them), despite the smaller battery.
This shot probably belongs in the Flash section of this review, rather than Design, but it's just so dang cute, I couldn't resist including it here. This is the new SB-400 speedlight that is being announced with the D40. It's an optional piece, but carries the very reasonable list price of only $129.95. Besides offering about twice the power of the D40's built-in flash, the SB-400 also has a swivel head on it, so you can bounce it off the ceiling (when held horizontally) for a soft, diffuse lighting effect. Very nice, Nikon's going to sell a lot of these!