Nikon D40 Modes and Menus

The mode dial on the right side of the D40's top panel provides access to its various exposure modes, the same arrangement of Auto, three semi-auto, and one Manual as found on all Nikon DSLRs, but with a total of seven Scene modes (which Nikon calls "Vari-Programs"), adding one to those found on the D50 and D80, and substituting a few others. Here's a list of what's available:

  • Program: Puts the camera in charge of aperture and shutter speed, though all remaining camera settings are available. (And you can vary the combination of aperture and shutter speed the camera has selected, by rotating the Command Dial.)
  • Shutter Priority: The user controls shutter speed, from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds, while the camera sets the aperture value.
  • Aperture Priority: The opposite of Shutter Priority mode, this mode lets the user control the aperture, while the camera sets the shutter speed.
  • Manual: Gives the user complete control over the exposure (both shutter and aperture settings), and provides access to the camera's Bulb shutter setting for exposures longer than 30 seconds.
  • Auto: The camera sets everything. Used for snapshots or users who just don't want to be bothered with the details of how the camera will do its work. The AF-assist light will come on if needed, and the camera selects the AF point covering the closest subject.
  • Auto (Flash Off): This is a new mode with the D40, but appears to be similar to the previous Night Landscape mode. The flash is disabled, and the camera will vary the ISO up to a maximum of 1600, to capture images using available light. The AF-assist light will come on if needed, and the camera selects the AF point with the closest subject. This mode is great for museums and other places where flash isn't permitted, more natural-looking indoor shots, etc. (Do note though, that you may need to use a tripod, as the shutter speeds are likely to be on the slow side, even at ISO 1600.)
  • Portrait: Adjusts the lens aperture to soften background details to help the main subject stand out more clearly. Sharpness and color saturation are moderated somewhat, to give softer, more natural-looking skin tones. The built-in flash will pop up and fire if the lighting is too dim.
  • Landscape: Boosts color saturation, contrast, and sharpening for city and forest landscape shots. Closest-focus AF is used, and the flash and AF-assist light are turned off in this mode.
  • Child: This one boosts sharpness and saturation for clothing and background details, but renders skin tones soft and natural-looking. The built-in flash will pop up and fire if the lighting is too dim.
  • Sports: Uses higher shutter speeds, camera switches to continuous focus while the shutter button is held down halfway, tracking the subject in the center focus area. If the subject leaves the central AF area, the camera will follow it and judge focus from the other focus areas. The beginning AF area can be chosen with the Multi-Selector. Both flash and AF illuminator are turned off and will not fire.
  • Close up: Reds and greens are pumped up, camera selects center focus point, but other points can be chosen with the Multi-Selector. The built-in flash will pop up and fire if the lighting is too dim.
  • Night Portrait: Uses slow shutter speed with flash, balancing the two so that night portraits look natural even with flash. Closest-subject AF is used. Use a tripod to avoid blurring.

Nikon D40 Menus

The menu system on the Nikon D40 follows that of the D80 pretty closely, including the D80's unique Retouch menu.

The D40's menu system makes good use of the large, high-resolution LCD screen, with fonts that are larger and smoother than those on the D50 and D70S, and much-improved graphics. The net result is much better readability and a more sophisticated appearance. There are five main menus: Playback, Shooting, Custom Settings, Set Up, and Retouch. The Retouch menu was first introduced on the D80, and offers much more extensive options for in-camera image manipulation than we've seen from other manufacturers. Navigation takes place via the Multi Selector pad, assisted at times by the OK button. The menus themselves are chosen via a "tabbed" interface, with icons on the left of the screen corresponding to the five menus.

The Nikon D40 carries forward the extensive help system that's been a hallmark of recent Nikon models, but expands it even beyond what we saw on the D80, covering essentially all of the menu items. Whenever a menu item is selected that has a help screen associated with it, a square icon with a question mark on it appears in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. When you press the Thumbnail View / Zoom Out / Help button, the LCD screen will display help information for that current menu selection. Most help screens are just a single page, but a few extend onto multiple pages. The explanations are very informative (much better than average, we'd say), but there is still room for improvement on some of the more arcane/involved settings. (Memory is so cheap these days, we don't know why Nikon doesn't take this excellent idea even further, and include yet more information on some of the help screens. Particularly on a camera aimed more at the mass market, the incremental effort and expense to offer more complete explanations of more infrequently-used camera functions seems small relative to the time it could save for D40 owners, helping avoid trips back to the manual to ferret out the information. That said though, the help that's there on the D40 is pretty good.)

In the section below, we're taking a different approach than we have previously in presenting the D40's menu structure. Rather than list and verbally describe each option, we'll present the top-level menu screens in the main text without comment, and provide links to pages showing the entire D40 menu structure, page by page, including Nikon's informative help screens. (We're interested in what our readers think of this approach: Drop us an to let us know what you think of it.)

Nikon D40 Playback Menu

Nikon D40 full Playback menu layout
(note, large download for dialup users)

Nikon D40 Shooting Menu:

Nikon D40 full Shooting menu layout
(note, large download for dialup users)

Nikon D40 Custom Settings Menu

Nikon D40 full Custom Settings menu layout
(note, large download for dialup users)

Nikon D40 Setup Menu

Nikon D40 full Setup menu layout
(note, large download for dialup users)

Nikon D40 "Retouch" Menu

Most digital cameras offer at least some degree of in-camera image modification, even if it's just or cropping. Like the D80 before it, the Nikon D40 goes way beyond that level of capability though, with an entire menu devoted to in-camera "retouching." Calling it retouching may be a bit of a stretch, as retouching has to us always implied direct human interaction with an image, as in cloning-out unwanted elements, locally altering the color or tone, etc. There's no question though, that the Retouch menu on the Nikon D40 goes far beyond anything that's been seen on a mainstream digital camera before.

The various options on the Retouch menu are shown below, see the Operation > Image Retouching page of this review for a bit more detail:

Nikon D40 full Retouch menu layout
(note, large download for dialup users)

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