The Little Camera that Could

I’ve seen a lot of experienced photographers rave about how good a camera the old, lowly, entry-level Nikon D40 is. I bought one for my little cousin when she graduated high school, long before I started my own interest in digital photography. She still has it, and it’s in great shape, so I “borrowed” it.

To her it’s a “big camera.” I found it refreshingly small and light compared to my monstrous D300s. It’s certainly not a pocket camera, but it’s small enough to slip in a small bag, while light enough to carry around all day without me even noticing the extra weight, unlike my main camera. Mount a small prime lens like a 35 or 50mm, and the D40 becomes a joy to carry around all day.

Took it out with me the other day with the wife. The camera fit easily into a small shoulder bag, and was ready to be whipped out on a whim, like when we stopped for coffee in the morning at a local cafe:

Nikon D40 + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 32mm f/4, 1/25 sec ISO200

Nikon D40 + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 25mm f/4, 1/50 sec ISO200

I gotta say, I was really blown away by just how good this little camera is. The image quality is fantastic and so are the camera’s ergonomics. Sure it doesn’t have the rugged build, fancy features, and high customization of my main camera, but the D40’s simplicity is where its beauty lies. The handling, speed, response, and image quality far exceeds any state-of-the-art, high end point-and-shoot camera as well, and not by a small margin. I paid the same amount of money for my little Canon S90 as I would for a D40 with lens today, and as good as the S90 is for a compact, it’s no match for the D40 in anything other than being pocketable.  I think the D40 would be a fantastic camera for travel.

Nikon D40 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G at f/2, 1/320 sec ISO200

Camera technology continues to push forward, but that doesn’t mean you can’t produce great images using older, simpler cameras.  Indeed, lugging around my D300s when I head out with nothing specific to shoot feels really crazy after using the D40 for a couple days.  I think I might have found my new “compact” camera =)

12 thoughts on “The Little Camera that Could

  1. Told ya!
    Its so good i am going to wait till I can afford a D700 or D3 before I upgrade since im not making much cash at the moment. For the casual photog or person that has not found his or her place yet its really perfect. And that 1/500 flash sync speed is really miraculous when working outdoors. Nice writeup!

    1. Yes! I can see why you love yours so much now. My old D70 had higher flash sync as well. I must say though, I’ve been really thinking about an FX system lately. We’ll see 😉

  2. nice read Jon.
    …and you’re absolutely right; most times I don’t even want to carry my D300 around.
    …although right now I have my eyes fixed on the Fuji Finepix x100 … just wish it will have interchangable lenses.

  3. I currently have a Lumix DMC-FZ28 (which I love – great little camera!), but I am looking to buy a DSLR in the next year. I want to start a photography businesses.
    I would love to have your opinion. Do you think it would be worth buying a D40 to start out with (along with a 50mm f/1.4), or hold out and buy a D90 or D7000?
    Love your blog!

    1. Thanks for your comment! That’s a tough question. While the D40 makes an excellent camera for casual use, it wouldn’t hold up very well for professional applications such as weddings or studio portraiture. If that’s what you had in mind in starting a photography business, you might want to pick up a D7000.

      If this is your first DSLR, however, you should pick up the D40 anyway. Use it to get familiar with DSLR photography, and pick up a more complex camera when you NEED the complexity. That’s my advice =)

  4. ha! i just sold my little 40X. i barely shot that camera, but it seriously rocked. like you, i took it out recently (just before i sold it) and was amazed at how wonderful it was … even at higher ISOs she did pretty good.

    i ended up selling it to a client along with a great kit lens and a whack of other stuff. great deal, and she’s loving that camera.

    1. You know what I love about it to is how quiet the shutter is. My D700 (and as I’m sure you’ve seen, the D3s) goes BRAP BRAP BRAP!!!!! … but this thing just whispers. Like you, I barely use it, but when I do, it’s refreshing for some reason =P

  5. Funny how I stumbled upon this post. It made me remember when I was shooting with my Canon and it broke, I had to loaned a D40. It was really fun to use and it’s an amazing entry level DSLR.

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