Expert Recommendation

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Best Digital SLR Camera Overall Under $600
By Fotoguy
Expert (27 Recommendations and 7 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
December 2, 2008 Updated: December 4, 2008
Overview

If you’ve outgrown that old point-n-shoot, and the expensive ones don’t really delight you either, then, it’s probably time you made the leap to an entry level DSLR, a Digital Single Lens Reflex. For about the price of a “high-end” point-n-shoot, but with better build and image quality, the Nikon D40 with the kit Nikkor AF-S DX 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 GII lens, and a host of useful features, not the least of which is interchangeable lenses, makes this camera outfit my Best-in-Class pick.

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My Best In Class Pick
Nikon D40 (with 18-55mm Lens)

For years Nikon has lagged behind other manufacturers–most notably Canon–in introducing a DSLR for the masses, but no more. With the debut of the D40 about two years ago, the direct replacement for their first, but too pricey, entry-level DSLR, the D50, now discontinued, Nikon has finally entered the DSLR amateur mass market with a low-cost, quality built camera that is as good as or, in many cases, superior to the competition.

With this camera, Nikon did something unique to make a quality, but inexpensive entry-level DSLR. With other manufacturers going more expensive with more features and more megapixels, Nikon bucked the trend by going with less. Instead of a pricey 8, 10 or 12 megapixel sensor, they chose an economical six, which really is sufficient resolution for prints up to 8 x 12 inches. And by eliminating those fancy “features” that the average amateur shooter has never heard of, doesn’t use or doesn’t need like exposure/white balance bracketing, the Status Display LCD (the main LCD does double duty), a dozen autofocus reticles cluttering the viewfinder (the D40 has only three), they further reduced production cost and passed the savings onto the consumer, all without sacrificing quality.

So, what features does the D40 have? More than most will ever need like Five Image quality modes, three Color Spaces, four Lens Servo modes, including Manual; Eleven Exposure modes, three Metering modes, eight White Balance presets, six Image Parameter presets with user setable Tone, plus Custom Curve; and, of course, Saturation, Hue, and Sharpness. Additionally, and the most important feature of all: Nikon’s superb Active D-Lighting, which automatically controls excessive contrast, turning an otherwise useless, impossibly contrasty shot into a usable one.

And what about the standard kit lens, the Nikkor AF-S DX 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 GII? Nikon again went contrary to the pack’s cheap, poor quality kit lenses, and produced one that is surprisingly good, both optically and build-wise. Yes, it has a plastic barrel and lens mount, but is solid and doesn’t feel cheap. Operation is smooth and jerk free. Autofocus is quick and quiet. And, most importantly, it produces excellent images that are sharp corner to corner with low distortion–1% or less across the entire zoom range. Something one would only expect in lenses costing much more. There is one caveat, however. The D40 body doesn’t have an autofocus motor in it as with previous Nikon AF cameras. So, autofocusing is only possible with AF-S and AF-I lenses which have their AF motor built-in. Other Nikkor and Nikon AF and F-mount lenses will mount and work on the camera (Even my 30 year old AI Nikkors do), but with no autofocusing and varying amounts of auto features available. To assure 100% compatibility, just stick with AF-S or I type lenses.

So, if you’re a firsttimer looking to upgrade to a DSLR that’s small and compact, sturdy and comfortable in the hand, produces sharp, low noise images; has the features you really need and none of the ones you really don’t; is a joy to use; holds up to the occasional hard knocks; and won’t break the bank, then the Nikon D40 is the camera for you.

Pros
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    Low Price
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    Excellent Build Quality
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    Interchangeable lenses
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    Full Auto or Manual control
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    Active D-Lighting
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    Small and Compact (for an SLR)
Cons
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    Autofocuses only with AF-I and AF-S lenses (manual with the others)
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    No in-camera Image Stabilization
Nikon D40 (with 18-55mm Lens) is the Best Digital SLR Camera Overall Under $600
Where to buy
Nikon D40 (with 18-55mm Lens)
  • Best Price: $619
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 27mm (30% wider)
  • Resolution: 6.1MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (6 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Nikon D40 (with 18-55mm Lens)
Customer Rating
Price $619.00
Camera Format SLR
Size (W x H x D) 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in.
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Sensor Type
CCD
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Sensor Size
23.7 x 15.6 mm
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Effective Sensor Resolution
6.1 megapixels
Shutter Lag Time (pre-focused) 0.10 sec
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Shutter Lag Time (including auto-focus time)
0.3 sec
Power to First Shot Time 0.4 sec
Max Shooting Speed (continuous) 2.5 frames/sec
Max Shooting Speed (burst) 2.5 frames/sec
Video Available No
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Image Stabilization Available
No
Manual Focus Available Yes
Interchangeable Lenses Available Yes
Compatible Lenses Nikon F
Min ISO Setting 200
Max ISO Setting 3200
Viewfinder Type Optical
Dioptric Adjustment Available Yes
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LCD Screen Size
2.5 in.
LCD Screen Resolution 230000 pixels
External Flash Connection Type Hot Shoe
Storage Media SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card
Sensor Raw Format Available Yes
Battery Life 470 shots

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