Thursday, October 25, 2007

D40 Rocks!

I bought my first digital SLR, a Nikon D50, two years ago. A year later I sold it to purchase a higher level Nikon SLR, the D80, that offered more manual controls (like individual f-stop and shutter speed thumbwheels instead of sharing one - something that allows me to shoot a lot faster and more intuitively), a larger screen (ALWAYS a plus), more individual focusing points (which give you a LOT more control), and more megapixels (jumping from 6 to 10 - but actually this wasn't a selling point for me because I'm fine shooting at the 6 megapixel setting). So when the cheapie, low end Nikon D40 was released this year, I didn't really give it a second look. Why would I be interested in a camera that was a dumbed down D50, when I'd already sold that camera off?! It wasn't until I read an article by Ken Rockwell that I decided I just HAD to get a D40. Since I've gone back to SLR shooting after putting my Canon AE-1 Program away in the mid 90's, I've learned so much from reading Ken's website. His articles have really influenced my buying decisions and how I look at gear. Even though Ken shoots with some really expensive, high end cameras like the Nikon D200 and Canon 5D, he kept writing again and again how he would always grab his lightweight, small D40 to shoot. And he kept posting photos taken with the D40 and they looked amazing. So I picked up a barely used D40 with the 18-55 kit lens on Nikonians "I Want To Sell" forum and I'm sure glad I did. My intent was to use it as a second camera body so I could have one lens on my D80 and another on my D40 and not have to keep switching. A perfect example is when I shoot signs - for a wide shot I'll have my Sigma 10-20 on the D40 and for the close-ups of say individual letters, I'll have my 18-200 or another lens with a more telephoto range. But actually what I'm finding since I bought the D40 is that it's the first camera I grab when I want to go to parties (I can stick it in my purse and not mind the weight at all), or when I'm going to be walking or hiking somewhere because it doesn't weigh me down at all or hurt my back to carry it for hours. It's REALLY light and I'm not kidding. Before I would have probably grabbed my Nikon Coolpix S2 - this little point and shoot camera - but for just a little extra weight I get MUCH better pictures and total manual control. Also thanks to Ken Rockwell's recommendation, I picked up the tiny SB-400 Nikon Speedlight (i.e. flash) that was designed for the camera. I bought it used on Nikonians for $95 but new it's only a little bit more. What's so great about the flash is that it really offers so much more lighting control without adding any significant bulk or weight to the camera. AND it allows you to shoot extremely wide (even using my Sigma 10-20) and NOT get the shadow of the lens in the shot. The only downsides to the D40 are that it only has three focusing points (something I can live with, but many I do miss all the focusing control I have with the D80), and that lenses that don't have internal focusing motors (like my awesome 50mm/f1.8) can only be manually focused. But the battery lasts a HELLAVA lot longer than my D80 - I can shoot for days without charging. In fact the first day I had the camera I accidentally left it on OVERNIGHT and I STILL was able to shoot for a couple hours with it the next day. Pretty amazing! The D40 is a great way to get into SLR shooting without spending a ton of money (right now I think you can find them new or used from $400-500 INCLUDING the lens). If you want to get more megapixels (10 instead of 6, and more frames per second ability), there is a slightly more expensive model called the Nikon D40x. I shoot mostly manually (or at the very least on Aperture Priority) mode on my D40, but seriously, even if you've never used an SLR before and have no idea what "metering" means, you can pick up the D40, use it on full AUTO mode, and get great photos. Go buy one!

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