Wednesday, July 09, 2008

D40 vs D60

Need help deciding between a Nikon D40 and Nikon D60? This article is my effort to make that decision easier by comparing the two.
Here is the really brief recommendations. If you are a novice shooter on a budget, get the D40. If you are a novice shooter who wants to splurge a bit, get the D60. If you know something about photography already and want to get to know your camera and play with settings and maybe get a few lenses, get the D40. Why should a more advanced shooter get the D40? so you can take the money you saved by getting the D40 and put it towards software, a lens, or a flash. These things will make a bigger difference to your photography than the D60 will.

Disclosure: I do not own either of these cameras, though I have handled both and shot with a D40X. The D40X has been replaced by the D60 and can be thought of as being right in between the D40 and the D60. I own a D70 and have, to date, shot about 53,000 pictures with it. I am a semi-professional photographer in that people have paid me to take pictures and I have sold 'art' photographs as well. But I do not make a living from photography, I am primarily a designer. Though I have enough technical knowledge to shoot reasonably good 'product photography' (and have been paid to do that), I approach photography from an artistic rather then technical background and perspective.

The Body

What is the same between the D40 and the D60? They use the same camera body. This is a small camera body by DLSR standards, but has a very comfortable grip and is easy to hang onto. Because they have the same body, they both lack an auto focus motor. This means that they only auto focus with the newest (and most expensive) lenses. This is not as bad as it sounds, if you buy the camera with a lens (this is called the kit lens), that lens will have a motor built into it so it will be able to auto focus. If you plan on only using the kit lens (or lenses), you will have no problem.

If, however, you will want to buy more lenses, you will have to be careful to buy AF-S lenses as these are (practically) the only lenses that will auto focus on the D40 and D60. AF and AF-D lenses will not auto focus, but they will mount and the light meter will work. AI lenses will also mount, but will not auto focus nor will the light meter work. If you don't mind, or actually plan on manually focusing, then you have no problem. In fact, 90% of my pictures are manually focused, so I could almost as easily use a D40 as I do my D70. Where the D40 would become a problem for me is when I am shooting people with my Nikon 24mm AF lens. That is the lens I most like to shoot with at events and I always have it on auto focus. A good portion of the rest of the shots I take are 'macro' shots where auto focus does not really work anyway. If your primary purpose is macro photography, then both the D40 and D60 would serve you just as well as the D50, D70, or D80. Ken Rockwell has a great chart that shows lens compatibility.

As mentioned, this is a small body but I have seen big guys (6'4") and little gals (5'2") both handle it very comfortably. Nikon definitely has the ergonomics of this body perfected.

DOF Preview

The other feature that both these cameras lack is a DOF preview button. DOF stands for Depth Of Field. This refers to what parts of the image will be in focus. A shallow DOF means that only a little of the image will be in focus, everything else will be blurry. A deep DOF means a lot of the image will be in focus, or at least closer to being in focus. Below, the image on the left has a shallow DOF, the image on the right has deep DOF. Note the tree trunk is in focus in both pictures, but the window is much blurrier on the left.

When you have a DOF preview button, you can get a better sense of what will be in focus and what won't. But it's not a huge feature and most people will not miss it.

The Sensor

The sensor is pretty much the same on the D40 and the D60, they both use CCD (as does my D70). The D60 has a 10MP sensor where as the D40 has a 6MP.

If it is fair for me to extrapolate my experience with testing the D70 and D80 to the difference between 6 and 10 mega pixels of the D40 and D60, then I can say it makes very little difference. Granted, you could push the 10MP to a print size of 24x36" over the 6MP's 20x30" print size, but the added grain of the 10mp will be noticeable. So much so, that you may not want to print that big.

How often will you want to print 24x36"? If you want that at all, then yes, you are better off with the D60. But look at the graphic below to get a good sense of the real difference between the mega pixel sizes.

Where you really get nailed is the file size. A 2gig card will hold 360 6mp RAW files. The same card holds only 190 10mp files. The larger files are slower to work with and clog up a hard drive faster.

JPG vs RAW

Let's take a moment to look at JPG vs RAW. The D40 and the D60 can both capture pictures in both JPG and RAW. When you take a picture with any digital camera the initial information that is generated is what we call the RAW file. Almost all point and shoot digital cameras then take the RAW file and process it into a JPG file. The JPG file takes up less space in your camera and computer and it is a very common format so it is easier to share with people or to print out at a photo center. Also, when the camera converts the image to JPG, it applies a number of 'effects' to make the image look better like increasing the color saturation, sharpening the image, applying 'white balance' so the colors look more natural, etc. The JPG gives you a great finished product that can be used for many purposes.

All DSLRs and a few point and shoots give you the option to save that RAW file. The RAW file has more image data in it and is better suited for 'post processing'. Post processing is when you take the picture onto your computer and use software to make adjustments to it. It is like developing a negative. The down side is that the files take up much more space and they will not look as good as a JPG until you 'develop' them on the computer. It is also not at all practical to try and share these images with anyone else unless you convert them to JPG.

So when should you use RAW? If you know you want to do a lot of post processing and get every last ounce of quality in an image, use RAW. I use RAW when I shoot my 'art' photography. When I shoot events, people, or my family, I always switch to JPG because it is much easier to handle and the image degradation is so minor in these shots that it won't show up when viewing the pictures on a computer or even with moderate sized prints of 12x18". In fact, I could still blow a JPG image up to 20x30" and only professionals would be able to really see the difference between RAW and JPG.

So don't worry about it, shoot JPG unless you have a specific reason to shoot RAW.

The D60 has Nikon's new Expeed image processor. This is similar to what is used in the much more expensive D300, D700, and D3. It will probably create slightly nicer JPG images out of the box. But if you are willing to dive into the camera's menus, you will be able to create great results with either the D40 or the D60. If you want to pull the camera out of the box and just start shooting, get the D60.

Dust Reduction System

Another advantage the D60 has over the D40 is a dust reduction system that helps keep the sensor clean and your images spot free. If you change lenses a lot, this might be a useful feature as it is when you change a lens that you are most likely to get dust into the camera that might eventually find its way onto your sensor. If you don't change lenses much, it is unlikely that much, if any, dust will fall on the sensor. But if you want to keep your sensor super clean, you will want to swab the sensor clean occasionally. Because I swap lenses a lot (frequently outside) I clean my sensor with VisibleDust swabs and solution every few months. Most people won't need to do it that often or at all.

For people like me who have to clean the sensor anyway, this feature is not very useful. But, it is still a good feature and another thing that sets the D60 apart from and above the D40.

Flash Sync Speed

Here is one that goes into the D40's column, it has a much faster flash sync speed then the D60, 1/500th of second as opposed to the D60 1/200th of a second. This I just don't get, why does the 'better' camera have a much slower (and therefore, worse) sync speed? The sync speed is how fast your camera can shoot when using the flash. So the D40 can have an exposure time of 1/500ths of a second when shooting with the flash, but the D60 shoots more then twice as slow. A fast sync speed is helpful if you are trying to catch fast motion and freeze it without any blurring. Not something most people do a lot of. So, unless you already knew what flash sync speed was, you probably won't mind that the D60 is slower.

Active D-Lighting

Active D-Lighting is another new feature of the D60 not found in the D40. When active, it essentially lightens the dark areas of the image so that detail is not lost in areas of shadow. It is a mild effect and one that takes extra time for the camera to apply so it slows the camera down. For this reason, it is best to use the feature sparingly. This same effect can be achieved in post processing with programs like Lightroom, Photoshop, Aperture, or even free programs like Picasa or Raw Therapee.

Also, the use of 'fill flash' (with either the D4o or D60) will do a better job of lightening dark areas of the image, but only for smaller scenes. Fill flash is only as powerful as the flash that is used and no flash will be powerful enough to work on a large scene like a landscape. Fill flash is the technique of using a flash on a bright day to overcome the a bright background. For instance, if you are shooting a portrait of someone against a bright sky, the person's face will be too dark because the camera is exposing for the bright sky. If you use a flash, then the person's face will be lit properly.

Active D-Lighting is yet again another very minor benefit and one that is of no use to an advanced photographer who will be post processing anyway. But, for the novice who does not want to mess about in post processing, this is a nice feature of the D60.

VR

Now we get to the main event. VR stands for Vibration Reduction. This is a technology that Nikon (and Canon) build into their lenses to counteract camera shake to help you create sharper pictures. If the shutter speed is too slow, the image will be blurry because we can not hold our cameras still enough (unless it's on a tripod). VR smooths out our jittery nature to make sharper images. The D60's 'kit' lens has VR, the D40's 'kit' lens does not, though the D40 is compatible with VR lenses.

VR only works when you are taking pictures of still objects, it won't slow down that three year old tearing across the living room. If you are shooting a group of people who are old enough to sit still for a second, or a flower that is not being blown around in the wind, then VR can definitely help.

Other manufactures have similar technology, but they build it into the camera instead of the lenses. Lens based VR systems (known as IS - Image Stabilization - on other brands) tend to outperform camera based systems. The down side the the lens based system is the you have to pay for the technology with every lens that you buy.

For my money, VR is only significant difference between the two cameras. I have not used VR lenses much with my D70, but that's just because of the type of shooting I do. I have it on my little Canon point and shoot A720 IS and it is great, I use it all the time on that. The majority of people will find VR useful and it is the most compelling thing the D60 has going for it over the D40. But, still, I don't see it as a definite 'must have'. And that is the thing with the D60, there is no one feature that puts is over the top. Unlike the D80, if you want to use older AF lenses, the D80 has a killer advantage over the D40 and D60 because the D80 will auto focus those old lenses.

Currently (summer 2008), the D60 is $160 more then the D40 (the prices fluctuate from day to day, but this is the average). That $160 dollars can nearly buy a Nikon SB-600 Speedlight that will make more of a difference than all these little upgrades the D60 offers. Including offsetting the advantage of the VR lens, you don't need VR if you have a good, powerful flash. This is especially true if you are shooting people inside or in other low light situations.

In the end, it is a close call. If you are on a budget, or plan to get a more powerful flash, go with the D40. The D60 does have enough small improvements to warrant consideration, especially if you are not strapped for cash. I think the D60 will also serve the novice user better than the D40. All those little upgrades make is a little easier to take good pictures with the D60.

But in the end, if you want a camera to just take snap shots of your kids, a smaller and cheaper point and shoot camera like the Canon SD850 IS will be much easier to carry around and shoot with. I have a Canon A720IS for times like that.

59 comments:

Dennis said...

Thanks for the comparision. Nikon really hasn't positioned the two cameras well, as they do seem very similar. I found your 'extra' info on the features useful.

SCKarl said...

Hey James - thanks sooo much for this review. I've been trying to figure out what to get (had a D50 that a cousin broke last Christmas & it never repaired right, then I recently bought & quickly sold a D300 that was just way over my head). I new I wanted something simple - the D40 or D60. This article was great in helpinmg me choose the D60.
Thank you!

Dan said...

This I just don't get, why does the 'better' camera have a much slower (and therefore, worse) sync speed?

I'am thinking of this for some time now...and found this link...Is this true...

http://forums.steves-digicams.com/forums/view_topic.php?id=571734&forum_id=58

James Fryer said...

Dan, Thanks for the link, it was quite informative and I think how the commenter there hammers on Nikon for not having enough auto focus lenses is entirely fair. It's one big reason that makes me wonder why so many people still buy the D40/D60. That said, I've had more chances lately to use the kit 18-55mm lens and think more highly of it every time I do. I plan on definitely buying one before my next big trip.

The D40's low cost is pretty compelling evidence that building a faster sync speed into a camera is not expensive, so it's absence is likely designed as a marketing ploy to get some buyers to jump up to the next price point. This kind of stunt is by no means isolated to Nikon, it is quite common in the electronics industry to artificially cripple 'lower end' products to create different price points.

Luc said...

thanks for the article James. Here's what others have to say about the CCD sensor: Do you agree?

"...The D60 is less sensitive to light then the D40 (its default ISO is only ISO 100 compared to the D40's default ISO of 200). Its less sensitive to light because the pixels have to be made smaller to cram more of them into the same-sized sensor. Smaller pixels collect fewer photons than larger pixels. Since the D60 is half as light sensitive, the D60 has to use twice as long a shutter speed or a larger aperture, which makes it more likely to make a blurry picture than the D40. OOPS! ..."

from http://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/d60.htm

thanks.

James Fryer said...

Luc, Ken is off base. Having a wider ISO range is actually better, it allows for greater exposure control. In theory, it could hurt novice users who don't understand ISO, but the D60 has an 'Auto ISO' mode that is on in most modes by default. If, while in AUTO mode, the shutter speed gets too slow, the D60 will automatically increase the ISO to compensate.

But most users would never need a lower ISO, so it probably won't be of any value to the D40/D60 shooter. I have had only a handful of instances when I wished I had a lower ISO setting. An example: shooting outside in bright daylight, but wanting to use a really wide aperture. In this case, being able to turn the ISO down to 100 would make a difference.

In theory the lower ISO is less noisy, but I don't think there is any noticeable noise difference between 100 and 200. In fact, when I tested the D80, I found it had more noise at all ISOs than my D70, probably due to having too many pixels crammed onto the same sized sensor.

My D70 has Auto ISO, but I have it turned off, it is one of those things I like to control myself. For the D70 (and I bet it's the same for the D40, D50, and D80) ISO 400 is as high as you want to go and still get excellent image quality. I'll go to ISO 800 in extreme situations, but I do so knowing that the image will be noticeably noisy.

Al said...

James,
This would be my first camera and would be using it to take pictures for web sites and family outings. I’m on a budget so the D40 looks to be my choice but I have a slight shake (getting older) so what would be my best route. Would you recommend getting the D40 body and a separate VR lens? I would appreciate your advice and recommendations since I’m a novice in this area.
Al

Luc said...

or, is Sony A 350k better it has in body optical image stabilization, live preview but only one set of lenses. Where do I find a good comparison of the 2? The price is similar, to the D60

James Fryer said...

Al, I've just checked the prices on Amazon and they are dropping like stones! The D40 is now $410 and the D60 is $485! With that small gap and your worry about shake, I would recommend the D60. It comes with the 18-55mm VR lens. I love that lens, it has a nice wide angle (18mm), but does not zoom too much (it's essentially a 3X zoom). You can later add the Nikon 50-200mm VR lens and that would give you a great range from wide angle to long telephoto.

But if you want to go real cheap, the Canon A590IS is a great little point and shoot. There is a big difference in image quality between a point and shoot and a DSLR, but it has VR (Canon calls it IS) built in. You can see it here in my 'Amazon Shop'.

If you are new to SLRs (digital or film) then I recommend starting off in the 'Auto' mode.

James Fryer said...

Luc,

The a350 is a unique camera, commonly thought of as a great camera for people coming from point and shoots because its live preview is better then any other camera. The fold out LCD adds a lot of flexibility to live preview.

But, you pay for that with having one of the worst viewfinders on any DSLR. I would argue that a large, clear viewfinder is one of the most important features of a DSLR over a point and shoot.

The a350's ISO performance is also roundly criticized as is its kit lens. It can take some Minolta lenses, so a better route would be to buy the body and find a good lens separately.

In body VR generally does not work as well as in lens VR, but it's really hard to say which is better, it's a gray area.

As always, PDreview.com has a great, detailed review of the a350.

The a350 is selling for $700, whereas the D60 is selling for $486. Not really in the same class anymore. At $700, you are (sort of) inching into D90 territory. For my money, Nikon, Pentax, and Canon are making better DSLRs than Sony. At the moment, never know what the future holds.

crisantoap said...

This is sooo far the most detailed, clear & precise comparison I've been looking for for how may days/weeks now. I am planning to get either the D40 or D60, no problem with price difference, I am actually more into the small specs like the flash sync thing. Also I say on kenrockwell.com that he is also endorsing the D40 despite him being a pro already. I can say I'm still a novice with DSLR but I have little background with photography. My first camera was a Minolta Dynax semi-auto SLR (film) and owned an Olympus and Lumix P&S. So far with this thread, I am now convinced between the two models. Thank you James for a such clear comparison.

Daniel said...

James, thanks for such a helpful comparison.

I am looking at 3 packages and would really appreciate some advice. As you can see...the price gap is closing!

1) D40 with 18-55 kit lens (No VR)and 55-200 VR lens

or, for $50 more...

2) D60 with 18-55 VR lens and 55-200 non-VR lens.

or, for $50 more than that....

3) D60 with 18-55 VR lens and 55-200 VR lens.

This will be my first SLR camera. Can you offer any advice about whether you think its worth the extra cost to move up to #2 or #3?

If you were going to buy one VR and one non-VR lens, which lens would benefit more from the VR feature? (Or am I asking the wrong question? :-)

Thanks again.

James Fryer said...

Daniel, the longer the lens, the more of an impact VR will have. Technically, 200mm is longer then 55mm, so it would be better to have VR on the 55-200mm, but it depends on your shooting.

The general rule of thumb is that your minimum shutter speed should be no slower then the focal length of the lens. So, with a 50mm lens, you should not shoot slower then 1/50th of a second, with a 200mm lens, you should not shoot slower then 1/200th of a second. Otherwise, you are more likely to get blurry images because of camera shake. Because of the D40 and D60 'crop factor', 200mm is really 300mm and should not be shot slower then 1/300th of a second.

VR counteracts camera shake, so you can break the rule above and shoot at slower speeds. That is a big plus.

But which lens is right for you all depends on what you are shooting. Personally, I'd rather have the VR on the 18-55mm lens because I use that indoors were there is lower light and the VR lets me take longer exposures to compensate. But, VR does not slow down my three year old son, it only helps take pictures of him if he is not moving, otherwise the only thing that will work is using a flash. In that case, I'd rather use my Nikon SB-600 flash because it is powerful enough that I can bounce it off the ceiling to avoid that nasty overexposed flash look and red eye.

It gets rather complicated and it's really not a question you can answer until after you start shooting.

I would look at either the D40 with just the 18-55mm (non-VR), or the D60 with both VR lenses. The D40 is $410 at Amazon at the moment so that leaves you with some cash to buy something else after you figure out what kind of shooting you are doing. If you get the D60 with the both VR lenses ($700 on Amazon), you are pretty much set for anything. Unless you want to start shooting macro, or ultra wide, or...

My wife received a D90 with an 18-55mm VR lens for Christmas so I've had more hands on time with both, and really love the 18-55mm. The D90 is fantastic, but it is in a different class price wise. At the end of the day, I still love my six megapixel D70.

Two last thoughts, make sure you buy from a reputable company like Amazon or B&H Photo and don't buy used digital cameras, you never know what you are getting. Used lenses can be OK, but never used bodies.

Daniel said...

Thanks so much, James! Best advice I've gotten ANYWHERE.

flech said...

Thanks for the great article James, I really appreciate the explanations you've made.
I'm actually thinking of buying my first Dslr and here in Philippines D60 and D40 has a USD130 price difference. Which one would be the best choice for me? Still kinda confused between the two, since alot of people have advised me to buy D40 instead. Really would appreciate your help. Thank you

flech said...

Thanks for the great article James, I really appreciate the explanations you've made.
I'm actually thinking of buying my first Dslr and here in Philippines D60 and D40 has a USD130 price difference. Which one would be the best choice for me? Still kinda confused between the two, since alot of people have advised me to buy D40. Really would appreciate your help. Thank you

James Fryer said...

flech,

If you think you might want to buy another lens, or a flash, I recommend the D40 because you can use what you save to buy that second lens or flash.

If I were buying my first DSLR, I would buy the D40 (with its kit 18-55mm lens) and also the new 35mm f1.8 AFS lens.

But that's me. Without know more about how you will be using it, it is hard to say what would be best for you.

flech said...

Thanks james, I think I'll go with D40.

Shruti said...

Hi James-I so want to buy D40 with non VR lens kit because of its price but am a bit worried about the non VR thing. Is it blurry most of the time compared to VR lens? I have never had a DSLR.
Thanks

James Fryer said...

Shruti,

The VR helps when there is not much light, like indoors or at night. These are times when you can use the flash, so VR is nice to have, but you don't really need it. VR is more important on 'longer' lenses like the 55-200mm, but if you have the 18-55mm, it is not as important.

If you shoot on a bright day, or with the flash, VR does not help.

Nat said...

It looks to me that the D40 vs D60 debate is no longer a price one!

This is a great post and thread! I decided to go with the D60 (it is coming today!). I ordered from Future Shop (same corp. as Best Buy) and the D60 kit was $549.99 and the D40 kit was 499.99. If you spend $500 or more you can get an extra $50 off so I got the D60 kit for the same price as the D40 kit; 499.99 CAD. This is the lowest price that I could find in Canada, and if I went with an American merchant I would have to worry about exchange, shipping and duty (and Amazon.com won't ship electronics to Canada). Anyway, I am pretty pleased and have heard great things about the Nikon 18-55 VR lens!! I'm excited to see how well the VR works as although I'm young, I don't have the steadiest of hands!

James Fryer said...

Nat,

Great deal! I;ve seen this happen a couple of times, the price of both the D40 and D60 fluctuate and sometimes get really close. If price in not an issue, the D60 wins if for no other reason then a VR lens.

Best of luck!

Once you start shooting, how about sharing? You can setup a free online photo album with either Picasa Web Albums, or Flickr.com.

Nat said...

I will do that for sure James! I have you bookmarked!

Shruti said...

Thanks James

Shruti said...

Hi James
I bought D40 and tried to take some pictures using AUTO(green) mode. It takes pics when the zoom is about 18mm but as I zoom it in, say 35mm and after it doesnt take any pics. Is it the lens? Manual focus works well. I am so upset. Any suggestion will be appreciated.

James Fryer said...

Shruti,

The autofocus motor is in the lens, so my best guess is that it is the lens. If the camera is new, you are still under warranty so you should have no trouble getting it replaced.

Even with good cameras, there will sometimes be a lemon, but Nikon has a great warranty.

flech said...

Hey James, just want to ask what is your take on Nikon D5000? Do you think its worth the extra bucks compared to D40? Thanks

James Fryer said...

flech,

I don't like fold out screen, it adds bulk. I'd rather have a smaller camera with a better screen like the one found on the D90, D300, and D700. I can see how the fold out screen could be useful, but not for the way I use a camera.

The image quality looks close to the D90 and better than the D40. But for $360 more than the D40 (current price difference on amazon.com), it is a hard sell.

The D5000 is well placed between the D40 and D90. If you need more than the D40 offers, but can't quite pay for the D90, the D5000 is a great comprimise. But, for the demanding user, it still lacks a lot of pro features that come with the D90 (like a built in autofocus motor).

In the sub-pro market, the D40 still holds the title of best value and the D90 still holds the title of best performer. The D5000 is right in the middle, that is both a strength and a weakness.

flech said...

Thanks James, Appreciate your input on the matter. Just had second thoughts on purchasing a D40 because the shops here said that its gonna be faced-out soon.

James Fryer said...

flech,

Shops have been saying the D40 is about to be discontinued for years and yet, it is still here. They want you to either buy now before it is too late, or get you to buy the more expensive model.

The D5000 is no replacement for the D40, they are in totally different price ranges. However, there are rumors about a new D3000 that will be very much like the D5000, but without video. That is the first camera in years that might make Nikon finally retire the D40. But even then Nikon might keep the D40 around because it is just a strong seller.

Of course, there is no harm in buying a camera that is about to be discontinued, as long as it is a good camera and you get a good price.

flech said...

Thanks James, I'm surely gonna buy a D40

Edmund said...

James,

Nice article. To answer your question on why the D40 has 1/500 sync speed (and beyond with non-TTL) - the 6mp CCD sensor's specific design allows it to use an "electronic shutter" for high shutter speeds (basically flipping the sensor on and off to mimic a fast shutter). The D50 and D70 also share this benefit.

The D60's 10mp CCD sensor uses a mechanical shutter for all shutter speeds, so it's limited to 1/200. Even worse, it doesn't support TTL FP like higher models.

But don't feel bad, even the D3 is limited to 1/250 due to the sensor and shutter design.

If you're a budding strobist, the D40/D50/D70 is the way to go. I've shot flash photos freezing waterdrops in motion at 1/2000 with the D40 - that alone is *almost* reason enough to buy one.

crisantoap said...

To Flech.. I guarantee you won't be disappointed with the D40. Even if it will be phased-out (I doubt it) you will be happy you had yourself one before it will be totally out of the market. I just purchased mine last March before I went on vacation to the Philippines.

I actually based my decision to get the D40 instead of the D60 here in James' blog site and from kenrockwell.com.

I just had an SB400 and I can take photos almost instantaneously with flash. Now I'm saving up for a nice telephoto lens and probably an SB900.

James Fryer said...

@crisantoap: Agreed, I think the only people who would be dissappointed with D40 are photographers who need to do exotic things like using an off camera flash (I do that occasionally with the SB-600).

Though the D3000 might be worth waiting for. It will no doubt be more expensive than the D40, but the image quality and ISO range will probably be better as all newer Nikons are.

My D70 is essentially just a fancy D40 and I definitely see the difference when I shoot with my wife's D90. The newer Nikons have better sensors. That is not enough, in my mind, to justify the added cost of the D5000. And since most point and shoot cameras take better video, the video is not much of a reason either.

The Rock said...

Strange that bracketing controls have never been mentioned. D60 neither has the auto exposure bracketing nor the white balance bracketing. It will be a painful camera for people into HDR, or even those who want a perfect exposure. D40 it is.

flech said...

Thanks guys, yup i already bought a D40 few months ago and no regrets. its a great camera i'm just saving up for a new lens. still deciding if i'm getting a wide angle lens.

James Fryer said...

fech,

Great to hear you are liking your new camera!

Lenses are the next bold frontier of overwhelming choices.

Wide angle lenses can be tricky, Ken Rockwell has a good article on it where he sums it up this way: "Most people use ultrawides too sheepishly, and get crummy results with tiny subjects dwarfed in the middle of an open frame."

They can be loads of fun though and I love my Sigma 10-20mm. It's a bit soft and has some barrel distortion, but it's a sold ultra-wide. I have to admit I am envious of the newer Tokina 11-16mm. It is getting excellent reviews, but will not autofocus on a D40, D60, D3000, or D5000. Another fantastic ultra-wide angle is the new Nikon 10-24mm. This will autofocus, but like the Tokina, is considerably me expensive than the Sigma.

The three lenses that I use as the core of my system are:

Sigma 10-20mm - Great for travel and getting into tight spaces.

Nikon 35mm f/1.8G - It's all about the shallow depth of field and the focal length is OK for everyday shooting. Especially good for candid shots and really good in low light (like indoors).

Nikon 60mm Macro I'm a macro junkie, so this one was the first lens I bought after the kit lens. It is great for macro, incredibly sharp and also excellent for portraits. However, the Nikon 105mm Macro might have been a better choice.

My advice would be to look at the EXIF data on your favorite shots to see what focal length your best shots are usually shot at. If it is the wide end, than think about a wide angle, if most of those shots are at the long end, get a telephoto. Best of luck!

James Fryer said...

The Rock, Interesting point, but the D60 does have an exposure compensation button so it's fairly easy to work around that. Setup the correct exposure, then dial -1 for the next shot, then +1 for the last shot. I'm not saying this is ideal, but should be adequate for most HDR needs. And for HDR, always use a good tripod and remote trigger.

I am with you in general, it was silly of Nikon to strip that feature out and it ads one more point to my argument that the D60 is for amateurs and the D40 is for pros.

flech said...

Thanks for the advice james, I'll look in to it.

theperfectstranger said...

Hi! I would like to ask for your opinion because I'm really confused about the slight difference of the Nikon D40 and D60. I'm planning to buy my first DSLR camera this october and I have no idea which one is better. I am a beginner and has no background about photography. I just want to buy a new camera for documentation/fun as for now and probably go for photography in the future. I have read a lot of reviews already but made me confused a lot more. I found a Nikon D40 kit for 460USD and a Nikon D60 kit for 555USD. So, which one will I buy? I really need your help.

James Fryer said...

theperfectstranger,

The D60 is now irrelevant, take it off your list. The D40 is still a great choice for budget shoppers.

Since I wrote this article, Nikon has released the D3000 and the D5000, both are better cameras than the D40 and D60, but both are also more expensive. The D3000 is a newer and better version of the D60, it is also cheaper, Amazon has it for $563 today.

Both the D3000 and the D5000 use a newer and better sensor than both the D40 and D60. They all have the same kit lens, except the D40's lens lacks the VR (Vibration Reduction). VR is nice to have, but not critical.

For the difference in price, I would recommend stepping up to the D3000.

The D5000 adds a folding rear screen, video capability, and a slightly higher mega pixel count. None of which really helps you take better pictures. The video mode is a nice addition, but it is rather primitive.

And if you want to go hog wild, there is the D90 that adds an internal motor that will auto focus with many more older Nikon lenses.

Please note, I have not had an opportunity to shoot with either the D3000 or D5000 so my analysis is not complete.

theperfectstranger said...

Thanks for the reply. Yep, models D90 and above are the best but they're too expensive. I can't afford it for now. But is D40 suited for a beginner like me?

James Fryer said...

theperfectstranger,

Yes, all Nikon's cameras from the D40 through the D90 are great for beginners because they all have a full auto mode as well as every other mode that a professional would want. You can have as much or as little control over the camera as you want. Throw it into Auto Mode and it will do all the thinking, or use one of many other 'professional' modes to have more control.

Ken Rockwell has just put up his hands on review of the D3000 and he does not like it. He thinks the D40 is better, you should read his D3000 review.

He makes some very important points. The D3000 has an ADR mode that he complains is useless because it slows down the camera so much. The D3000 still has a slightly better lens (because it has VR), but the poor high ISO performance partially negates that advantage.

The D3000 may be the D40's replacement (no one but Nikon knows for sure). If that is the case, the D40 may not be available much longer. There is no telling if the price will go up or down as stock dwindles. I'll tell you this, if I see a good deal on a close-out D40, I'll probably get it even though I don't need it. It would be nice to have a smaller back and travel camera.

theperfectstranger said...

Thanks! I'll go check his site.

pushpita said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pushpita said...

James,

Thanks so much for this article. After a long time I have read such a detail review.
I have an upcoming tour to Malaysia and want to capture the scenic beauty of Langkawi and other places.I'm planning to buy my first DSLR camera for this tour and I would appreciate your advice regarding this. I am a beginner and has little or no background about photography. I just want to buy a new camera for capturing nice photos and I have plan to commence in a photography course after the trip. Please help me choosing my first DSLR camera.

D'Quaintz said...

is it really true that the nikon d40 is already phased out? i really wanna buy a d40 coz im on a tight budget..but if the rumors are true i guess i'l settle w/ a d60..

James Fryer said...

pushpita,

It would be best to take the photo class before the trip because the best tool for taking great pictures is knowledge about photography. The more you know about photography, the less important the camera becomes. Great photographers can make great images with any camera.

So which camera should you get? Just about all the DSLRs out there today from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, and many others are very good, you really can not go wrong. Each company has a range of models that is about the same as all the other companies. The inexpensive models pretty much all come with the same type of lens (the 18-55mm). Take care to not to buy a used camera or a model that is very old (the D40 is old, but still a very good camera).

For traveling, size and weight can be an issue, smaller and lighter cameras will be a lot easier to carry and use. The D40 is a small camera compared to other DSRLs. If you have a local store that has a few cameras, go have a look at them and see if one fits you hand better, or is more comfortable to use.

If you have a friend with a DSLR, you should consider getting the same brand. Then, you can share lenses and accessories (you can not put a Canon lens on a Nikon camera).

I can not give you a simple answer as to which camera you should buy, I would have to know a lot more about you, what you want to do, and your budget. We can not do that in this forum. Be aware that no camera will be able to take perfect pictures every time, you have to know what to look for and what to avoid when shooting pictures. You will hopefully learn that in your class.

Best of luck with you camera buying and you trip!

James Fryer said...

D'Quaintz,

No one but Nikon knows when the D40 will be phased out, but that does not change the fact that it is a great camera!

The new D3000 looks like it was designed to replace the D40 but, like I said, no one but Nikon knows for sure. One well known photographer thinks the D40 is still better than the newer D3000.

The D40 and the D60 are very similar in many ways, if the D40 is obsolete, so too is the D60.

If the D40 does get phased out, you might see it on sale. If so, get it!

But, if you really want the best and newest camera for the money, look at the D5000 and the D90.

heyhey said...

Wow, thanks James for all this info.

Like many, I am just about to make my move to a DSLR.

Have a Nikon N65 film camera, but of course have been using a Canon P&S for a while.

With the film camera I would take pics and by the time the film was developed I wouldn't remember what I did to get the results, good or bad. Also, of course, never knew if I truly had a good shot until the film was developed. It made me less enthusiastic about photography than I am inclined to be.

I believe the DSLR's immediate results (on the LCD) will really get me going again.

I am about as amateur as photographers come. However, I also tend to buy good gear that I like (whether it's a camera, a lawnmower, a musical instrument, etc.), and then keep it forever.

So, certainly a D40/60/3000 level camera outstrips my ability at this point. However, I'm thinking of going ahead with a D90 because:

a) I can use the full auto mode most of the time early on,

b) Because of the D90's autofocus motor I can use my existing Sigma 28-105 lens, and just about any other Nikon-compatible lens (no AF-S requirement).

I really don't like the idea of being locked into AF-S-only lenses.

c) All the reviews say it's excellent, and it does feel good in hand.

So, guess I'm hoping to hear you say it isn't wacky to start into DSLR world by buying more camera than I need, in the form of the D90

Ideally, I will get into photography, and for a really long time. I am dying to take better pics of my kids and (some day) grandkids.

Again, thanks much for your writings. Between this & K.Rockwell, a lot of great practical info!

flech said...

Hi James, Im thinking of buying a flash for my D40. Cold you recommend a flash comparable with Nikon SB600, its abit out of my budget? Thanks

James Fryer said...

flech,

Sorry, I don't have any experience with other flashs aside from the SB-600. If you can't find one used, Ken Rockwell loves the SB-400.

Also, I found a bunch of options at B&H Photo when I did a search for 'Nikon TTL Flash'. A lot of results come up, but you can narrow it down by using the sorting options in the left column.

A number of items listed at B&H have user reviews, but I find it helpful to cross reference with Amazon.com reviews also.

finley said...

hi james, I would really appreciate if you could give me an advice regarding Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D. Would it function as a wide angle lens with my D40 or just the same focus as th 18-55mm kit lens? thanks

James Fryer said...

finley,

The 50mm f1.8 is not a wide angle lens, especially on the D40. Because of the D40's crop factor, the 50mm acts like a 75mm, which is getting to be a telephoto lens (telephoto lenses are like telescopes, they bring far away things near). The 50mm f1.8 is a great lens, but it will not autofocus on the D40. Only AF-S lenses with built in motors will autofocus on the D40 like you 18-55mm lens or the 35mm f1.8 AF-S lens (which I have and think is great).

If you are looking for wide angle lens, the Sigma 10-20mm would be a good choice. It's very wide and the least expensive wide angle lens (with a built in autofocus motor) you can get.

There is also the Sigma 8-16mm, and the excellent Tokina 11-16mm but they are both more expensive.

finley said...

Thanks for the response James, Could you give me an advise on what lens I should purchase. I'm looking for an everyday lens which I could also use indoors on low light? Should I invest on a nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.5G or a 35mm f/1.4G would be more suitable for me. I would really appreciate your input on this.

James Fryer said...

finley,

I'm not really a telephoto guy, so I'm going to refer you to Ken Rockwell's review of the 55-300mm.

The 35mm f1.4 is an amazing lens, but I think a poor match for the D40. For one thing, it's very expensive. And because it is designed for Full Frame cameras (the D40 is a Cropped Frame camera), it is big and heavy.

The 35mm f1.8 DX lens is a much better fit for Cropped Frame cameras like ours. It delivers nearly the same performance as the 35mm f1.4, but in a much smaller, lighter, and less expensive package. It's stock price is $200, but is seems like it is back-ordered now and the Amazon.com link above is way over priced at $325. If you can't find it in-stock anywhere, best to just place it on back-order with a vendor who isn't price gouging.

If you are interested in shooting in low light without flash and you are willing to spend the money, you might consider getting a new body, like the D90, or the D7000. Both have much better high ISO performance than the D40, so you will get better results no matter which lens you use. They also both have built in autofocus motors which will give you more options when shopping for lenses. For instance, the inexpensive 50mm f1.8 that does not autofocus on the D40, does autofocus on both the D90 and D7000.

Another option for in-door low light situations is to make your own light with an additional flash like the SB-400, or SB-600. You can rotate the flash head of both of these so it is not pointing directly at your subject. If you point it at the ceiling, the light bounces off of it and creates a very nice diffuse and more natural light. You can even try doing this with the on-body flash, just put a piece of thick white card stock an inch or two in front of the flash at a 45 degree angle to bounce the light up. The on-body flash isn't very powerful, so it won't work too well, but it might be enough in some situations to soften the harsh direct flash.

Lastly, I'd just like to say that buying lenses is a very personal thing, each photographer has different needs so it's hard to give any really valuable advice like this. Your best bet is to go to a local photo store and try out some different lenses if you can.

finley said...

Thank you so much for your response. I'll be sure to try the 35mm f/1.8 first, really appreciate your advise.

landal44 said...

Hi James,

I just had a baby and have been wanting to buy a nice camera just to take nice family pictures. I have been researching the different Nikon cameras and still can't make up my mind. Your iste however, has by far been the absolute BEST!!!! I read all posts and decided the D40, but later you say it was replaced by the D3000 or D5000. I was looking at used cameras too - so thanks for teh advice on NOT buying used. For just baby pics and family pics for a beginner, what do you suggest? I'd like to stay within 500-700 (and $700 is a stretch).

James Fryer said...

landal44,

The Nikon D3100 is an excellent camera! The only problem is that stock of most Nikon cameras seems to be low and the prices have gone up. Shop around, I think the price was about $600 retail before the recent price hikes. Looks like B&H Photo has it on sale for $600.

You might get lucky and find one at a local Target, Walmart, or Best Buy at a reasonable price? Check Costco and Sam's Club too, they have good package deals.