When the Nikon D40 was first announced in November 2006, one of the topics most debated about was on the subject of the 6-Megapixel Nikon D40 compared with the Nikon D50 (also a 6 MP camera). It is only logical that this debate continued to rage on various online forums because the D40 is positioned as Nikon’s new entry-level digital SLR camera, a position that was previously occupied by the D50.
Important note: It’s not clear how much longer the D50 will be made available — click to view available Nikon D50 configurations.
Till today, comparisons are still made between the D40 and the D50 simply because despite having a slew of advantages, the D40 can’t quite supplant the D50 in several key areas, and I’ll attempt to list the pros and cons of each camera here and summarize the key attributes of each camera that makes it attractive to the target market.
Nikon D40 Pros
The first advantage of the Nikon D40 is its small size. Some may dismiss it as a disadvantage, but it is quite true that the large majority of customers in this market niche would prefer a smaller sized digital SLR camera in the form of the D40 than the rather large Nikon D50.
The best way for you to assess whether you prefer the size of the D40 or D50 is to try it out for yourself at the nearest camera store. I tried holding the Nikon D40 the other day at my favorite camera store and was quite pleasantly surprised how nice it felt in my hands — and I own the Nikon D70 myself.
The second benefit the D40 has over the D50 is the very large and slick rear LCD screen (some very nice examples are available on DPReview’s Nikon D40 review page). It’s not only the size that has been improved, but also the display, which has high resolution and a wide angle of view.
The colorful and bright D40 LCD displays most of the key camera settings at a glance, and this makes it easy to navigate to a particular setting screen and simply changing the value.
Additionally, the D40 has an additional programmable Fn (function) button near the popup flash which can be configured to allow you to quickly change Image Quality, ISO sensitivity of White Balance settings. These benefits go a long way to make the D40 a more enjoyable camera to use in day-to-day shooting compared to the D50.
You can view a comparison of the size of the Nikon D40 body vs the D50, and also see how their respective LCD screens compare — go to this site, and scroll until you reach near the bottom (here is a direct link to one of the comparison images in the series):
The third benefit with the D40 is that Nikon has tuned the camera to produce brighter, more colorful and punchier images with lower noise straight from the camera vs the D50. The D40 is also able to produce spectacular ISO3200 images, and it should be noted that ISO 3200 is not an option that is available on the D50, which goes only until ISO 1600.
On the subject of noise, “Lucky Pierre” has found the D40 to hold the advantage, where it’s able to yield ISO 800 / 1600 JPG images with lower noise and better detail.
Still on the subject of ISO, like the D50, the D40 has an Auto ISO feature which allows the camera to automatically increase the ISO as light levels go down. What the D40 has in addition to that is it allows you to set the maximum ISO value the camera can automatically increase to — so, if you don’t like your images to be captured at anything higher than ISO800, just set that in the menus and the D40 obeys your command. The D50, on the other hand, would go all the way to ISO1600 if it sees fit.
The D40 also has a range of in-camera image retouching tools, which allows you to conveniently edit images in the camera itself, without having to process the pictures via software such as Photoshop. For the full list of retouching options, see here. Of note are the Skylight, Warm Filter and Color Balance filters, which allow you to make your pictures more “cold”, “warm” or to change the color balance entirely.
Nikon implements a version of retouching in the D40 that I prefer to other cameras — editing a picture does not override the original image, but instead produces a copy with the effects applied — nice. The D-Lighting filter is also a useful one, brightening up shadow or darker areas of an image with a choice of three levels of strength — this is a great feature to have if you’ve shot a portrait against a strong backlight and had forgotten to use the flash to fill (brighten) the face.
These tools are not available on the D50, and shouldn’t be compared to professional image editing software such as Photoshop, but they are very handy to have.
In-camera image processing on the Nikon D40 seems to have been significantly improved vs the D50. What this means to you is that you’ll be able to get better images from the D40. See an image quality comparison between these two cameras on this page of the Nikon D40 review at DPReview.com. Additionally, Phil Askey has also declared the Nikon D40 to have the best JPEG image quality of any of the current 6 Megapixel camera.
According to the user manuals supplied with each camera, the battery on the Nikon D40, despite being smaller and lighter, has a longer-lasting life than that on the D50. This allows you to shoot more pictures with the D40 on a fully-charged battery vs the D50.
People who’ve done comparisons have also reported back that the D40 has a brighter viewfinder than the D50 — read their accounts here, here and here (yes, the D40’s VF is brighter than even the D70’s).
Nikon D50 Pros
The Nikon D50’s main advantage over the the Nikon D40 is in the area of the number of lenses that it can autofocus with.
This factor cannot be emphasized strongly enough. The Nikon D40 does not have a built-in AF motor, so can only autofocus with lenses that have their own focusing motor. In Nikon lens terminology, this means that the D40 can only Autofocus with Nikon lenses that have AF-S in their lens designation, or Sigma’s HSM lenses (see the complete list of Nikon Nikkor and Sigma lenses that will AF on the D40).
Which might not be a huge issue with certain photographers, but it also means that if owning a Nikon digital SLR camera that can autofocus with wonderful, “older” lenses such as the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D AF, Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D AF Micro, Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D AF and the like is a high priority of yours (especially more so if you already have a collection of such lenses, or can borrow these lenses from friends or relatives), then it’s best advised that you purchase the Nikon D50.
Some of these older (and relatively cheap) lenses are also firm favorites among photographers who like to shoot action or sports photography in low light, indoor basketball, for example. With the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D AF and Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D AF lenses, you can easily, on the D50, select an aperture of f/1.8 — this allows you to use a faster shutter speed and/or lower ISO compared to what the D40 photographer can obtain with the same amount of money spent.
Some may also prefer the Nikon D50’s heftier body vs the D40’s, but, as mentioned above, the only real way of knowing this is to try out both cameras for yourself at the store.
The Nikon D50 also has the benefit of 5 autofocus points, as opposed to the D40’s three. For a subject in motion, this simply means the D50 gives you more options to compose while keeping the main subject in continuous focus (see this related Nikon D70 / D70s focusing article — the principles apply equally to the D50).
You also get to be a bit more creative and play around with the wireless iTTL flash capability on the D50. Pop up the internal flash, and you will be able to remotely control a compatible Nikon flash (such as the SB-800, SB-600 or SB-R200) — the internal flash communicates with the remote external flash units via series of light pulses. The Nikon D40 does not support this feature.
Thanks to Teun who, in the comments, pointed out my error — the Nikon D50 does NOT have a commander-capable internal pop-up flash.
Still on the subject of flash photography, you are able to lock the exposure of the flash (known as FV-lock, or Flash Value lock) if you want to. Not so for the D40.
LarryTusaz — a Nikon D50 owner and a vocal critic of the Nikon D40 for the longest time, is contemplating to keep his new D40 and sell of his much-loved D50.
To be fair to Larry, he was critical of Nikon’s decision to reduce the features and hard buttons on the D40, and especially the removal of the in-camera auto-focus motor.
But his latest comments on the D40 now have the weight of ownership experience — for instance:
… Love that large 2½” LCD. The D50-s 2” is hardly puny, but love that large 2½ of the D40 …
… but the i-Button setup has not been as bad as I thought. I’ve found that ISO is what I most want instant access to, and the Func key provides it …
… and …
So far I’m loving it. The size is fine, and the INFO button setup, while not as good as hard buttons, is not as bad as I thought—and the ability to see ISO at all times without having to call it up sure helps. And yes, the viewfinder does seem a bit better than the D50.
Click here to view photos of Larry’s baby daughter taken by manually focusing the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D AF lens, and other shots with the kit Nikon 18-55 II lens.
Thanks Larry, for a balanced user’s perspective on the D40 and D50.