Canon EOS 400D / Digital Rebel XTi vs Nikon D40x

First published on: Thursday, 15 March 2007

The Nikon D40x announcement in March 2007 makes it one of the two lowest-priced, 10 MP (Megapixel) digital SLR cameras on the market, a position which was previously occupied only by the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi / 400D.

On paper the XTi has more features and functionality over the D40x, but it may not necessarily be the automatic choice in all cases.

In this comparison, I attempt to lay out and summarize the strengths in each camera, and it’s then left up to you to decide which one to buy. In order to contain this article to reasonable limits, I’ll make the following assumptions:

  1. You don’t have any digital SLR system to begin with, or the one you have is not a significant factor in your decision
  2. You have a limited budget (I won’t assume how much), and you’re looking to get the best value for the money paid

Canon Digital Rebel XTi / EOS 400D Pros

There is no other 10MP digital SLR camera on the market at this price or below that can boast the amount of features that the XTi has. Click here for the XTi specs sheet, and then go here to see a side-by-side comparison of features with the D40x.

The XTi has more buttons and wheels on the camera body to enable you to make quick changes to White Balance and ISO settings if needed.

On the D40x, you’d need to go into the menu to perform the same task, although setting the flash mode and compensation is easier on the D40x, with the availability of a dedicated button, which is pressed in combination with the pressing of another button and / or the turning of the wheel.

If you value having Mirror Lock-Up capability, which allows for sharper macro shots at slower shutter speeds, then the XTi is a must-have. This feature is not available on the D40x.

Other features not available on the D40x but can be found on the XTi are exposure bracketing and white balance bracketing, and DOF (depth of field) preview.

The ability to autofocus (AF) with a wide range of lenses is another strong point on the XTi.

With the D40x, you are generally limited to Nikkor AF-S or Sigma HSM lenses if you want AF compatibility, so you can forget about using nice, third-party lenses such as the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 or Sigma 105mm macro lenses. You also can’t AF with the excellent prime lenses from Nikon such as the 85mm f/1.4D or Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D lenses.

Not so on the Canon XTi — if you have a friend who can loan you an EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens, you’ll be out-shooting a Nikon D40x owner trying to photograph the action during an indoor basketball match. A Nikon D40x owner is at a serious disadvantage if they try to shoot indoor sports since they don’t have access to any bright (f/1.8 or larger) prime lenses that can AF with the camera.

Nikon D40x Pros

If I were to go solely by the official image samples released by each manufacturer, I would say that the Nikon D40x gives better images even if you were to mount ordinary, consumer-level Nikkor lenses on it. A sampling of lens ratings taken from further proves the superiority of Nikon consumer lenses over those from Canon (source: forum thread):

• Nikkor 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G ED DX — 9.11 rating
• Nikkor 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G ED DX — 8.27 rating
• Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR — 8.19 rating
• Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM — 7.45 rating

In other words, you don’t need to purchase expensive glass to enjoy high quality output (consider a 400D user review by Jovo, who shared some excellent pictures taken with pro-level lenses and advised against using cheap glass with the XTi) from the camera, something that cannot be said of the Canon system. Judge for yourself from the links below.

Canon XTi Official Photos (click on the thumbnail series to go directly to the gallery)

Official Canon XTi Samples
All photos were taken with very expensive Canon lenses (EF 35mm f/1.4L USM $1180, EF 50mm f/1.4 USM $354, EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM $1870, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM $1700, EF 17-40mm $680), and in my opinion, turned out sub-par compared to the photos from the D40x.

Nikon D40x Official Samples (click on the thumbnail series to go directly to the gallery)

Official Nikon D40x Samples
In contrast with the Canon samples above, all except one photo were shot using only the very cheap, newly-introduced, consumer-level Nikkor 55-200mm VR (vibration reduction) lens that costs only USD $215.00 (expected to cost no more than $250 when it hits the streets). Colors are brilliant, contrast is superb, bokeh is beautiful, and sharpness is excellent. None of the cheaper zoom lenses from Canon can give you this level of image quality. In fact, the quality from the 55-200mm VR lens compares very favorably to Nikon’s other professional-level lenses, see the full-sized, Nikon D40X comparison samples posted by AndreasE.

For general photography (I’m thinking snapshots and travel), the combination of a Nikon D40x plus the Nikkor 18-55mm II and Nikkor 55-200mm lens cannot be beaten. There is no equivalent selection of lenses available with the XTi at this price that can match the focal length range, image quality and availability of image stabilization in the 55-200mm range. The D40x itself is already slightly smaller and lighter than the XTi, so this system is the ideal travel / backpack / hiking combination.

One related word of warning: the Canon 18-55mm lens is generally acknowledged by various reviews to be among the worst-performing lenses on the market, and it will be a huge waste to mate this lens to the highly-capable Canon XTi. You might like to compare the test results on various 18-55mm kit lens on offer by various manufacturers, and see for yourself:
Canon 18-55mm | Nikkor 18-55mm II | Pentax 18-55mm

Some have reported that Nikon D40 (and D40x) seems to have the brightest viewfinder when compared with the EOS 400D / XTi, and even the Nikon D80 (which has a larger viewfinder but not as bright). I don’t consider this a critical advantage in the D40x’s favor, but it does make photography a more enjoyable process.

I personally found the D40x to be the much more comfortable camera to hold and operate in my hands (most of the folks in this thread and Jennifer and Lauren from say pretty much the same thing). All the controls, especially the shutter button, were within comfortable reach and didn’t cause my hand to feel cramped or contorted. But, this is me we’re talking about here, so I’d advise you, if you can, to go to a camera store and try both out to see which camera fits and feels better in your hands.

I’ve not read many user opinions comparing both cameras yet, but this particular post (#16) by DanDan on a forum thread seems to indicate that straight-from-the-camera pictures are better from the D40 (Nikon’s 6MP camera which produces images having the same color, contrast and exposure characteristics as those from the 10 MP D40x) vs the XTi / 400D.

Weight and Dimensions Compared

Canon XTi / 400D:
Weight, including batteries — 556 g (19.6 oz)
Dimensions — 127 x 94 x 65 mm (5 x 3.7 x 2.6 in)

Nikon D40x:
Weight, including batteries — 522 g (18.4 oz)
Dimensions — 124 x 94 x 64 mm (4.9 x 3.7 x 2.5 in)


I would highly recommend the D40x to the photographer who wishes for a simple-to-operate camera, which gives brilliant pictures without the need for much tweaking, and who doesn’t mind exploring photography only with the various high-quality consumer lenses that Nikon has made available.

It must be borne in mind that the XTi needs to be tweaked to get images that “pop” — some photographers welcome this, others want to avoid having to perform this task as much as possible (and I’d recommend the D40x to this group of individuals).

If the photographer demands a system that offers a high level of camera configuration, with no limits placed on the AF capability with lenses available on the market, then the XTi gets my highest vote.

If you shoot a high proportion of indoor sports (say college basketball), then the XTi is a must, don’t even contemplate the D40x in this case.

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