Nikon D40 Tips and Tricks

First published on: Monday, 28 July 2008

There’ll always be numerous tips and workarounds for getting the most out of the Nikon D40, and a few camera tricks that will not be obvious from reading the manual or reviews.

Camera Settings

Setting up the camera to produce images the way we like it (some prefer more punchy pictures than others) involves a lot of experimenting.

Having said that, if you want JPG files which preserve as much dynamic range and detail as possible and lend themselves better to post processing, you might want to try out Talkontar’s D40 setup.

In-camera Image Overlay Magic Tricks

Many have said that the in-camera image processing features of the D40 were simply useless “candy” for the “non-pro” bunch of photographers.

Well, they didn’t know better!

Mihai Munteanu shares two neat tricks using the Image Overlay retouching feature — HDR (High Dynamic Range Imaging) and to brighten an underexposed image (which Mihai prefers to the D-Lighting retouch option).

These are super-convenient tips for those who want a simpler approach to using full-powered photo editing tools. The slight downside to these techniques is that they require the RAW / NEF files to process.

I’m not saying you should use Mihai’s techniques exclusively, but they sure can come in handy.

Playback Zoom

Mknobil shared this playback zooming tip: After zooming into a specific area during playback, and then zooming back out, you will automatically be able to zoom back to the same spot after a quick press of the + button. The zoom magnification and the spot you have zoomed in to also continues to remain the same when you use the rear control dial to cycle through the images.

How to manually focus with the Nikon D40

Gary wrote a nice post on this subject — manually rotate the focusing ring on your lens and watch for the focus indicator in the viewfinder that lights up when the subject is in focus. More details can be found in the Nikon D40 User Guide.

How to configure Auto ISO to work in P and other modes

Massemo1 explains how the option to switch on the Nikon D40 Auto ISO feature is buried inside the “full list” version of the menu, rather than the “simple list” version which is the camera’s default. Ken Rockwell gives a more elaborate explanation, which you might prefer.

Noise and ISO Values

From what I have seen, the Nikon D40 is currently the Nikon digital SLR with the lowest noise levels in JPEG images. Jeff-c says that this should give you confidence to shoot even up to ISO800 without hesitation. Robin goes as far as setting the ISO on his D40 to 400, and letting the Auto ISO go up all the way to ISO1600.

Getting the Exposure Right With Older Lenses

Like most other Nikon digital SLR cameras, the D40 will not be able to determine the correct combination of shutter speed and aperture if you mount older lenses on it. In this case, you’ll need to put the D40 into M mode, and then go through a process of trial and error of determining the appropriate exposure on your own, using the histogram and / or blinking highlights information display. Roblatt has more to say on this here, and also includes a link to a more detailed article on histograms.

LCD Display Speed

The LCD display of the Nikon D40 has two modes — the very slick-looking Graphic mode, and the more straight-forward Classic mode. It has been noted that the Classic mode is more responsive in displaying changes made to settings with the command dial than the Graphic mode.

Extracting a Large, Fine JPEG from a RAW File In-Camera

G K Lai has a neat idea for using the D40’s Retouch feature to obtain a Large, Fine JPG image file from a NEF file.

The Exposure Bar and Use of Flash

When shooting a dark scene with flash, it’s normal for the exposure bar to go into the minus or negative region. This indicates that the background will be underexposed, relative to the foreground subject that will be illuminated by the flash (source: forum post). The only way to have the exposure bar indicate 0 is to use rear- or slow-sync flash — this flash mode ensures that the background is properly exposed by the ambient light, while your foreground subject is illuminated by the light from the flash — be prepared for slow shutter speeds though; you might need to use a tripod, brace yourself against a static object or use a VR (vibration reduction) lens.

Nikon D40 and Macs

Getting your Mac computer to talk to the D40 seems like an easy process, with no special settings required. Adam Drew, an owner of a Nikon D50 says that as soon as you connect the camera to the Mac, iPhoto should automatically launch and prompt you to transfer the image — Duchess McMann confirms this by sharing her experience.

Archive of comments from the old Nikon D40 blog

  1. spiritflare Says:

    Another trick to get a RGB Histogram on the D40 is after capturing an image, push the OK button to get Filter Effects, and OK again to get Color Balance. You’ll see the RGB Histo, and next time, just push 3x the OK button to get back to the same place!

    [email protected]

  2. Andrew Lossing Says:

    Adrew, owner of the Mac, might appreciate being called ‘Andrew’, if my typo-trained eyes do not deceive me.

  3. David Chin Says:

    The owner of the Mac goes by the forum name “adrew”. I’ve changed it to Adam Drew (based on the specified home page in his forum profile) to avoid further confusion.

  4. Krishna Says:

    My first DSLR. I can’t take pics by looking at the LCD only like other point/shoot digital cameras. Must look through view finder and also close it up for self timer photos.

    My big nose always rubs up against the LCD screen. Any advice besides getting a nose job?

  5. bobrocks Says:

    Hey Krishna,

    DSLR’s do not function in the same way that point and shoots do, you will need (and want) to use the viewfinder as there is no way to set (the d40 anyway) to display live images on the LCD. While I do not suggest the nose job, there are a few things you can do. Turn your head slightly to the side to avoid hitting the lcd or get a screen protector (not a bad idea anyway) for the LCD. Your nose hitting the screen will not cause any harm, but if you find yourself constantly wiping the screen you could scratch it with a napkin or cloth.

  6. balk Says:

    I noticed something strange when using the auto-ISO in PSAM modes: the ISO selected in the shooting menu (where you select WB, flash mode, AF mode etc) is used as a MINIMUM value. Set it at 800 and point at a lamp: ISO 800 is used instead of the expected 200!

  7. Vonnie Says:

    Just bought my Nikon D40 today, and I was having trouble taking action shots of basketball games without having the auto on. I really didn’t want to use the flash all the time, but the pictures weren’t in focus without it.
    This is my first SLR, but does anyone have any suggestions?
    I am having trouble figuring it out on my own.

  8. Bryan Says:

    Vonnie, did you try the mode right below Auto on the dial? It’s Auto minus flash, and seems to work pretty good.

  9. Tyler Says:

    OK, this is going to sound really dumb but I have the D40 with a 70-300 VR Nikkor lens and I would like to be able to take night shots without using the flash because of the overbrightness if you will. Is there any way that I can set my camera to take the pictures just as I see them but not lower my shutter speeds?

  10. David Chin Says:

    Tyler — you’d need to increase your ISO as high as possible, and use the largest aperture (smallest f-number).

    But I think you’re going to have to deal with noisy pictures, at least, once you start hitting ISO 1600 or more. This may not be an issue if you’re only going to be making 4 x 6 or 5 x 7 prints.

  11. Ira Says:

    Anybody have a recommendation for a case to use for the D40. The one Nikon sells seems pricey. I just want to have the camera in a case when I’m carrying it around, for example when sightseeing. I’m not looking for a system case, I ordered the accessory kit from Amazon so I’d have an extra battery.

    I’ve got the kit lens on it now, but eventually want to get the 70-200VR.


  12. David Chin Says:

    @Ira — I posted your question at DPReview, and got some excellent replies.

    The first suggestion by Starcolony suggests the use of two bags, one for going light, and the other for when you need to carry everything including that huge Nikon 70-200 VR. For the light case, Lowepro TLZ Mini gets the thumbs up.

    When you need to carry the heavy stuff, Gerry suggests going for one of the Think Tank Digital Holsters. These bags have two vertical sizes, and are able to extend when needed. Because the Nikkor 70-200mm’s length is 8.5 inches, you would have to get either the Digital Holster 20 or DH 30.

    For a bit more cash, and for what it’s worth, many owners who have bigger cameras and longer lenses tend to go for the Lowepro Toploader 75 AW. True, your D40 is a small camera, but when you take total length into consideration, a D40/x plus 70-200 VR isn’t much longer than a D2X/s / D3 / D200 / D300 / D70/s / etc plus the 70-200.

    Hope this helps!

  13. elend Says:

    Hey, uhm. I don’t have a question or something. Thanks for the vast amount of tips and infos about the D40, which I am now planning to buy, thanks to this blog. I wasn’t sure at first, because of the missing AF motor. Thank you. :D

  14. LISA Says:

    I am really getting great nature shots with my d40, however I would love to get close up. Any suggestions for a good macro lense.
    Do you suggest a ringflash?

  15. James Allison Says:

    “Ira says:
    3. October, 2007 at 09:59

    Anybody have a recommendation for a case to use for the D40. The one Nikon sells seems pricey. I just want to have the camera in a case when I’m carrying it around, for example when sightseeing. I’m not looking for a system case, I ordered the accessory kit from Amazon so I’d have an extra battery.

    I’ve got the kit lens on it now, but eventually want to get the 70-200VR.


    Late reply i know but the lowepro slingshot range of bags work nice with this camera. I have the lowepro slingshot 100 with space for the camera (incl lens) plus 2 spare lenses or a lense and a large flash. Has built in memory car pocket and rain cover and you have quick access to the camera it’s self.

    Hope this helps


  16. Greg Wardlaw Says:


    Just got a D40 and want to know why when I use the 55-200 vr lens sometimes the camera will not take a shot. It sounds like the range finder is making a noise but until I point in another direction I can’t get it to take a picture sometimes. This doesn’t happen with the 18-55 lens.

  17. David Chin Says:

    @Greg — here’s a wild guess, based on what you’re saying.

    The minimum focusing distance of the 55-200mm VR is about 3.6 ft. or 1.1 m, which is nowhere near as close as what you can focus with the 18-55mm.

    So, when you focus on something with the 55-200mm VR, make sure that subject is about 4 ft away.

  18. Prince Says:

    @Greg — David pointed out right. I struggled with the same issue for few days before I got some suggestions on DPS forum. Till the camera doesn’t find anything to focus on, it will not click, unless you are in all manual mode.

    I had this issue mainly when I was trying to take pics in low light conditions.

    I am loving the D40, my first DSLR. It is fun to experiment and try so many different settings…

  19. Leigh Wanstead » Blog Archive » d40 tips Says:

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