Nikon D40 - Still Impressive
This is a tribute to my old Nikon D40, now 5 year old technology, which in digital terms might as well be 25 years! But I didn't want to use my more expensive gear at the Notting Hill Carnival the other day, so I took the humble D40 instead and I was most impressed by the images it produced.
But then I thought ‘why wouldn’t I be impressed?’ Most consumers are conditioned into thinking that only the newest and latest gear can deliver the best shots, and anything old is obsolete. But just because something is old doesn’t meant it’s not useful. And while newer cameras may have more bells and whistles, or even better ergonomics, the little Nikon D40 proved that it can still hold it’s own in that all important image quality department.
Its 6MP CCD (today cameras are packing 16-24MP on the same sensor size) delivered excellent RAW files which (coupled to a sharp prime lens) had plenty of detail, even at high ISOs.
With ‘only’ 6MP, those pixels are obviously going to be larger and physically take in more light, so the camera performs pretty well at higher ISOs, even for an old sensor. Other factors come into it, of course, especially with today’s higher megapixel sensors and thus smaller pixels, such as image processing algorithms. Modern DSLRs, even APS-C sized sensors, can now reach very high ISO levels with excellent results.
One thing that clearly helps is shooting RAW. Any noise is finer and thus easier to remove more evenly. Colour is also better retained than in a JPEG.
Anyway, below are some examples and crops from photos I took in a restaurant after the carnival, so you can judge for yourself. Not a scientific study, of course (I have a life to enjoy – can’t be stuck indoors shooting test charts!) but they illustrate my point. All the images were shot hand-held with the Nikkor 50mm F/1.8G AF-S, at F/1.8, and the RAW files were converted using Adobe RAW converter in Adobe CS5.
Shot at ISO 1250. I applied noise reduction (Dfine 2.0) and resized for the web.
A crop from the original RAW file. Lots of noise for sure, but a reasonable amount of detail too, especially for 6MP.
No noise reduction at all on this image below shot at ISO 1600, and resized for the web it still doesn't look half bad. The noise grain is so fine as not to be intrusive on the image. If I was going to print it large, I would obviously think about some selective noise reduction.
Here is an actual size crop from the above image. Pretty good detail for ISO 1600 in a 5 year old camera!
(also pretty good sharpness for a lens at F/1.8!)
Just out of curiosity, I did apply a dusting of noise reduction, and it's not bad to my eyes, although there is a smoothing effect.
Same again. ISO 1600 and no NR.
Actual size crop of the above image. Yes, noise, but also detail.
The fine grain might lend itself to a B+W treatment.
Another example at ISO 1600.
Actual size crop from the above image.
With NR applied.
Another at ISO 1600, no NR but resized for the web. Noise is visible but not too intrusive.
Curves adjustment, Dfine 2.0 noise reduction, and resized for the web. Not bad!