We have a Nikon D40X ($730, body only) in our hands, and testing it for the past few days has been a joy. The camera is light but not too light, and its controls are perfectly placed. We're even okay with its menu system, which other reviewers have called "meandering." It also gives you the overall impression that it's going to back you up if you do something stupid. For example, its auto ISO setting will reach into its higher numbers, pushing the light through to help you out in a dark situation.
What we really like is the way the thing feels in our hands. It just fits perfectly. Its menu buttons are right where they need to be, along with the dial for automatic exposure, manual control and tons of programmed auto exposure routines. In fact, we like all the nice touches in this camera. When a product is crammed into a crowded market with scads of me-too products, these little details are what can set one digital SLR apart from all the others. With the Nikon, it's that perfect-sounding click when you release the shutter.
We also appreciate the extra megapixelidge added to this D40x model, which doesn't replace the lesser D40, but gives you 10.2 megapixels instead of the D40's six megapixels. The D40x also brings a bit faster rapid-fire rate, snapping off shots at three frames per second. Sure, it's not the spectacular 10fps motor drive of the Canon EOS 1D Mark III, but it'll still do the trick if you need to take a few quick shots in a row. What about that honking lens? There's more.
Another huge plus when you choose the Nikon D40x is its complement of outstanding Nikkor lenses. With our test unit, Nikon included its latest 55mm-to-200mm AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor f/4-5.6 lens (35mm equivalent: 82.5-300mm), an image-stabilized and super-sharp piece of glass that we immediately liked right out of the box. It features VR (Vibration Reduction), Nikon's antidote to shaky-cam shooting that's located in the lens, not in the camera body as you'll see in Sony DSLRs.
The 55-200mm lens (about $250) shares many of the characteristics of its coveted brandmate, the $870 18mm-to-200mm VR zoom that David Pogue was fawning over, and it gives you shots that are far steadier than you can ever handhold without image stabilization, even when zoomed all the way into 200mm at f/5.6.
Our supreme test was in a low-light situation, using only room lighting at night. Zooming all the way in to 200mm, we snapped a picture of a clock, which turned out to be fairly sharp even when handheld, with the shutter opening in about a 30th of a second. If you can hold a 200mm lens still enough for a shot taken at a 30th of a second, there's some serious stabilization voodoo going on there. Bravo, Nikon.
Overall, our first impression of the Nikon D40x and this Nikkor 55-to-200mm image-stabilized lens is highly favorable. We think it hits that sweet spot of price and performance, opening up a new world of digital SLR quality to those who might otherwise have stayed with a point and shoot. Both the lens and camera body are highly recommended.
However, we get the feeling that a similar Nikon DSLR with a live preview viewfinder is in the offing, so we're holding out for that one. We've just gotten too accustomed to live view in point-and-shoot cameras to abandon it for a digital SLR. We're spoiled—it's nice to be able to hold the camera away from you and still see how your shot is framed up. That said, if live view isn't important to you, Nikon has hit a home run with the D40x. Great camera.