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Nikon D40 Compared to Nikon D50
and Pentax K110D / K100D DSLR's

Nikon D50 compared to Nikon D40 compared to Pentax K110D

Dec 6th, 2006

With the recent release of Nikon's new entry level digital SLR the Nikon D40, we decided to test the Nikon D40 and see how it compares against the Nikon D50 and the Pentax K110D digital SLR which are targeted at a similar audience.

The Nikon D40, D50 and Pentax K110D feature the same 6.1 megapixel resolution, and all three cameras are available with kit lens configurations. (The K110D is basically the same as the Pentax K100D digital SLR without the built-in stabilizer)

For the purposes of our comparison we decided to use the zoom lens that comes supplied in the standard Nikon D40, Nikon D50 and Pentax K110D camera lens kit. In Canada this includes the Nikkor AF-S DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G II ED lens with the Nikon D40, the Nikkor AF-S DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED with the Nikon D50 and the SMC Pentax DA 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AL with the Pentax K110D digital SLR.

The current manufacturer's recommended retail price in Canada for the Nikon D40 digital SLR kit is $749, for the Nikon D50 kit $729 and for the Pentax K110D $699. See the latest US price for the Nikon D40 kit with lens, the Nikon D50 lens kit and the Pentax K110D digital SLR kit.

To see how well their respective technologies would respond to the challenge, we tested the Nikon D40, Nikon D50 and Pentax K110D mainly under difficult lighting conditions. See our Nikon D40 versus Nikon D50 versus Pentax K110D side by side image comparison review below.

Nikon D40 vs. Nikon D50 vs. Pentax K110D
Auto White Balance Test (Mixed Light)

Pentax K110D
Nikon D40
Nikon D50

The above shots were taken with the Nikon D40, Nikon D50 and the Pentax K110D digital SLR's set to their default settings, including using Auto White Balance (AWB). Sensitivity was set to 1600 ISO.

This scene was selected to show how these respective cameras would handle a situation were you are taken pictures under mixed lighting conditions without using flash. Example situations were you could encounter similar conditions would include taking pictures at a school play, in a museum or in an art gallery.

Pentax K110D
Nikon D40
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Nikon D50

With respect to our Auto White Balance (AWB) mode test, the Pentax K110D digital SLR delivered the least accurate result in our opinion with the test image showing a fairly blue/green cast.

Using the default Auto White Balance setting on the D50 digital SLR provided a result that we found to be more accurate, although there was a bit of a warm (reddish) cast to the final image.

Overall we feel that the Nikon D40 did the best job in this situation delivering a white balance result that most closely resembled the colours in the original scene. If anything just a little on the warm side like the Nikon D50.

It is also interesting to note that for this scene the Nikon D40 metered and calculated an exposure setting of 1/13 sec at F8 in Aperture Priority mode compared to an exposure setting of 1/5 sec at F8 with the Nikon D50.

The resulting D50 image looks a little washed out. In comparison the Nikon D40 provided a slightly better exposure balance in terms of maintaining detail in both the bright and dark areas of the image. The Pentax K110D digital SLR calculated an exposure of 1/20 sec at F8 for this scene. See enlarged crops below.

Pentax K110D
Nikon D40

Nikon D50

Notice there is a loss of shadow detail in the Pentax K110D digital SLR sample image compared to the Nikon D40 test shot. Crops from full size.

The Pentax K110D also exhibits higher noise levels at 1600 ISO compared to both the Nikon D40 and Nikon D50.

In our opinion the Nikon D40 does a better job at high ISO noise reduction in auto mode compared to both the Pentax K110D and the Nikon D50.

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Nikon D40 vs. Pentax K110D
Built-in Flash Test (Exposure and WB)

Pentax K110D
Nikon D40

In this test the Nikon D40 and Nikon D50 provided very similar results with both cameras delivering well balanced flash exposures.

The flash test image from the Pentax K110D digital SLR came out a little over exposed with some loss in highlight detail. All in all still pretty good. Crops from full size image below.

Pentax K110D with flash
Nikon D40 with flash

In our opinion the Nikon D40 digital SLR did a better job in capturing this scene based on the advantage of incorporating Nikon's proven i-TTL flash metering technology also found in Nikon's higher end models like the Nikon D80 and Nikon D200. (Same for the Nikon D50)

Both the Pentax K110D and the Nikon D40 digital SLR did well in selecting the correct Auto White Balance when using the pop-up flash.

Nikon D40 vs. Pentax K110D
Built-in Flash Test (Exposure and WB)

Pentax K110D
Nikon D40
Nikon D50

These test shots were taken outdoors with the Pentax K110D, Nikon D40 and the D50 digital SLR's set to "point and shoot" Landscape Scene Mode. The weather was not cooperating and the white streaks in the test images are actually snow "trails".

All three cameras metered the scene differently, with the Pentax K110D setting an exposure of 1/90 sec for the shutter speed and an aperture of f/6.7, the Nikon D40 selecting 1/40 sec at f/7.1 and the Nikon D50 selecting 1/50 sec at f/8. Each of the cameras selected 400 ISO as the appropriate sensitivity setting for this scene.

In terms of setting the correct WB, we find the sample image from the Pentax K110D digital SLR is quite a bit on the warm side (red), the Nikon D40 produced the best result overall, and the Nikon D50 image seems to be a little on the cold side (blue). The back wall of the building (top right of image) should look grey in colour.

Pentax K110D
Nikon D40

Nikon D50

Looking at the close up crops taken from the full size test images, the Pentax K110D digital SLR does a good job at delivering detail although there is some loss in the shadow areas compared to the image from the Nikon D40 and the D50.

The Nikon D40 and D50 metering systems exposed more for the shadow areas with some slight clipping of the brighter highlight areas as a result.

Compare the edges of the tree branches extending behind the wall towards the top of the image.

The above sample images are intended to show how the Pentax K110, Nikon D40 and Nikon D50 digital SLR's compare to each other when using the cameras in the standard automatic modes.

General Observations:

  • With the Pentax K110D digital SLR we would recommend using the cameras preset WB settings instead of Auto White Balance mode to get better results. The available options include: Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Fluorescent ( 3 sub settings), Tungsten and Flash.

  • The Pentax K110D and K100D feature a 16-segment multi-pattern metering system which offers good exposure capabilities for most general situations.

    The Nikon D40 and Nikon D50 incorporate Nikon's 420-segment 3D Matrix Metering II technology which not only evaluates brightness and contrast but also colour. In order to determine and set the exposure, the 420-segment sensor instantly assesses and compares a scene’s brightness, contrast, and colour and compares it to the camera’s built-in database of information from more than 30,000 real-world lighting scenarios.

    The Pentax metering system in the K110D is less accurate in complex lighting situations compared to the exposure capabilities offered by the Nikon D40 and D50 as seen in the above sample images. Comparing the automatic exposure capabilities of the Nikon D40 to the Nikon D50, the Nikon D50 on average provided an exposure that was about a 1/3 stop brighter than the exposure selected by the Nikon D40.

  • The Pentax K110D offers a nice clear viewfinder although the viewfinder on the Nikon D40 is better and brighter. Out of the three cameras the Nikon D50 offers the darkest viewfinder with the smallest viewfinder magnification coverage.

  • The rear LCD monitor on the Nikon D40 offers the best resolution with 230,000 pixels compared to the 210,000 pixel monitor on the Pentax K110D. Not that noticeable until you zoom in on the image in the monitor to get a general idea of sharpness. The D50 offers a smaller 2.0" LCD monitor compared to the larger 2.5" LCD on the Nikon D40 and Pentax K110D.

    Compared to the Nikon D50, the Nikon D40's rear LCD monitor also features an improved 170 degree viewing angle. The monitor on the Pentax K110D / K100D offers a 140 degree viewing angle.

  • The Nikon D40 comes supplied with a long lasting Nikon EN-EL9 rechargeable Lithium Ion battery and charger. The Nikon D50 comes supplied with the similar long lasting Nikon EN-EL3 battery, and can use the same rechargeable batteries as the Nikon D70s, D80 and Nikon D200.

    The Pentax K110D / K100D is compatible with regular AA batteries (x4) although we would recommend buying a high capacity rechargeable Ni-MH AA battery kit. Being able to use regular AA's in a pinch could be an advantage with the Pentax K110D.

  • We found the Nikon battery system to be very dependable with both the Nikon D40 and Nikon D50 showing a half charge still remaining after our tests. A spare battery would be considered a good idea if traveling for an extended period.

The Nikon D40 does not have a top information panel display like the Nikon D50 and the Pentax K110D. At first we thought this would be inconvenient however we quickly got used to checking the back LCD monitor for camera settings and to access the menus.

  • Out of the three cameras we found the menu display on the Nikon D40 to be the most user friendly with camera information presented in a clear language. A handy help menu and 'Assist Images' guide novice users on how to select appropriate settings on the Nikon D40 by showing a sample image on the monitor typical of the selected setting.

  • The Nikon D40 does not have an Auto Focus motor built-in to the camera body like the Nikon D50 or Pentax K110D. This allows the D40 to take on a smaller form factor although limits the cameras Auto Focus compatibility to Nikon's AF-S series of lenses which feature a built-in AF-S motor. The advantage for the Nikon D40 compared to the Pentax K110D is considerably quieter operation and faster focus tracking.

  • The Nikon D50 also features quieter operation with the AF-S DX 18-55mm kit lens compared to the fairly loud focus sound coming from the Pentax K110D coupled with the SMC Pentax 18-55mm kit zoom lens. Pentax Corp. has announced plans for a new line up of lenses to be released next year which will feature quieter operation with built-in lens motors.

  • The advantage with the Nikon D50 compared to the Nikon D40 is that you can use the older AF Nikkor lenses and still maintain Auto Focus (AF) capability. When using one of the non AF-S type of Nikkor lenses on the Nikon D40 you loose the AF ability, the metering and automatic exposure modes will still work, so if you don't mind using manual focus you will be fine. The Pentax K110D is fully compatible with all of the Pentax AF lenses and can also be used with older manual focus Pentax lenses (no AF).

    Which camera to buy is a personal choice and depends on individual preferences and needs. The differences we noted above in terms of White Balance and Exposure can be adjusted and controlled manually on all the three cameras to suit user tastes.

    The Pentax K110D and the Nikon D50 digital SLR are both very good cameras although if you prefer to simply concentrate on getting the shot and having the camera control the settings automatically for you, we feel the Nikon D40 delivers the most consistent results out of the three models we tested.
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