Leave most settings at their defaults.
Shoot with the top mode dial in P, Program Exposure mode.
Use Large, JPG, BASIC.
Go for small files. For most people not shooting hundreds of throw-away images a day, feel free to leave it in
, the default. NORMAL makes files twice as large with a tiny bit less blockiness if you're looking closely at the files printed 3 feet (1m) wide. NORMAL
Set exposure compensation to -0.7 because my D40's metering firmware is defective, just like the D80's meter. It usually overexposes.
Set -0.7 by holding the +/- button near the shutter and turning the rear dial two clicks to the right.
Shutter Advance Mode
I use Continuous (the bearded rectangle). I get one shot with one press of the shutter, and if I hold the shutter button my D40 shoots 2.5 frames per second. I do this in dim light so I can pick the sharpest image. For most shots of moving things I fire several rounds and pick the one with the best expressions and gestures. Of course I use a professional sorting tool on a 30" screen to make selecting files trivial.
Auto ISO increases the ISO automatically as it gets dark. It shoots at ISO 200 in good light, and at 1/15 of a second (or any speed you choose) it starts ramping up the ISO to a maximum of 1,600 (or any ISO you choose) as it gets darker. Only if it gets still darker will it let the shutter speed go below 1/15 at ISO 1,600, exactly as I'd do manually.
set Auto ISO to 1,600 max because the noise from the D40 at ISO 1,600 looks much better than blur. I set 1/15 because Unlike film, my D40 looks great at high ISOs.
I The D40 has a much warmer color balance than earlier cameras. White balance is how you set the color balance, and color is critical. It's also personal preference. Use whatever looks right to you. AUTO works great most of the time.
Image Sharpening: Auto (default).
Tone Compensation (contrast): Auto (default). The D40 automatically adjusts its contrast and dynamic range to each and every shot.
Color Mode: IIIa (three-a, default). This gives brighter colors than the other modes. Color mode II is pronounced "two" and not to be confused with 11 (eleven). You don't want Mode II even if you could use it.
Saturation: +, of course. This gives brighter colors than the default.
FOCUS (AF) Mode
Use the default of AF-A. This mode automatically selects between the two older modes, AF-C and AF-S.
Use Matrix, the default
Exposure Mode Selector Knob
Spin it to select among P, S, A and M exposure modes.
P: Program Automatic Exposure Mode
In this mode the camera chooses the f/stop and shutter speed for you.
It's easy to get to any aperture or shutter speed you prefer in this mode: simply move the rear dial to shift them. This selects alternate combinations of f/stops and shutter speeds which give the same exposure. Nikon calls this "Program Shift." A *P symbol appears on the bottom left of the viewfinder, to the left of the shutter speed.
Three easy ways to return to the standard program combination are to:
1.) flip to a different mode and back to P, or
2.) turn the D40 off and back on, or
3.) spin the rear dial back to its original position.
The *P symbol goes away when you've returned to the standard combinations.
The standard combinations are f/4 at 1/60, f/5.6 @ 1/125, f/8 @ 1/250, f/11 @ 1/500, etc.
A shifted set might use f/4 @ 1/1,000, f/8 @ 1/500 or might use f/4 @ 1/2, f/5.6 @ 1 sec, etc.
A, S and M Modes
If you want to use only one aperture or one shutter speed then use S or A mode and the camera will automatically pick the other value.
If you want to set both the hard way, use M, manual, mode.
In A or S mode you can only set one of the two values because the camera is setting the other one for you.
A Mode: Aperture Priority
In A mode you choose the Aperture and the D40 chooses the shutter speed.
S Mode: Shutter Priority
In S mode you set the Shutter and the D40 sets the aperture.
If the D40 runs out of available apertures you easily can get under or over exposure in S mode: watch that the D40 can select a correct aperture for your lighting.
M Mode: Manual Exposure
You have to set everything the hard way.
The rear dial sets the shutter speed in manual exposure. To set the aperture, hold the +/- (*) (diaphragm) button near the shutter and turn the rear dial.
OFF, ON and Shutter Release Button
Leave it ON unless you're putting it away. It draws no more power in ON than OFF. OFF is a lock to prevent accidental operation.
+/- and Diaphragm (*) Button
This button is next to the shutter button.
In manual exposure mode, hold this and turn the rear dial to change the aperture.
In every other mode, hold it and turn the rear dial to change the exposure compensation (brightness).
This exposure compensation button is very important. You'll probably wear the paint off this one. This button makes the photos lighter or darker. + is lighter, and - is darker.
This only affects photos as you take them. Use whatever setting looks best to you; there is no correct setting.
A flaw in the D40's meter firmware (same issue as the D80) makes most photos too light, so set to -0.7. If your photo is too light, hold the +/- button and spin the rear dial to a more negative number, like -1.3. If your photo is too dark, hold it and spin the dial to a more positive number, like -0.3 or 0.0. It's perfectly OK to go to any number you need, like -3.3 or +1.0.
This error isn't a simple calibration issue. The D40 does different weird things with different subjects and different compositions. The D40's meter firmware is designed erroneously to expose for the darkest part of the image, so it's almost impossible to get the right exposure of someone wearing black, especially as they move around the image. You may need -2.0 or -3.0 compensation, while other shots of light objects may be fine with 0.0.
The need for constant variation and supervision is what makes this meter so bad. Flash exposure is Nikon's usual perfection. You can change it's brightness along with the flash button.
HINT: You can see the + or minus value displayed in the finder as well as the rear LCD, so you can adjust this without taking your eye from the finder. The finder display only reads the value when the button is pressed; otherwise those digits read exposures remaining.
Info and Green Dot button
Tap this to wake up the D40 and show you what's going on with your settings on the LCD. Tap it again to turn off the LCD.
To change the settings, tap the other < i > and Green Dot button on the rear of the D40.
Hold both Green Dot buttons at the same time for a few seconds to reset most of the tactical parameters, like exposure compensation, autofocus modes, ISO, White Balance, etc, to their defaults. I don't use this reset often, since I set enough things away from defaults. I would use it if I loaned my D40 to a friend and had it returned later.