Saying goodbye, hello, and goodbye again

Sometimes I’m amazed at how attached I become to cameras.  I’ve written about my lovely Nikon FM2, and also a little about my new D90.  But I haven’t written about my most faithful workhorse, my Nikon D40, that I have been wanting (rather half-heartedly, if truth be told) to sell.  The reason for selling is very simple: the D90 is not cheap, and my bank balance will benefit from having funds restored to it having after buying the D90.  I’m very glad to have found a buyer, and in particular a very special buyer (more on that in a moment), but I’m still sad to be seeing it go.  I bought the D90 for a few specific features that the D40 didn’t have, but I haven’t yet formed quite the intimate bond with it that I feel I have with the D40, even 3,500 shots on the D90 later.

The D40 was my first digital SLR, and in fact, my first digital camera at all.  I had always used film until then; now I use both.  It was bought reluctantly in the summer of 2008, when the shutter on my film camera jammed just before a holiday and I needed a camera.  To my surprise (naive, I know!), it was only possible to buy an F6 from Nikon – whilst I’d love an F6, it’s a bit outwith my price range!  So after a bit of research, I went for the D40 – the cheapest digital SLR in Nikon’s range, and despite my initial wariness, I now really love it.

Why? Because it allowed me to explore the art of photography in a way I hadn’t done quite so systematically before then, and allowed me to take some of my favourite pictures ever.  This post is a brief review of my D40 photographic life…

Hotel, Bergen

Very early on, I took this image from a hotel window in Bergen, Norway, where I was for an academic conference. The 18-55mm kit lens, despite weighing next to nothing, is great, and served me well on my travels. Although I later bought the much heavier 18-200mm, the smaller lens is not only considerably lighter, it doesn’t have the barrel distortion of the larger one (that sometimes, if not used carefully, results in horizons sagging in the middle, for example).

With the D40, I usually felt I was being relatively unobtrusive – not quite like a rangefinder (which doesn’t have the clunking mirror noise that an SLR has), but it is a small SLR and therefore not as ‘in your face’ as my old film SLR was, which had a large battery grip as well as fairly big fat old lenses; this made the D40 great for social occasions (the D90 is again a bigger camera…).

Stephanie Tait

Speaking of people, it was with the D40 that I took some of my first systematic portraits.  One of my very early blog posts was about directing portraits and it was with the D40 that I took several hundred photographs of Stephanie.  She allowed herself to be photographed – wanted it even – in itself a new experience for me, and this enabled me to discover a whole new aspect to my photographic interest: aside from landscapes and family photography, I loved being able to photograph someone who was willing to do what I asked them to do, even if I wasn’t very good at doing it!

Stephanie Tait

However, I did go on a very helpful one-day introductory course to portrait photography at Stills, and began to find it easier to think about these things.  A later photoshoot with Stephanie resulted in what I felt were better portraits.  And of course, the D40 was part of all of this.

Over the summer of 2009 I spent 3 weeks on Mull, and was up about half the mornings to take dawn photographs – a wonderful experience.  I used both film and digital for these sessions.  Some of the D40 photographs formed the basis of a 2010 calendar I created.


And when I went to Torridon for my first weekend course with Bruce Percy, it was the D40 that I took with me.  This was the first time I’d ever spent time thinking about how to approach landscape photography under the guidance of a really great photographer, and the D40 was a great camera to have with me for that (I wrote about that in a series of blog entries: 1, 2, 3, 4).  It coped with some very soggy weather (plastic bags were on hand to wrap it in whilst taking photographs!), and I came home with a collection of images that I really love.

So the D40 has been through a lot with me.  It feels a bit like a ‘first ever’ camera, because we’ve done so much together.  I’m reminded of all this because my D90 has been in for repair (a minor warranty issue), and so I’ve reverted to using the D40.  It feels so nice and snug in my hands, and I’ve really enjoyed taking it with me for walks and events in the last couple of weeks.  As it happens, a day or two after the D90 went in for repair, a friend got in touch to say she wanted to buy the D40.  So in a funny kind of way, these last two weeks have felt a bit like a swansong, just before it moves on to a new owner; 15,000 exposures later, and it works as it did on the day I bought it.  There is no doubt in my mind that this is a really fantastic camera – if you’re looking for a digital SLR, this is a great one to consider (though now going up in price drastically!  I’m not asking for anything like the amounts noted here for mine…).

What I am really pleased about, however, in the sadness at having to sell it at all, is that the D40 is going to a very good new home.  My friend Carrie is buying it, and will, I am sure, put it to very good use in her art and more generally.  She is a fantastically creative individual, and very reflective of her own place and identity in relation to her art, and I’m sure she will find that a good camera will help her.  I realise I’m writing about a device made of metal, glass and plastic as if it were a beloved pet cat that I need to give away when moving to another country, but it almost feels like that.  For me, the idea of the camera not ‘getting in the way’ of the photograph is perfectly realised in a camera like the D40, and this fusion is exactly what Dorothea Lange was speaking about.  I hope Carrie finds the D40 as useful as I did, and before long finds herself ‘fused’ to it in the way that I did.

Today I collected the repaired D90, so now it really is farewell, faithful friend.