go with either 400d or d80. personally i would recommend the d80 since nikon's kit lenses are much better compared to canon's. as you move on to more advanced lenses, it doesnt really make much diff since both will be expensive.
if you are low on budget, just want something basic, go with Nikon & the kit lens.
Canon kit lens simply sucks compared to Nikon's kit lens.
But if you plan to upgrade in future, spend on better lens, Canon has more lens & their f4 L lens (17-40 & 70-200) are really good value for $.
Canon has great control of noise when using high ISO.
To me, Nikon metering is better & their flash is cheaper. Wide angle lens also perform better.
Technology wise, Nikon seems to be a step behind Canon.
At the end of the day nikon users will tell you to get the d80 and canon users will tell you to get the 400d... So maybe a better option would be to ask in the sony / olympus subforum... at least they're neutral towards C & N... but they might ask you to get a sony or olympus instead
I would go with the first reply which said go with the one that feels comfortable in your hand. Nothing can ever be more important than the feeling of the camera.
Don't just look at the kit lens. You can always not buy it and go for a slightly better one. So let the kit lens not be a yardstick to judge your camera buy. Having said that, yes, the Nikon kit lenses are a bit better but I have seen amazing images from the Canon kit lenses too. So, keep your options open.
Nikon is considered to be a bit bad in the noise section at high ISOs. But this seems to be remedied to a decent extent in the newer models. The other stuff would not be so significant if you shoot in RAW.
Some would say the D80 is a watered down D200. Truth be told, I was considering getting it but could not convince a noobie like me to get something so expensive just to learn. So I got a D70 second hand and am quite happy with getting better glass. But again, my personal opinion.
You are right in saying the D40 won't AUTO focus, but you can still do manual. and yes the reason is the motor not being in the camera body. So you can focus the ones with motor in the lens. Shouldn't be a problem as I know a lot of people who do manual focus only and their shots are good too.
So, if you want me to pick one of the above, I would go for the D80 for the simple reason that I like Nikon and the D80 is an awesome camera. But if you think you are going to upgrade very soon (get a D2x, 3x something =P), then a second hand cheaper option for experience sake would be good enough.
was exactly in the same dilemma 2 months back choosing between d80 and 400D. i think it's a no brainer that these two cams are very good. i ended up buying 400D just because of the size. d80 just too big for my hands. i like the size of d40 also but two things i'm looking for was not there - focus motor and bracketing.
the question then should be...
Do you like to shoot in RAW?
If the answer is Yes? Pick the D80.
If the answer is No? Pick the 400D.
My 2 cents.
I think there is very little to choose between Nikon D80 and Canon 400D. When you are buying a DSLR, you are buying into a system and as so many have said earlier, there are pros and cons in both systems. At the end of the day, my view is that the photographer will be the biggest single factor influencing the quality of the images captured by either of these capable cameras. As you have said it yourself, the Canon 400D feels better in your hand. If this is the case, go for it and enjoy using the camera. Don't look back and ignore anything that other people may tell you about Nikon being a better camera and that you should got that instead. For myself, I prefer the Nikon D80 as I find the 400D a little too small and light. I don't care if Canon now introduces new range of lenses not available to Nikon users. It is true that Canon has a slightly wider range of lenses but does this really matter as there is more than enough choices in the Nikon range as well? Whatever you choose, stick with it and move on and start taking photos.