Nikon D5500: Full Review
The D5500’s predecessor, the D5300 was a great general-purpose family- and travel-oriented DSLR, so I was excited to see what improvements Nikon might have unveiled with the latest addition to the range. However, on the face of it, it appears that the D5500’s spec isn’t actually all that remarkably different from that of the last model. But lets take a closer look now to see if this is really the case.
Firstly, before any of you start looking for it, I should point out that there was no D5400 between the D5300 and the D5500 – a fact that has apparently confused many people. The reason the 5400 was skipped is rumoured to be down to ‘tetraphobia’: a general East Asian aversion to the number 4 due to its popular association with death (the words ‘four’ and ‘death’ sound very similiar in Japanese and several other Asian languages). So now you know.
With that important mystery cleared up, lets get straight down to business: image quality.
Well, Nikon certainly get off to a good start here, as the D5500 produces excellent quality photos. Indeed the D5500 uses the same 24 megapixel CMOS sensor as can be found in the D5300. And again, just like the D5300, there is no antialiasing filter, so images are extremely sharp.
In decent lighting conditions, noise is not really noticeable up to and beyond ISO 1,600. The D5500’s ISO settings go from 100 up to 25,600 (expandable). and can be quickly and easily adjusted by pressing a button on the side of the camera and turning the rear dial. Colour rendition is also great – although perhaps a little on the cool side. White balance is generally good and the camera offers 8 distinct white balance modes, all but one of which are manually fine-tuneable. White balance bracketing is also available.
In theory the camera takes care of unwanted dust by means of a self-cleaning sensor. While the efficiency of this feature will only become apparent over time, we can at least report that it doesn’t appear to cause any delay in start-up times when switching on the camera.
If there’s one single feature that renders the D5500 noteworthy when compared with its predecessor (and even just Nikon DSLRs in general), its the addition of a fold-out, touch-sensitive screen. Indeed, its the first ever touch screen to grace a Nikon DSLR. Fully articulating, the screen can more easily be positioned out of the sun’s reach to aid visibility. It is in any case quite a bright display, which of course also helps when forced to work under the sun’s direct glare. Furthermore, when you put your eye up to the viewfinder the camera detects the presence of your face and shuts down the LCD display, automatically switching it back on again as you move away. The optical viewfinder offers 95% coverage, which is by no means the best you could hope for, but at the same time is pretty standard for cameras at this price point.
The D5500 uses the same 2,016-pixel RGB metering sensor as the D5300 and metering modes include 3D color matrix metering II; color matrix metering II; center-weighted metering; and spot metering. The camera offers regular shooting modes such as auto, shutter-priority, aperture-priority and manual, in addition to a number of preset “scene modes” that are designed to tackle various specific shooting conditions (such as beach or snow).
Likewise, the D5500 also employs the same focusing system as the D5300, and as such there is no notable change in performance. Users can select the desired number of autofocus points (up to 39) and focusing modes, including continuous and 3D tracking – the latter of which I’m quite impressed to find on a camera at this price point. Shutterspeeds are selectable from 1/4000 to 30 seconds in 1/3 increments and the camera boasts a burst shooting rate of between 5fps.
Also, as with the D5300, Wi-Fi is included. Indeed, some of the more observant readers amongst you might have begun to sense a ‘subtle’ pattern emerging here: the similarities between this camera and Nikon’s D5300 are significant. In fact we might as well come right out with it and say that the similarities are so significant that we’re left wondering why Nikon even bothered: the closer we look, the more apparent it becomes that, aside from a few minor changes, this practically is a D5300 – just with the addition of a touch-screen. Why position this as a new model in its own right? Nikon could have called it a D5300-TS or something to signify the addition of the touch screen if they really wanted to release this camera come what may. But perhaps more satisfying, from the consumer’s point of view (and therefore likely also from Nikon’s point of view in the long run) would have been to add a few more features before launching the next in the series. After all, isn’t the point of releasing a new camera precisely that it offers something that wasn’t already available?
Don’t get me wrong though, the fact that there have been very few changes since the last model does nothing to diminish the quality or usability of the D5500 in itself, and if you’re looking for an entry-level DSLR then this is genuinely one of the better options on the market. But the fact remains that the D5300 was also one of the better options available. And in fact it still is – only now you can likely find it at a lower asking price. I think you can probably see where I’m heading here…
Nonetheless, the D5300 wont be around for ever, and the D5500 is definitely a good camera, so I shan’t write it off just yet. Instead, lets take a look at what else this model has to offer.
As you’d expect from a camera with onboard Wi-Fi, many of the controls can be adjusted remotely from a smart phone or separately purchasable Nikon controller. However, it’s got to be said that not everyone loves Nikon’s clunky Wi-Fi app., so how much use you make of the Wi-Fi feature will inevitably depend on your tolerance for inconvenient UIs.
Unsurprisingly for an entry-level camera, a mini pop-up flash is included, and while these internal flashes never give out the same level of power as more serious (and bulky) external speedlights, they can still be a very useful tool to have along with you. The camera allows you to choose from an array of automatic flash settings, including a redeye reduction mode. However redeye does not appear to be a major issue when using the flash anyway – even on regular settings.
As with other Nikon’s in this price range, there’s only one memory-card slot and no voice-notes feature (like voice-memos on the iPhone). Neither of which are the end of the world, clearly. Likewise, the lack of a depth-of-field preview button is perhaps of no huge concern either, especially when you consider how easy it use to zoom into images in order to check DOF by means of the touch screen.
JPEG’s can be saved in either Basic, Normal or Fine formats, or alternatively you can shoot RAW images in the form of Nikon’s proprietary NEF files. There is an in-camera HDR setting that automatically combines two exposures, one lighter and one darker. However it should be noted that this will only function when shooting JPEGs. Also, as with some of their other entry-level cameras, Nikon includes an Effects shooting mode that will process your images with a choice of filters. These include Night Vision, Super Vivid, Pop, Photo Illustration, Toy Camera, Miniature, Selective Colour, Silhouette, High Key and Low Key. Not that I would particularly encourage anyone to use them, but, you know, they’re there if you really must.
Video is shot in MOV format at full HD 1080, up to a frame-rate of 60p. There is a stereo mini-jack socket for connecting external mics. Video is in fact one of the few areas that the D5500 offers an advantage over the D5300, as a new Flat Picture Mode has been introduced to the newer Nikon that allows the user to retain highlight and shadow data that would otherwise be clipped when shooting video.
The D5500 comes bundled with a collapsible 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 II lens. While the retractable optics reduce bulk (and somehow also weight), this unfortunately comes with a noticeable compromise in quality when compared with the (more expensive) 18-140mm lens that made up the D5300’s kit. Furthermore, autofocus is generally very slow, and the lens itself makes so much noise in trying to find its target as to render autofocus utterly unusable when shooting video anyway.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, then, if you can find the D5300 for less than the D5500, it’s perhaps not worth spending the extra money on the latest model, as the D5500’s improvements over the previous version are actually fairly minimal. In fact the one thing we would really liked to have seen Nikon fix before updating this line is just as frustratingly inadequate as it ever was: LV focusing. Focusing in Live-View mode on the D5500 is extremely slow at the best of times, and all but useless if trying to lock onto a moving subject.
Furthermore, on at least one count, the D5500 actually offers less than it’s predecessor: the D5300 included GPS, whereas on the D5500 this feature has been removed. Whether this is a major issue for you will depend on your personal needs (although it’s not entirely clear to me what needs would make GPS so utterly indispensable a feature for anyone to be honest, but perhaps that’s my loss).
For many users, though, the fact that GPS has been ditched will actually be more of an advantage than anything, as its removal has extended battery-life by around 150 more shots per charge. Personally, if it means I’m able to keep shooting for longer, I’m quite happy to lose the ability to check where a shot was taken by means of geotagging (in any case I already possess an alternative device that usually performs this task rather well: a brain) .
Another minor change that’s taken place between the D5300 and the D5500 is a redesign of the camera’s external casing. Mostly this can be viewed quiet positively, as it pares the camera’s body back by a good few millimetres. However it should be said that not all users will necessarily find the D5500’s handgrip comfortable, as it is very small in size and the moulded overhang at the top of the grip near the shutter-release button may not prove all that comfortable for those with meatier mits.
To sum up then, the Nikon D5500 is a great all-round camera. Indeed, it’s undoubtedly one of the best deals out there for those looking to buy their first DSLR. But, then again, so was the D5300. Therefore, if you already own the latter, or can find one at a good price, then you’d probably be advised to skip the D5500 and save your money for the next more substantial technological update – or instead invest a little more cash in order to take a step further up the current Nikon range.
As we’ve seen though, the D5500 does offer a few modest ‘improvements’ over its predecessor. These include the fully articulating flip and touch screen (although, otherwise, the LCD’s spec are the same) and a slightly smaller, lighter body. Plus various image-enhancement filters such as Pop and Super Vivid and the afore mentioned Flat Picture Mode for video. However, personally I’m not convinced that any of these are worth the extra cost of the D5500 when compared with the D5300 (assuming you can find one).
Finally, for those of you already tied in to Canon’s products through an investment in lenses etc., the EOS 700D might be the closest comparable model to check out.
In terms of image-quality at least, the D5500 is also very similiar to the much cheaper, more stripped-back, Nikon D3300. For anyone happy to live without the luxuries of Wi-Fi and a flip-screen, the D3300 offers pretty much the same standard of imagery for considerably less money.