Nikon D5500 Review: Simplicity is Perfection

Introduction

Cameras for amateur photographers are in the hundreds. Beginner DSLRs are a crowded market with cameras like the Nikon D3300, Canon 1200D, and Pentax K50 all being aimed at people just starting out with photography, however the Nikon D5500 makes it all a little bit simpler. Although not that big of an upgrade from the already great D5300, the D5500 does have a lot going for it. Let’s see what you get with the affordable, simple, yet powerful, starter camera from Nikon.

What’s in the Nikon D5500?

Because it is marketed as an “entry-level DSLR”, it does not have all the features of the Nikon’s 7xxx series, but that doesn’t mean the D5500 is insufficient. It actually has a lot going for itself despite the lower price tag.
The D5500 has the excellent CMOS 24.2 Megapixel sensor without an optical low pass filter in a body weighing less than 500 gm. This sensor creates images as good as those from the D7100 or the D610. The images are tack sharp, colourful and retain lots of details in highlights and shadows. Another surprising change is that the native ISO range has been increased to 25,600 rather than being an ‘extension’. Aiding the sensor is Nikon’s Expeed 4 processor, which ensures an average 5 fps shooting speed with almost no noise up to 3200 ISO. Also, the absence of an AA filter does not make the camera vulnerable to moiré, as somehow Nikon has managed to avoid moiré and other artifacts through its smart software.

The autofocus system of the D5500 is also a lot better than what the competition offers. A 39 point module covers most parts of the frame and is accurate enough for an enthusiast. The MultiCAM 4800 DX module has 9 cross type points, which is alright for normal use. With an average speed of 5 fps, you will be able to deal with some action shots, although true sports photography will be a bit out of reach with this camera. The camera has the same processing brain you would find in the semi-pro Nikon D7000, which was a revolution during its time.

One of the things I love about the Nikon D5500 is the fully articulating touchscreen LCD. This is a much needed feature for self-portraits, creative angle shots, and video. There’s a 2016 pixel RGB metering sensor which is used for 3D tracking of subjects so you get continuous autofocus. Nikon has given the DSLR video market a ‘Flat’ profile which helps in grading videos and allows 1080p/60 fps video with a clean HDMI output for smooth and sharp slow-motion videos.
Even though the sensor, processor and a few extras like the touchscreen and fully articulating screen are nice touches, there are a few things which Nikon had to remove to keep the DSLR light-weight and very affordable.

The speed is just 5 fps, and there are not many direct controls available for quick access during one-hand shooting. You will have to go through the menu, which is made somewhat easy with the touchscreen. Also, fine autofocus tweaking is not available like in the D7xxx series. So if your camera starts to front or back focus, you will have to take it to the service center. Moreover, the body is not weather sealed and the buttons do feel quite plastic-ish and have a distinct sound while being clicked. Also, the GPS feature of the D5300 that allowed geo-location has been removed from the D5500.
Having said that, I am not being harsh on the camera at all. We do have to remember that this is a camera not geared for professional use. The D5500 promises a light, comfortable, easy to use camera with excellent image quality and it surely delivers all of that and then some.

What is the D5500 capable of?

Body and Design

The biggest selling point of the Nikon D5500 is perhaps its amazingly light and super portable body. Utilizing a carbon fibre reinforced plastic and a ‘monocoque’ design – which allows the body to be one single unit – the D5500 weighs just 420 grams. It is even more compact than the already almost-mirrorless sized D3300. You won’t even feel that you are holding a proper 24 MP DSLR in your hands.

The D5500’s grip is a big step in the right direction. It perhaps even beats the grip provided in the D7xxx series of pro-like cameras. The camera is easy and fun to hold and use. Its design will certainly appeal to the families and teenagers who need a capable but travel-friendly camera.
One other minor addition to the body is the eye-sensor just above the optical penta-mirror viewfinder. So whenever you put your eye up to the viewfinder, the LCD screen will automatically switch off and thus prevent accidental touching of the screen. Also a smart feature in the D5500 is that even when the screen is off, you can use your fingers and the right half of the touchscreen to select your autofocus point.

A change caused by the need to keep the body small is that the buttons have been made smaller. Also the back dial has been relocated and put on top right of the camera, which feels a bit odd. Apart from these few changes, the D5500 is almost identical to Nikon’s other 5xxx cameras and is ergonomically very sound.

Performance

The image quality of the D5500 has not changed from the D5300, which is not something negative. The images are excellent and render accurate colors and sharpness. The 24 Mp APSC sensor without the AA filter does give images that compete very well with something out of a full-frame. You will get even better optical performance with a good prime lens in front of the D5500 body.
Another very nice touch is the Auto ISO control, which comes equipped with advanced functions that are usually reserved for the mid-range cameras. Noise is handled very well and details won’t be softened until you reach around 3200, even after which the images are still very usable. RAWs have even more flexibility and will give you a lot of margin to play with in post-processing. If your techniques are right and the lens is good enough, you will surely get images that rivals something out of a Nikon D810, Canon 5D Mark II or something similar and expensive.

The D5500 is an excellent performer in nearly all respects. Its 39-point autofocus system works quickly and accurately although live view AF, which uses contrast detection, isn’t so quick. Something that will impress you is its subject tracking abilities, despite having a low resolution metering sensor. The D5500 can shoot continuously at 5 fps, which is average. What’s not so nice is the buffer size, which brings things to a stop after just 5-6 Raw images.
Photos are excellent as expected. It’s on the video side that you start to notice why this camera is a 5xxx model and so well-priced. Continuous tracking is only decent and you will clearly see the camera hunting (the focus goes haywire and takes time to lock onto the subject).
There’s no 4K, although Flat profile is provided. The biggest quirk is the lack of aperture control in video. You will have to go back into the menu and change the aperture and go back into video mode to apply the aperture change. If you’re a serious videographer, you might consider a different camera as the D5500 will only do average videos.

Pros

1. Excellent 24 Mp sensor without an AA filter which gives good sharpness and dynamic range, especially in RAW.
2. Fully articulating 3.2” touchscreen LCD which is quick and easy to use.
3. Extras like Wi-fi, built-in intervalometer and an eye-sensor help the functionality of D5500.
4. Very good battery life. The D5500 will easily survive more than 800 shots on one charge.
5. Auto ISO controls are advanced and so is the autofocus system.
6. A very light body with a very comfortable grip.

Cons

1. Lack of manual control via dedicated buttons and low customizability.
2. Video mode is not up to the level of cameras like the Canon 60D and 70D and there is a significant amount of hunting.
3. Limited buffer capacity which fills up after one round of burst shooting.
4. No exposure simulation in Live View like in Canon cameras.

Verdict

Nikon D5500 is an excellent camera and more than a simple DSLR for beginners. With features like articulating touchscreen, Wi-fi, built-in intervalometer and eye sensor; the camera is loaded with modern features in a light and very comfortable body. Although video functions are not that great and there are a few missing things like higher shooting speed and weather sealing and customizable buttons, the great image quality and a portable body more than makes up for it. One word of advice though, if you will not miss the touchscreen LCD and won’t mind a slightly heavier body, even the D5300 will get you almost all the same features and the same image quality.

SCORE : 8/10

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