Introduction and features
Nikon has two DSLR series aimed at beginners. The cheaper D3000-series cameras like the D3300 are for outright novices, while the D5000-series cameras, including this D5500, are designed for people still learning but ready for some more advanced techniques.
The D5500 is the newest version of Nikon’s popular top-end entry-level camera, which is updated fairly regularly and, as such, with each new version the camera improves incrementally without facing too much of a massive overhaul.
In fact, the D5500 features the same 24.2 million pixel APS-C sized (DX format) sensor as its predecessor, the D5300. This sensor has no anti-aliasing filter, which makes it better able to resolve detail than those with an optical low pass filter. This does mean that there is a possibility of moire patterning appearing in certain images, but it hasn’t proven to be a problem for the D5300.
The camera also features the same EXPEED 4 processor and a 3.2 inch 1,037,000-dot LCD screen on a vari-angle bracket. The biggest difference to be found here is that the screen is now touch sensitive. Along with the screen, there’s an optical viewfinder which offers 95% coverage.
The sensitivity range stretches from ISO 100-25,600, which is the same as the D5300, but the top-end 25,600 figure is now the native capability of the D5500, rather than an expansion setting. It will be interesting to see if this means that image quality at higher sensitivities has been improved.
Like the D5300, the D5500 features a lightweight and slim monocoque construction, and there’s been a slight redesign internally as the shape has changed somewhat.
Wi-Fi but no GPS
Interestingly, while the D5300 has a GPS unit built-in, the D5500 does not. There remains the inbuilt Wi-Fi connectivity though, so if you want to add GPS data you can do that via a smartphone connected to the camera. Alternatively, there’s a Nikon GPS Unit GP-1A which is available as an optional extra.
Like the Nikon D810 and the Nikon D750, the D5500 has Nikon’s new “Flat” Picture Control mode in addition to the usual Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape to tailor the look of JPEG stills and video footage. It’s also possible to adjust the ‘Clarity’, or micro contrast settings for each of these modes, along with Saturation, Contrast and Sharpness. The Flat option is aimed specifically at video recording as it’s often desirable to produce flat footage with a wide dynamic range for post-capture adjustment.
Along with Picture Control modes, there are also a number of Effects available, including Toy Camera and Miniature, but it’s not possible to record raw files at the same time as JPEGs when these options are used.
On the subject of video recording, the D5500 has the same specification as the D5300 and Full HD (1080) recording is possible at 50/60p. The touchscreen can be used to move the AF point and shift focus during shooting.
Like the D5300, the D5500 has the Multi-CAM 4800DX autofocus module with 39 TTL phase detection focus points, 9 of which are cross-type. It’s also possible to shoot continuously at a maximum rate of 5fps (frames per second).
The D5500 uses the same EN-EL14a battery as the D5300, but Nikon says that the battery life has been increased from 600 shots to 820, both pretty impressive figures but the latter meaning you should be able to shoot all day with ease.
As standard, the Nikon D5500 ships with the same 18-55mm collapsible kit lens that comes with the D3300. You can also buy it body only if you already have some lenses that you can use with the camera.
The D500 goes head-to-head with Canon’s brand new EOS 760D and 750D, which both also feature a 24.2 million pixel APS-C sized sensor, sit at the top of Canon’s entry-level line-up and are available for a similar price to the D5500.
Build Quality and Handling
Just like the D5300, the D5500 uses a monocoque construction, which means its shell is made from a single piece of material. However, at 124x97x70mm and 420g (body only) the new camera is lighter and slimmer than the D5300, which measures 125x98x76mm and weighs only 480g (body only).
If you place the D5500 and D5300 next to each other you can really see the difference. The D5500 is considerably thinner between the lens mount and grip. This thinning has meant the internal layout of the camera has had to be redesigned, but it has enabled Nikon to make the D5500’s grip deeper while still reducing the overall depth of the camera. As a result, the D5500 feels more secure in your hand and is very comfortable to hold.
When you’re using the D5500 with the 18-55mm collapsible kit lens, you’ll need to hold down a button on the side of the lens to extend it first before you take your first shot. Of course, you can leave the lens extended ready for the next shot to speed things up.
The top plate of the camera has been slightly redesigned. The mode dial has been simplified and now features just eight different exposure modes: the standard P (Program)/A(Aperture Priority)/S(Shutter Priority)/M(Manual) and Scene, Effects, Auto and Auto no flash. This makes it easier to reach different exposure modes. Around the mode dial is a switch for activating Live View shooting, which is very easy to quickly flick on and off whenever you need to use it.
Another visible difference between the D5500 and the D5300 is the change in the control dial at the top of the camera. On the D5500 this is now wholly visible, rather than just a small section protruding from the back of the camera, making it easier to access and use. This dial controls different settings depending on the exposure mode you’re using. For instance, it controls aperture in aperture priority mode, or shutter speed in shutter priority mode. If you’re shooting in manual mode, you simply need to hold down the exposure compensation button on the top of the camera to switch between changing the two settings.
The back of the camera is very similar to the D5300, with the majority of key buttons within easy reach of your thumb, making it very quick and easy to change settings. The only exception to this is the menu button, which is found just to the left of the viewfinder, but this is something you’ll probably need to use less frequently.
A small indent can be found on the back of the camera, which helps you to easily release the screen and move it into an articulating position. The hinge itself feels very secure and robust and, what’s more, you can also fold the screen away into the body of the camera to protect it when not in use.
Touch screen control
This screen is now touch sensitive, which has a number of practical applications. To can make settings changes using it, simply tap the “i” icon in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. From here, you can tap the setting you want to change (such as white balance) and then tap on the particular setting you want to use. If you don’t like using touchscreens, there is an equivalent physical button marked with the same “i” on the back of the camera – you can navigate to the setting you want to use with the directional keys instead.
You can set the touchscreen to change settings when you’re using the viewfinder, changing the autofocus point, for example. This is a good idea in principle, but in practice I’ve had mixed results with it – sometimes it’s just not very responsive at all. It works better if you articulate the screen away from your face.
When you use Live View mode, you can also use the touch screen to set the AF point; just tap the point of the screen where you want to focus. You can also enable touch shutter, which means that the camera will fire off the shutter release once focus has been acquired – useful when shooting at awkward angles and so on.
To set the autofocus point when you’re using the viewfinder, you simply move the directional keys to the point you need. You can set the AF-area mode to 39 points, but if you’re finding that to be a little excessive and want to quickly move between points, you can reduce it to 21 or 9 points. Alternatively, you can also use Auto Area AF.
One downside to the reliance on the touchscreen to change settings is that it can seem a little slow to change certain things as you need to go through the “i” menu. There is one function button near the lens mount to help with this, though. This button can be held down and used in conjunction with the control dial – by default it allows you to change ISO (sensitivity), but it can be set to some other functions, including white balance.
It’s easy to connect to Nikon’s Wireless Utility app but, sadly, within the app it’s still only possible to set the AF point and fire off the shutter release remotely – you can’t change any other settings. Nevertheless it’s still useful when you don’t want to touch the camera, or you’re taking shots with you in them.
With an identical sensor and processor to its predecessor, we weren’t in any real doubt that image quality from the D5500 would be good. As before images are very pleasing, with lovely bright, but accurate, colours in the majority of situations.
The lack of an anti-aliasing filter over the 24.2 million-pixel sensor makes for some great detail in shots. I used a macro lens for part of this test, which I think really shows just how capable the camera is of picking up detail – see the shot of baby sweetcorn in high resolution for an example.
If you wish to change the colour settings you can use Picture Controls, such as Vivid to boost colour. There are also other options, such as Landscape and Portrait. The new “Flat” mode is great if you want to take control in video recording, but it can be good if you want to adjust a JPEG in post processing on a computer.
ISO and noise
The overall impression of detail in JPEG images, balanced with the appearance of noise is pretty good when looking at images taken at higher sensitivities at normal printing and web sizes. It’s only from around ISO 3200 where you can see image noise present at these kind of sizes, and even those taken at ISO 6400 are usable at small sizes. If you examine a JPEG image taken at ISO 800 at 100%, it’s possible to see some image smoothing, but noise is kept to a minimum.
Travel up to higher sensitivities, such as ISO 3200, and at 100% it’s possible to see some chroma noise speckling, but it doesn’t have too much overall impact on the picture when viewed at a normal size. Of course it’s better to have a shake-free picture with some noise than a blurry shot taken at a low ISO.
You can cap the camera’s ISO Auto range if you don’t want to use those very high sensitivities, and also useful is the ability to set a minimum shutter speed. This helps to ensure you’re not using a slower shutter speed than is safe to use handheld, and therefore prevents image blur.
As we have found before, Nikon’s 39-point phase detection AF system is fast and accurate. Even when using the supplied kit lens, the D5500 is able to lock onto a subject with ease, especially in good light. If the light drops, there is a little more indecision as the lens will sometimes hunt to acquire focus – however, it’s only in very dark conditions where the camera struggles to find focus at all. If you can, changing to a higher quality lens with a wider aperture lens is beneficial in these circumstances.
With the introduction of a touchscreen, along with the ease with which you can activate Live View, it would be easy to assume that shooting in this fashion is desirable. Although it is very useful for some shooting conditions, for example still-life macro subjects where an enlarged view can be beneficial for checking critical focus, for other kinds of subjects it’s less than desirable. In lower light, or if the subject is moving, the speed of autofocusing is not quick enough to make it particularly workable. In these cases, it’s generally better to stick with the viewfinder.
Exposure and white balance
On the whole, the D5500’s metering system does a pretty good job of helping to produce accurate exposures, but dialling in a touch of exposure compensation can be useful in some situations (such as high contrast scenes) to get a more pleasing exposure. Similarly, the automatic white balance does a good job, although it can sometimes err ever so slightly towards unnatural yellowish tones under artificial light. In which case, it’s beneficial to set to a more appropriate White Balance setting, such as Tungsten.
There’s a host of digital filters available under Creative Mode. It’s worth giving these a look to see if you enjoy using any of them. It’s a shame that there’s not a greater variety available, but Toy Camera is quite fun if you like that thing. It’s a shame you can’t shoot them when shooting raw and JPEG format images simultaneously though, leaving you with a clean version of an image if you decide down the line that Photo Illustration isn’t quite the look you want.
We use a standardised resolution chart to test camera resolution (below) and DxO Analyzer hardware and software for measuring dynamic range and signal to noise ratio in laboratory conditions. Performance is checked both for JPEG images produced in-camera and raw files, which are converted into TIFF images for testing.
We also picked out for rivals to test against the Pentax Q-S1 – the Canon EOS 700D, Pentax K-S1 and Sony A58. You’ll find the results of these comparisons below.
Resolution (JPEG and raw)
Analysis: It’s unusual to see a camera so clearly ahead of its rivals, but the combination of the D5500’s 24-megapixel sensor and low-pass filter removal produces JPEG images with very high levels of detail for an APS-C sensor. The differences are smaller with raw files, and the Pentax K-S1 (with 20 million pixels but also no low pass filter) more or less matches the D5500. The Canon 700D and Sony A58 lag slightly behind here too.
Dynamic range (JPEG and raw)
Analysis: There’s very little to choose between these four cameras for dynamic range when shooting JPEGs – though the Sony A58 does edge ahead at ISO 3200 and above. For raw files, though, it’s a different story. Here, at ISO 800 and above, the D5500 lags slightly behind its rivals. This may make a difference if you’re a fan of handheld low light photography and you like to shoot raw.
Signal to noise ratio (JPEG and raw)
Analysis: The Nikon suffers again in the signal to noise ratio test. The higher the value, the greater the signal strength compared to baseline noise levels, so a lower value means noisier images. It’s the bottom of the group for both JPEGs and, especially, raw results, though it’s possible Nikon is sacrificing noise for maximum detail – a compromise many photographers would be happy with.
Overall: The D5500 delivers extremely good resolution, and while its dynamic range and signal to noise results are less impressive, they’re not disastrous by any means. If outright resolution is the thing you’re looking for the most, then the Nikon is the winner.
The D5500 represents a slight upgrade in this high-end entry-level sector from Nikon, rather than a complete overhaul. But the changes that have been made are welcome and make using the camera a nicer and easier experience than before.
Keeping the already well-performing sensor and processor combination, but adding a touch sensitive screen means that you have the best of the old but with an acknowledgement of the new.
Overall it’s a great screen to use. Setting the autofocus point when you’re using Live View is particularly useful, as is changing settings via the screen itself. It’s a little bit of a shame that there aren’t a few more direct routes to key settings, such as ISO and white balance, but thanks to the combination of the screen and other buttons, it’s not too long-winded a process overall.
The fact that you can still use the touch screen while you’re using the viewfinder is good, it’s something that I’ve particularly enjoyed with other cameras, such as the Panasonic GH4. However, here it’s not quite so well implemented, meaning you have hit-and-miss results unless you articulate the screen away from your face – something which feels a little awkward in practice.
Nikon has kept the inbuilt Wi-Fi, but ditched the GPS. It’s good to see Wi-Fi sticking around, but it would be nice to see more control available via the remote shooting app – without being able to control key settings, its uses are limited. GPS is presumably a less requested feature, but if you do miss it you can still add GPS data via your phone.
To make the camera even better it would be nice to see an improved autofocusing system when using Live View. It’s put to shame by the systems in Olympus, Fuji, Sony and Panasonic compact system cameras so it would be fantastic to see Nikon DSLR cameras stepping up their efforts.
Image quality remains very good, with pleasing tones and good performance in terms of white balance and metering. Low light performance is also good, with not too much noise appearing at higher sensitivities.
The overall feature set of the D5500 is great. There’s a high-resolution (24.2 Mp) sensor which produces very detailed images, and an articulating touch-screen. Inbuilt Wi-Fi and a 39-point AF system round off the specs very nicely. This is a camera which is very much a sum of its parts rather than having one single standout feature which makes it fantastic.
When using Live View, the autofocusing speeds just aren’t up to the same par as other cameras which are on the market, and that is a shame. It would also be nice if the touchscreen sensitivity was better when using the viewfinder.
While Nikon hasn’t exactly created a game changer with the Nikon D5500, it’s nevertheless a very pleasing entry-level camera that brings a lot of very useful features to the beginner user. It’s ideal as your first DSLR, or perhaps as an upgrade from a much older model.
The images it produces are great and the introduction of a touchscreen makes it a tad more intuitive to use than the previous model – but that does come at a cost premium. If you’re on a budget, the older D5300 has the same image quality at cheaper price.
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