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Review Nikon D5500

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Nikon SLR with rotating touchscreen

The Nikon D5500 is the new APS-C SLR for amateur photographers from Nikon, with a 24-megapixel sensor. There is a whole new body, smaller and especially lighter than that of its predecessor. The camera is richly outfitted with setting options and has a beautiful LCD screen that can flip up and turn and now also functions as a touchscreen.

The Nikon D5500 is even smaller than its predecessor, the D5300. Certainly when the body is fitted with a compact lens like the collapsible Nikon 18-55 mm VR II, it fits in a bag, and perhaps even in a large jacket pocket. It is a real all-around family camera, with various scene and effect modes, but it is simultaneously suited for serious photography. There is a built-in flash, a shutter down to 1/4000 of a second and an ISO range up to 25,600. We tested this camera with various lenses, and for the practice shots, we made use of a 50 mm f/1.4 lens.

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A sunny shot in a Swiss resort, made at 1/320 second at f/7.1, 100 ISO.

Nikon D5500 versus D5300 and the D7200

The Nikon D5500 replaces the Nikon D5300. In doing so, practically all the specifications are retained; only the GPS was dumped. With the Nikon GP-1A GPS unit, it is always possible to provide this camera with GPS. The ISO range of the Nikon D5500 is 1 stop larger than that of its predecessor. There are more options and functions available in the Nikon D5500 for editing images—extra filters for example. The most noticeable difference is the more compact and especially lighter housing: the Nikon D5500 is 6 mm flatter and weights just 420 grams. That is possible due to the use of a new, fiber-enhanced plastic that is supposed to provide the required stiffness. Despite the mini format, the camera fits nicely in the hand, partly thanks to a forward-protruding grip for the right hand. The LCD screen has grown to 3.2 inches; it flips up, and it turns, and you can use it as a touchscreen for setting things like exposure, ISO, white balance and picture control. There is limited WiFi connectivity, so the shutter can be operated remotely by some smartphones. The video options are expanded with 1080 60p.

At about the same time as this Nikon D5500, we tested Nikon's D7200. That is really a whole other camera: it also has a 24-megapixel sensor, but it is larger and heavier, and better sealed against splashwater and dust. It is equipped with more setting options, but it is also significantly more expensive. We assume that the D5500 will be the first or second SLR for many buyers, while the clientele for the D7200 most probably consists of people who already have the requisite photography experience.

Nikon D5500 versus Canon 750D/760D

In terms of price, the D5500 about corresponds with the Canon 760D. (be sure that the manufacturers and importers keep an eye on each other!) Also in terms of specs, the similarities are great. The same number of megapixels, the same shutter time range. The Canon has 1 ISO stop less, and fewer AF fields. They both have a built-in WiFi and a tilting display. The 760D has a second LCD screen on top of the body, on which you can control the settings. With the Nikon D5500 and the Canon 750D, that is done via the normal screen. The Canon is a good bit heavier: 560 g versus 420. You feel that difference! On the basis of the specifications, we would strongly prefer the Nikon or the Canon. We attach more value to the actual performance in our test.
With no fewer than 6000 pixels on the longer side, you naturally have outstanding resolution! This shot was made with 1/400 at f/8, ISO 100. The text on the advertisement next to the houses can be read without difficulty: "The 1930s translated to now."
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Build quality and design of the Nikon D5500

We already mentioned the design of the Nikon D5500. Note the deep handgrip (picture on the right; there is also a red version) that makes holding the camera easy, despite the small size. The body is made from fiber-strengthened plastic and is thus very light. Everything looks good, but the weather resistance is less than that of the Nikon D7200. The Nikon D5500 is—just like nearly all other amateur cameras—not a camera for extremely heavy weather. The battery is the EN-EL 14, according to Nikon good for 800 shots, and in our test for more than 500, more than sufficient for amateur use.

 

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Viewfinder and Operation

Because the camera housing of the Nikon D5500 is so small, the designers struggled with space. The control buttons are thus distributed across the front, top and back. There is no separate button for ISO or AF. There is only one setting disc and the familiar four-way switch. You can use the Fn button for that. It is all small-detail work in comparison with the D7200 or the D750, the miniature push button for the shutter (auto release, continuous mode) in particular is difficult to find. Many functions work via the menu, but it is much handier to press the i-button on the back, after which you see the most-used settings on the screen, and you can operate these by touch.

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The screen itself is fine; there is an eye sensor, with which it turns off by itself when you use the viewfinder. Unless you need to photograph from difficult angles (on the ground, for example), we always advise against the use of an LCD screen as a viewfinder. It hurts us when we see how some SLR owners hold the camera out in front of them as though it were a telephone! The image through an optical viewfinder is, after all, so much more beautiful and complete. There is also a good bit of picture information shown in the viewfinder, but its brightness leaves something to be desired as far as we're concerned. Outdoors, it is difficult to see.

Auto focus

 

Focusing can be done in the "normal" way via phase detection and via LiveView. Switching quickly between AF-S and AF-C and the different field modes requires intervention via the quick menu; there is no separate button for it. There is a maximum of 39 focal points. The phase detection AF is reasonably fast, in our standard test about half a second. It also works in very low light. In LiveView, it takes a good bit longer: more than a second and a half. That is slow when you're waiting.

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The continuous mode

 
The Nikon D5500 naturally has a continuous mode. The maximum speed in JPEG is 5.2 fps. We think that the buffer is at least as important, that is to say the maximum number of shots that you can make in a row. In JPEG large/fine, we measured 13 shots, which is a series of 2.5 seconds—more than enough. In RAW, however, we couldn't do more than 6 shots in 1.3 seconds. That is on the very lean side. For active work, RAW must thus be avoided. meisjes2 web klein

Menu and special features 

Nikon menus are traditionally very long, and you have to scroll through them vertically. Some settings are done via the Personal Settings menu. That has to be searched for every time. A number of options that we know from the more expensive Nikon models are missing. So there is no AF fine-tuning. The auto release has to be activated for every shot, which is also not handy. There are no fewer than 26 scene pre-settings by which exposure, ISO, AF field settings and flash will be adjusted to the subject. With the Effects setting, you can change pictures that have already been taken.

There is built-in WiFi with which you can upload and with which you can operate the camera remotely with some smartphones. It does not work for all brands and types, and the setting options are limited.

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High resolution

Shot at 1/80 of a second, f/13, ISO 400. The tree trunk is laying on the ground, and that requires LiveView with the LCD screen folded out. Focus for these kinds of nearby shots is always very critical, but that worked perfectly here.

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Pixels in excess with this camera! 6000x4000, each pixel measuring 0.004 mm! Who would have thought five years ago that such numbers, at that time reserved to expensive mid-size cameras, would be possible for consumer cameras? The D5500 no longer has an anti-alias filter; with this number of pixels, that no longer contributes anything. In theory, you can make a perfect poster at A1 size with a perfectly executed D5500 shot. Then all the conditions do have to be fulfilled: no motion blur (still the most important reason for quality loss) and a good lens set to an aperture in the mid-range, say between f/4 and f/8. At larger apertures, lens errors are often visible, and at smaller apertures, the resolution unavoidably falls due to the physics phenomenon of diffraction.

The resolution of the D5500 is very good, and it gives nothing up to that of the more expensive D7200—not entirely illogical since they have the same sensor. Even at high ISOs, the camera performs very well.

With so many pixels, focusing is extremely critical. At 50 mm f/1.4 at full aperture on the D5500, we took pictures at an angle of 45 degrees of the editors' bookcase, looking for deviations in focus—the front-focus/back-focus effect. The photo below shows a series of shots, from left to right with apertures 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0 and 5.6. We focused on the number 10 on the measuring stick. At full aperture, that is precisely the focal point, as it should be. With stopping down, the focal point appeared to shift backwards, as much as 3 cm at f/4. This is a lens phenomenon, not a body phenomenon, which is common. With further stopping down, the focal depth increases so greatly that the focal point no longer matters. The D5500 has no option for AF fine tuning, but this would not help either, because the camera always focuses correctly at full aperture.

What we want to say with this is certainly not intended as a disqualification of the body or the lens. It serves as an illustration of the fact that the pixel number of bodies like this one makes the slightest deviation visible. We use a prime lens here with approximately the highest brightness available. With the use of less bright zooms and consumer lenses, you will never notice it.

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Another sunny picture at 1/2500 of a second at f/8.

Dynamic range

 

The dynamic range is the property of rendering both very light and very dark parts of the picture. You can see it in the histogram, which you can call up on the Nikon D5500 with a couple of clicks of the four-way switch: if the range is too small, then you see peaks on the right and left that indicate clipped parts. In our laboratory test, the camera, like earlier Nikon cameras, performed well. With the D-light setting, the exposure curve is a bit stretched out on both sides, but without any improvement to the dynamic range. We noticed that the camera automatically engages the D-light option for all Scene settings.

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Video

The Nikon D5500 can film in full HD, 1080 60p, that is to say, at 60 frames per second. In order to film, you flip the LiveView lever that is next to the settings disc. You do not have to choose between photographing and filming (like you do with the more expensive Nikon models). There is a separate start-stop button for filming. Very handy. The image quality of Nikon video recordings has increased over the years. They are beautiful, clean images with a low signal-to-noise ratio and a beautifully neutral color reproduction.

Conclusion 

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Amateur
Year:2015
Overall score:8.3
Resolution:7.5
Dynamic Range:8.2
Noise:8.5
Color:7.8
Whitebalance:6.5
Megapixels:24
Sensor:APSC
Sensor magn.:0.55
fps:5
Weight (gram):420
MSRP NL (Euro):819

 

Pros

  • High image quality
  • Compact and feather-light
  • Lots of options
  • Part of a large system; many lenses and accessories available
  • Good price-to-quality ratio

Cons

  • No GPS
  • No extra protection against dust and water
  • AF in LiveView is slow
The Nikon D5500 is an extraordinarily handy camera with lots of options and perfect image quality. In comparison with the D5300, the increase in image quality is modest, but the ease of use—due to the fold-out screen that can now also be used as a touchscreen—is significantly increased. Many people will find that handy. Practically all the features that you could want as an amateur photographer are on it. The number of pixels is enormous for an APS-C sensor; the resolution and the dynamic range are high. If you want to get everything out of this camera, then invest in a high-quality lens as well. The Nikon D5500 is not really a starter model—that is the less expensive Nikon D3300—but the price-to-quality ratio of the Nikon D5500 is good.
Jop Steenhof de Jong
Author: Jop Steenhof de Jong
Photography has been a hobby of mine for many years. For me, it's about the joy of creating. I like to find and share knowledge in depth topics again. After years of having fun with contributions made to the Dutch magazine "Camera Magazine", I test now with at least as much pleasure for CameraStuffReview.

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