Nikon D5500 Review

February 11, 2015 | Mark Goldstein | |

Introduction

The Nikon D5500 is a new 24.2 megapixel DX-format DSLR camera with no optical low-pass filter (OLPF). The D5500 can record Full HD movies at 1080 60p/50p/30p/25p/24p with stereo sound and comes equipped with built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. A high-resolution 3.2-inch vari-angle LCD touchscreen makes it easier to compose your shots from difficult angles. The D5500 is Nikon’s first ever DSLR with touch operation, allowing the user to choose their focus point via Touch AF, pinch in to check focus and even activate the shutter with the touch of a fingertip, with a new Fn touch feature providing one-touch access to important settings like AF point selection, aperture, ISO sensitivity, AF area mode and more. It also offers an extensive ISO range of 100-25,600, a 5fps burst shooting mode, EXPEED 4 image processor, 39-point autofocus system with 9 cross-type sensors, 2,016-pixel RGB metering sensor, High Dynamic Range mode, Active D-Lighting, and 10 different special effects for stills and movies complete the Nikon D5500’s headline specs. The Nikon D5500 is available in black and red, as a body-only offering for £639.99 / $899.95 and in two different kit configurations: alongside the AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II lens for a suggested retail price of £719.99 / $999.95 or with the AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens for £899.99 / $1,199.95.

Ease of Use

The Nikon D5500 replaces 2013's D5300 as the new mid-range model in Nikon's extensive DSLR line-up, slotting in between the existing D3300 and D7100 models, not only in terms of feature set and functionality, but also in terms of size and weight. It isn't quite as compact and lightweight as the D3300, but neither is it as bulky and heavy as the D7100. In comparison to its predecessor, the D5500 is once again slightly smaller and lighter than the D5300, sporting a new monocoque design that makes the camera one of Nikon’s lightest DSLRs. The right-hand grip is very deep given the overall size of the camera, and therefore comfortable for photographers with large hands and/or longish fingers, and there's also a handy rubberised thumb rest on the back of the body.

The D5500 uses the same 24.2 megapixel CMOS sensor with no optical low-pass filter as its predecessor. The sensor can clean itself by way of high-frequency vibrations that will, at least in theory, shake off any non-adhesive dust particles that may have settled on the low-pass filter during a lens change. You can specify, via an option in the Setup menu, whether you want sensor cleaning to take place at shutdown, startup, both or neither, with the default being 'both'. The cleaning process pleasingly has no practical impact on startup times, which were near instant. The image sensor is complemented by the same EXPEED 4 processing engine and a large buffer as well.

The D5500 is the latest Nikon DSLR to offer built-in wi-fi, but it no longer offers GPS connectivity, which is instead provided via a smartphone. The wi-fi function essentially pairs the D5500 with an iOS or Android smartphone or other smart device, and allows you to edit and share images directly to social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. It also makes it possible to control the D5500 remotely via a smart device using the free Wireless Mobile Utility app, and set the focus point using the smart device's touchscreen.

The 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR II kit lens that now ships with the D5500 is one of the main talking points of this new camera. Also shipping with the cheaper D3300, Nikon have implemented a retractable design to make the lens more portable when it's not in use, something that quite a lot of compact system cameras have in their lens ranges. As a result the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR II is much more compact than its predecessor when retracted to the L position, although of course you still have to extend it outwards to start shooting.

Nikon D5500
Front of the Nikon D5500

The new optic now feels better-balanced on the smaller Nikon D5500 and it fits into place with a reassuring mechanical click. It also adds the very important advantage of Vibration Reduction. Nikon bodies don't offer any form of in-camera image stabilisation, unlike similar models from Sony, Pentax and Olympus, so the affordable 18-55mm VR II lens is a good partner for the D5500. We've previously published an in-depth review of the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR II lens.

The shutter release action on the Nikon D5500 is notably louder than its predecessor, emitting a more mechanical sound. There is still a Quiet Shutter Release mode, though, in which the mirror is raised fairly slowly to further reduce the sound it makes. This does, however, introduce some unwanted shutter lag.

The Nikon D5500 follows conventional DSLR design in having a shooting mode dial on the top of the camera, which allows you to select either one of the advanced modes like Program, Manual, Aperture- or Shutter-priority, the green Auto mode for beginners, the No Flash mode, the various scene modes., and the Effects mode.

The Effects shooting mode provides 10 different filters that can be applied to both still images and movies. The Night Vision effect is particularly worth of mention, pushing the camera's sensitivity to a whopping ISO 102,400, although a monochrome rather than colour image is recorded. For stills, you can enter Live View mode to preview the effect or simply use the optical viewfinder. For movies, the recording is slowed down (dependent upon the chosen effect) as the camera uses a lot of processing power to apply the effect, leading to footage that can have a rather staccato feel. Note also that the camera sets virtually everything in the Effects mode - exposure, shutter speed, white balance, ISO, file type and quality - so its only creative in terms of the arty effect that's applied. Several of the same effects can be applied to an image or movie that you've taken, though, so you can have the best of both worlds (albeit without the luxury of a preview).

Nikon D5500
Rear of the Nikon D5500

The Exposure Compensation button is thoughtfully positioned next to the shutter release, alongside the the dedicated one-touch Movie Record button. Hold down the Exposure Compensation button with your right forefinger and spin the control wheel on the top-rear of the camera with your thumb to adjust its settings - simple and intuitive.

The D5500's Live View continues to be accessed in a different and arguably less intuitive way than on the D3300/D7200. Instead of a combined switch / button, the D5500 has a fore-finger operated spring-loaded switch on top of the body that is pushed downwards and toggles between turning Live View on and off. Positioned next to the Shooting Mode dial, it allows you to enable Live View whilst holding the camera at arms length with one hand, or to turn it off as you hold the camera up to your eye. We'd prefer it to be on the rear of the camera and also to incorporate the Movie record button, in keeping with the D3300/D7200 models.

Press the Lv switch and the mirror flips up, the shutter opens and the rear screen displays the scene as seen through the lens. There is a red rectangle in the middle, which you can move practically anywhere in the frame. When in manual focus (MF) mode, you can magnify into this rectangle in a number of steps by repeatedly pressing the button marked with a loupe icon, but this magnification seems to be at least partially interpolated. This means that you cannot see detail down to the pixel level, unlike some competing cameras.

Fortunately, MF is not the only focusing option in Live View, at least as long as you are taking stills. Single-servo AF (AF-S) and Full-time-servo AF (AF-F) modes are also available and, while slow, they tend to be accurate. Both modes can also be used in connection with face detection. 'Face-priority AF' had no problem finding and keeping track of human faces as long as they were facing the camera, but acquiring focus was another story - very slow.

Nikon D5500
Top of the Nikon D5500

Live View must also be entered to shoot movies. After pressing the Lv button and optionally presetting the aperture and focus, you can start recording video by pressing the dedicated Movie Record button on top of the camera next to the shutter release. The camera records full high-definition, wide-screen video in 1920x1080 pixel resolution, at a frame rate of 60p/50p/30p/25p/24p, in AVI format using the motion JPEG codec. As with Live View, contrast-detect AF is possible whilst shooting movies, although as with still images there's an audible whine as the camera refocuses and it's still too slow to focus on any fast-moving subject, so much so that we suspect most serious users will use manual focusing instead. Although the D5500 can automatically focus during video recording, it's just not fast enough to warrant regular use.

You can set both the aperture and the shutter speed during movie recording, although the slowest shutter speed is limited to 1/30th second, plus exposure compensation and AE-Lock can also be set. Out of the box the D5500 can record stereo sound via its built-in microphone with three different levels of sensitivity on offer, and improved sound can also be recorded using an optional external microphone. The maximum size of a single video clip is 2 gigabytes which, given that movies occupy about 100 megabytes of storage space per minute, would theoretically translate into about 20 minutes of continuous recording.

The D5500 has a proper through-the-lens optical viewfinder with a magnification of 0.82x and scene coverage of 95%, on par with most of its rivals. The Nikon D5500's 39 auto-focus points are permanently marked on the focusing screen, whereas the compositional grid lines can be called up via a menu option. Two warning signs - telling you that the battery is running low or you have forgotten to insert a memory card - may also appear in the form of overlaid icons when appropriate. Below the finder is a traditional monochromatic status bar showing practically all relevant shooting information (including the ISO sensitivity, if so specified in the menu).

As stated above, the Nikon D5500 has 39 auto-focus sensors, out of which 9 are cross type. The other thirty are of the line variety, consequently being only sensitive to either vertical or horizontal detail, but not both. In practice, this did not turn out to be a real problem, with the camera typically locking focus on the subject quickly and easily, no matter which AF point was selected. In the viewfinder, the active AF point appears in red, which is easy to see. Selecting the active AF point is done by way of the four-way pad - except if you choose Auto Area AF - again a simple and intuitive solution. In low light, the AF sensors are helped by an AF assist lamp located on the front plate of the camera.

Nikon D5500
Tilting LCD Screen

The 2,016-pixel RGB metering sensor used by the D5500 is again identical to the system used by the D5300 model. This provides precise data to the camera’s Scene Recognition System, which optimises exposure, autofocus and white balance immediately before the shutter is released.

The rear articulated LCD screen is hinged at the side rather than the bottom. This fully articulated design is a much more flexible solution, allowing the screen to be folded out from the left side of the camera and folded inwards to protect it when not in use. The screen is 3.2 inches in size and has 1,037k dots, so there's nothing to complain about in this department. The screen also has an anti-glare coating, so that it's usable most of the time outdoors in strong daylight, although it still struggled a little with reflections.

The D5500's new touchscreen allows you to choose the focus point via Touch AF, pinch in to check focus, and activate the shutter with the touch of a fingertip. You can also change the aperture and shutter speed, access the info panel, use the main menu system and other sub menus via the touchscreen. It's a genuinely useful addition to the D5500 which will suit the camera's core target audience, and it's something that we'd expect to see on future Nikon DSLRs.

The Nikon D5500 only has one control wheel and there are no dedicated buttons for controlling ISO sensitivity, white balance, metering or AF mode. Instead you can use the Fn button, which can be reprogrammed to perform ISO selection or white balance adjustment (or one of a few other functions such as file quality specification), but the others still have to be set through the main info screen, called up by pressing the [ i ] button to the right of the rear display. With practice, performing adjustments via this screen becomes fairly quick and easy, but it's not as efficient as having dedicated controls.

Nikon D5500
The Nikon D5500 In-hand

The important 'info' has also moved to join the cluster of controls on the rear of the D5500. This button is arguably at the heart of the Nikon D5500's ease-of-use, as like its predecessor the camera lacks the monochromatic status LCD of the older D90, so Nikon had to provide a different way to check vital shooting information without having to look into the viewfinder. Enter the info button - pressing it displays virtually all of the camera's main settings on the large rear screen. Pressing the "i" button on the rear of the D5500 allows you to interact with and set the onscreen options, with 14 available in total.

Most of the camera's rear controls are scattered, seemingly almost randomly, to the right of the D5500's large folding screen. While we can understand the need to locate them to accommodate the 3.2 inch LCD, the positioning of the Zoom In and Zoom Out buttons in particular isn't very intuitive, being operated with your right-hand thumb, and right next to the Delete button. As the D5500 isn't a very complex camera in terms of the number of external controls, it thankfully doesn't get too confusing, but is something to consider from an ergonomic point of view.

For the images that you've already already captured, the Nikon D5500 offers a broad range of retouching tools, including post-capture D-lighting (useful if you forgot to turn on Active D-lighting before capture), red-eye correction, trimming, monochrome conversion, different filter effects, colour adjustments, image resizing, image overlay, in-camera raw processing, quick auto retouching, straightening of crooked pictures, lens distortion correction, fisheye, colour outline, colour sketch, selective colour, miniature effect, and perspective control. Many of these functions make it unnecessary to buy specialised computer programs or plug-ins and spend hours in front of a computer to achieve a desired/popular effect.

The Nikon D5500 is powered by a proprietary EN-EL14a Lithium-ion battery, good for 600 shots, and records videos and image files on SD/SDHC/SDXC cards. As we noted in our D5300 review, we would really have liked to see Nikon add a second card slot for Compact Flash cards, so that owners of higher-specified Nikon DSLRs who buy a D5500 as a second body can use their existing memory cards. It also lacks the dual-SD slots of the D7200. As far as connectivity goes, there are USB/VideoOut and Mini HDMI ports as well as an accessory terminal for the connection of a wired remote or a GPS unit, all sheltered behind a door on the left side of the camera, when viewed from the back., and a new HDMI connection on the right flank of the camera.

That concludes our look at the D5500's interface and feature-set. Now let's take a look at the D5500's image quality...

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