The Nikon D5500 is the latest starter camera in Nikon’s DX line. It is a step up from the D3300 and a step below the D7200. As such, it serves a nice position as an upgrade camera for beginners and a powerful package for enthusiasts.
Nikon D5500 Key Features
- 24.2MP DX-Format CMOS Sensor
- EXPEED 4 Image Processor
- No Optical Low-Pass Filter
- 3.2″ 1,037k-Dot Vari-Angle Touchscreen
- Full HD 1080p Video Recording at 60 fps
- Multi-CAM 4800DX 39-Point AF Sensor
- ISO 100-25600
- 5 fps Shooting at Full Resolution
- Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity
Nikon D5500 Handling and Controls
The Nikon D5500 feels great in the hands. It is a camera that offers more than enough controls for beginners to grow into but is still able to be tamed with automatic settings for those unfamiliar with DSLR operation.
The lightweight and smaller size makes it ideally suited for those intimidated by larger and more complex DSLRs. The grip doesn’t feel small for those with larger hands. I am generally frustrated by smaller grips but Nikon did a good job of forming this grip just right for a proper balance in size and stability.
The touchscreen operation is a welcomed addition to the Nikon DSLR lineup. It is response and quite functional. I found myself using it more and more during my time with the D5500. I never really relied on it 100% of the time but rather mixed my reliance between it and the standard button controls on the back of the camera. The feeling was natural and worked quite well – even for quick camera setting changes.
It has the ability to focus and take photos in live view mode by simply touching the LCD screen; however, that is one thing I never really felt comfortable doing. I think this may be a situation where your mileage may vary since I am so accustomed to a shutter release button on the camera grip. However, you can turn off the touch-shutter function if you want.
The flip-out LCD is something I really like on DSLRs – especially when shooting video. I like the ability to adjust the angle of the screen depending on how I have the camera setup on a tripod or how I am holding it. It is a comfortable size at 3.2″ and is good resolution for reviewing images and controlling the camera.
All of the controls and settings are reasonably accessible on the D5500 except for one… Auto ISO can only be turned on/off by digging into the menu. I know it is an entry-level camera, but I would think the ability to control this feature would be more easily accessible. I also wish there was some indicator on the rear LCD to show the timer countdown.
The content on the LCD is laid out very well and gives you the details you want at a quick glance. Changing these settings with the touch screen is an intuitive operation.
The one place that I wish had a cleaner layout for the info is the overlay of image data during image review.
While I appreciate the info, it is just presented poorly – especially when you consider how great the pre-shot info and quick menus are presented.
Shooting with the D5500
The D5500 is a solid performer in most circumstances that it will encounter. It has a great, 39-point AF system with nine cross-type sensors. Metering was spot-on for me in most real world situations.
The frame rate is 5 frames per second, which is certainly respectable for this class of camera. However, if you are shooting raw images with the D5500, the buffer is going to fill up rather quickly.
Memory cards matter quite a bit when it comes to your expectations and experience with a DSLR. The Nikon D5500 accepts most modern SD cards, including SDHC and SDXC cards, and takes advantage the speed boost from UHS-I (Ultra-High Speed Type I bus) cards. For a broader explanation of SD card types and designations, see my prior article Demystifying SD Cards.
I tested a few different memory cards in the Nikon D5500 to demonstrate the positive effects of buying a more capable memory card and to highlight some specifications of particular cards that might make them a better fit for the D5500 and similar cameras.
As noted, Nikon D5500 takes advantage of the fastest SD cards with the UHS-I bus speeds out there. Specifically, I tested the very capable Transcend Ultimate UHS-I Speed Class 3 card with solid results and noticeable speed differences when shooting with the full speed frame rate of the D5500. You can read more here on memory cards tested with the Nikon D5500.
The D5500’s built-in pop-up flash offers a ton of versatility. In addition to serving its purpose as a purely automatic exposure assistant in certain modes, the pop-up flash can also be controlled manually down to 1/32 power.
Accordingly, you can use the D5500 in manual flash mode to remotely trigger manual strobes with optical slave triggering or put just the right amount of on-axis fill light for your shot. That’s a pretty flexible feature on an entry-level camera.
Nikon D5500 Image Quality
With a 24MP DX-format sensor, the D5500 delivers great image quality. The quality from Nikon’s DSLRs obviously continues to get better and the D5500 really shines.
Even in low light and higher sensitivity settings the D5500 impresses. The native sensitivity range covers ISO 100-25600 and the D5500 is capable of capturing good images throughout the range. Of course, shots at the higher end of the spectrum have significant noise. For casual photo use among consumers though, images shot at the max ISO 25600 setting are still acceptable for small prints and social media use.
Below is a scene shot with both the D5500 and Canon 5D Mark II. While the 5D Mark II is a few years old now, it was a $3000 camera when released in 2008 and has probably been in more professional photographers’ camera kits over the past seven years than any other camera.
Now, look at the 100% crop samples below and judge for yourself the image quality from the two cameras. One column was shot with the Nikon D5500 and one with the Canon 5D Mark II. Don’t peek a the labels for the samples until you have looked at them all.
Did you guess which camera shot which images? The Canon 5D Mark II is the column on the right. The D5500 is on the left.
The fact that the cameras are so close in quality says a lot about the D5500 to me. The removal of the optical low pass filter looks like a good decision that Nikon has made with the D5500. For the asking price, the D5500 is hard to beat on image quality alone.
Nikon D5500 Sample Photos
I have chosen several sample photos that I captured in a number of different scenarios while testing the D5500. I selected several snapshot photos along with some more serious planned shots as well. I think both sides of that coin represents the potential markets for this camera. It works well as a walk-around camera for family snapshots and it serves the more serious side of photography too.
These were all converted to DNG files using Adobe’s DNG Converter and processed in Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CC. Lightroom 6/CC and Adobe Camera Raw have since been released/update with native D5500 support.
The above crop if converted to a print would make it massive. As you view it on your monitor, if you see it about 7-inches, the resulting print would be about 5-feet by 3.5-feet in size. Probably not what you are looking for a casual snapshot at the aquarium. But a high-ISO shot like this looks just fine as a 4″ x 6″ print or shared at low resolution online or in a text message.
Nikon D5500 Video and Timelapse Features
In addition to capturing great high-resolution images, the D5500 also works well as a video camera. That said, it isn’t quite ready to replace your iPhone or camcorder as an all-purpose recorder.
What is does, however, is produce great quality video for those willing to take time and care preparing for the shot. You can use it casually and handheld, you just have to be intentional about it.
It captures 1920 x 1080 video at a variety of frame rates, including 60 frames per second. Those who are experienced with video know that this higher frame rate means you can conform the footage in a video editing application for a smooth slow motion effect – down to 40% normal speed in a 24p timeline. This is a nice bonus feature for an entry-level DSLR.
The really great thing about the D5500’s video capabilities though is that someone with a little bit of skill can produce top-notch quality results with it. It has a microphone output but not a headphone output. So you can attach a shotgun mic like the Rode VideoMic Go or the Nikon ME-1 but you can’t monitor the sound during capture. Although, you can use the audio meters to make sure you aren’t clipping.
The D5500 even has the ability to send a clean video-out signal over HDMI. Accordingly, if you want to record video to an external recorder like the Atomos Ninja, you can get a much better file to work with than if recording a very compressed H.264 file internally to the camera.
One thing you can’t do with HDMI output is monitor the back of the camera and the HDMI output at the same time. It is one or the other, so you need to make sure you can monitor the HDMI signal if you are sending it to a separate recorder.
Along with the capability to record video, the D5500 also features a built-in intervalometer. This is something that Nikon has been great about including ever since the D5000 line started. Using the intervalometer and a little post-production assembly, you can create stunning, high-resolution time lapse imagery from raw file conversions.
I spent a few days shooting in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the D5500 and the Syrp Genie (read my Syrp Genie review) and was continually impressed with the results I got from the D5500.
You can see a short clip of video and time lapse footage capture with the D5500 below.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qcJ6xJ0Neo&w=700]
For some, the video and time lapse potential of the D5500 could be enough to push it them over the edge if you are considering a competitor. These are very powerful features in the right hands.
Nikon D5500 Accessories
I like the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6D EX DC HSM that I referenced above as an affordable wide angle lens for the D5500. Due to the 1.5x crop factor from the D5500, you have to find really wide lenses like this if you want those ultra-wide shots. That 1.5x crop makes this lens feel like a 15-30mm lens would on a full frame camera.
The D5500 uses the Nikon EN-EL14A rechargeable battery. It gives pretty good life to the D5500 on its own; however, if you plan on spending significant time shooting in between charging sessions, you may want to add another to your camera bag.
I already mentioned memory cards above, but I will mention it again here. The D5500 can take advantage of the fastest UHS-I SD cards. It tested the Transcend Ultimate UHS-I Speed Class 3 card with the best results in the D5500. While the camera’s buffer fills up rather quickly when shooting .NEF raw image files, these faster cards will help you continue shooting more so that the average speed memory cards out there.
The Hoya NDx400 9-stop ND filter I used for some of the sample photos is an affordable ND filter that allows for the long exposure even in daylight to create the blurred motion in several of the images above. If you plan on using it on more than one size lens, I recommend getting a 77mm version of the filter and a filter step-up kit.
The Nikon D5500 is an excellent entry-level and enthusiast-on-a-budget DSLR. The camera is not overly intimidating for new users and offers plenty of features to move you along as you learn. The experienced enthusiast will benefit from the impressive feature set while not breaking the bank. There is a lot you can get out of this camera and it is capable of producing great images that meet the most discerning photographer’s demands.
The Nikon D5500 is available from Photography Bay’s trusted retail partner, B&H Photo, at the following links:
- Nikon D5500 body only at B&H Photo
- Nikon D5500 with 18-55mm Lens at B&H Photo
- Nikon D5500 with 18-140mm Lens at B&H Photo
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