The Nikon D5300 follows in a line of entry level cameras that started with the D50, and eventually got bumped up half a tier with the D5000 line. By now it actually appears to house some significantly powerful internals, with a class-leading 24 megapixel APS-C sensor and a 39 point autofocus module along with WiFi and GPS, while being made as cheaply as possible. How does it fare?
Design and Hardware
Nikon DSLRs have been in existence for over a decade now, continuing the fine footsteps of the later autofocus film SLR line, and by now Nikon have more or less refined both the user experience and manufacturing process. As a result, the D5300 looks pretty much like the D5200 before it (and the D5100 before it), pentamirror viewfinder hump and all. This is probably not a camera you buy based on how good it looks, but rather, what it potentially represents. This time though, the D5300 uses a carbon fibre plastic composite, which makes it a bit lighter than the D5200. Makes me wonder about the prices of some carbon fibre tripods.
CK: There’s always the Sirui carbon fibre tripods which are very good value for money.
David: It may be that carbon fibre is not as expensive as what certain tripod manufacturers made it out to be? Anyway the D5300 feels solid in the hands, and despite its consumer designation, seems capable of outlasting any photographer.
YS: The D5300 has a few things its other siblings, and one of them is the potentially useful swivel screen LCD. The LCD itself is brilliant; it seems to be made with one of the new-fangled processes that leave as little air-space as possible between the glass and the LCD. Viewing angles are wide, contrast is high, and colours are good. Sadly, it is not a touch-enabled, because it is a shame, as the entry-level Nikons have a pretty nice-looking graphic user interface that would have benefited greatly from it.
CK: Indeed, the tilt and swivel screen is useful for getting unusual angles. Sadly, such a screen is not available to more professional bodies, perhaps because they are not as rugged as a fixed screen. Maybe some day tilt/swivel screens will make its way to the more professional cameras like the D600 and above.
YS: The other things it has are built-in WiFi and GPS. While Nikon has support for both in other cameras, this is the first that has them built-in, which is a great idea, but the implementation for WiFi is fairly simplistic. We will dive into that later in the review.
David: I suspect my greatest contribution to this review would be in the WiFi section.
Operation and Handling
YS: While Nikon DSLRs all look fairly alike, they do handle and operate a little differently. Each jump in grade always changes or shuffles something around. With the swivel screen, the button shuffle parade is even greater, as the traditional buttons to the left of the LCD are now scattered all across the camera. Some are around the rear near the directional pad, a couple are around the lens mount, and the “i” button has moved next to AE-L/AF-L button! If you are coming from another line of Nikon DSLRs, expect to fumble around more than normal.
CK: The camera body itself is rather small and plasticky, but that’s typical of DSLRs of this price range.
YS: It is not plastic, remember?
CK: Well, it does feel like plastic.
YS: What is plastic though, are the buttons. In particular, the directional pad. Now just about every camera has plastic buttons and direction pads and joysticks and what not, but the D5300’s directional pad uses a particular kind of micro switch with a particular kind of plastic that drives me up the wall to no end when using it. It is noisy and unpleasant to use. It goes click-clack-click-clack-clack-clack like an unrelenting clicky monster determined to click its way to driving the human race made with its infernal clattering.
Making it worse of course, is the typical entry-level lack of buttons. The D5300 has a single command dial, and lacks many of the dedicated buttons that do the work on a higher level DSLR. A lot of the interface is dependent on the “i” button and the aforementioned clicky monster. Also remember the screen is not touch enabled, which leads to:
CLACK. CLACK. CLACK. CLACK. CLACK.
One button to the left of the lens mount is a customisable Fn button, but without a dedicated ISO button, it pretty much becomes it. This is actually a pet peeve of mine; like the Fujifilm cameras, leaving something so crucial like ISO without its own button basically forces any customisable button to become the ISO button by default.
David: Be thankful it actually has a customisable button for ISO. Though I’m also beginning to think that maybe having a button for ISO is overrated in a camera designated for the consumer – most people, even advanced amateurs I know, have become so pampered and reliant on automation that most are using auto ISO (or are bitching about its various modes of operation in various cameras, in various forums) together with aperture priority – why else would there be a pressing need for a dedicated ISO button, especially one mainly targeted at the “fire and forget” mode of operation employed by most beginning photographers? Perhaps that’s what Nikon was thinking exactly. It’s better to leave the button operation open ended so that one can customise it to something else other than ISO.
YS: As befits an entry level DSLR, it comes with the somewhat dim and small pentamirror-based viewfinder. It is serviceable, and still miles better than the terrible Sony viewfinders when they were messing with the twin image sensors in their DSLRs.
CK: Remember that this camera is targeted at the mass market/beginners who probably won’t ever switch out of the “Auto” or “Program” modes, so they probably will never adjust many settings. Advanced users will start to find it annoying. I am not sure why Nikon can’t add a front command dial – changing the aperture in M mode requires the press of a “aperture shift key” along with rotating the rear command dial. Quite a clunky operation.
YS: Such is the fate of the low-end camera, to trudge along with just a single command dial.
David: Again, you guys are overthinking it. The target market probably wouldn’t gripe about it!
YS: Well, mass market shooters will appreciate the Effects mode on the mode dial. When selected, a variety of effects are made available, and are selected by turning the command dial. They are quite funky, though I think most smartphones have access to software that have even more effects. Still, I liked the high-key and low-key effects, along with the diorama one, fake tilt effects and all.
Live-view is activated by a spring-loaded lever sticking out next to the mode dial, and live-view works as well as it does in most Nikon DSLRS; not very. While there is not a lot of lag, the autofocus in live-view is leisurely at best. Unlike earlier Nikon DSLRs, there is no option to switch to a quick autofocus mode that flips the mirror back down to enable the use of phase-detect sensor. While it sounds annoying, having used it on the D300, it is far better to suffer a little bit of blackout than to wait for the camera to achieve focus.
CK: Using the WiFi is simple enough. Enable the WiFi function on the camera, connect your smartphone to it, then run the Nikon Wireless Mobile Utility app. The app lets you download photos from the camera, or use your smart phone as a remote control with a live view. Pretty cool. Unfortunately, you can’t change camera settings from the app – these have to be changed from the camera’s controls. The iOS app is also kind of buggy – the UI can be screwed up during use (see screenshots.)
David: To me this is the single greatest feature the Nikon D5300 brings to the already over-crowded table of consumer DSLRs. Let’s face it – the world probably has enough DSLRs over the past few years for every household – the D5300 would have otherwise bring a me-too plethora of features, coupled with a higher 24 megapixel sensor *yawn* to a generation of photographers who make like 17 prints a year. 4R size. The world is now social and socially connected online, and the Wifi feature allows the new generation Nikon user of the D5300 to photograph and instantly share that photograph by uploading it first to their mobile phone, from which the same photo will be digitally transmitted all over the world on Instagram, Facebook or whatever social media / messenger program the user is on. We can write a thesis on the changing behavioural pattern of people socially as a result of this instant gratification; I can pen an essay describing the potentially damaging effect that instant sharing has on “good photography” or the erosion of old school, traditional photographic culture of reviewing contact sheets, meticulous selection and printing of photos with painstaking care, but we cannot deny the future is now written online, and with a few button presses or finger strokes, that same photo can be transmitted with a vintage feel akin to what we are achieving in the old days. This is actually faster than the speed those Olympic photographers are transmitting their images!
YS: Actually I do appreciate that. I am still not convinced with the current implementation. It all still feels too slow and clunky. Surprisingly the D5300’s Wifi feature is straightforward, because it is also the least featured. There is no image size selection either; the camera just transmits JPEGs of about three megapixels in size!
CK: Unlike the A-GPS in our smart phones, the GPS of the Nikon D5300 takes a rather long time to lock on to satellites. I didn’t managed to time it, but when it eventually did, the location info is dutifully recorded. More cameras should have this built-in!
YS: There is A-GPS, which comes in the form of data that is downloaded from Nikon’s website. The data is refreshed every fortnight or thereabouts. However the impact on reducing lock times did not seem to be significant. A cold start still requires anywhere from three to five minutes. Battery life suffers as well, but we did not extensively test the difference.
YS’s Shutter Release Button Rating
Cheap cameras aimed at consumer markets typically have the hard click shutter release buttons that typically are awful when you need to get every last bit of stability in taking a photo. The D5300 is a bit better, but not by much. Thankfully it is nothing like the directional pad.
Poor – Clicky, with a hard depression before actuating.
If you told me years ago, that a cheap entry level DSLR would have 39 autofocus points with 11 cross type points and 5 frames per second continuous shooting mode, which basically beats my then-expensive Nikon F100 film SLR with 5 autofocus points and 4.5 FPS, I would have just laughed at you.
Well, it looks like I have to stop laughing. The D5300 packs all of that, and, with a caveat, performs just as well as it does. While the 39 AF point Multi-CAM 4800DX covers less of the frame compared to the 51 point Multi-CAM 3500DX, it is still fairly sufficient, and focus is fast and sure. The camera hits 5 FPS and can do basic sports photography with the right lens.
Which brings me to the caveat: The Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR that is part of the D5300 kit. Released in late 2007, the lens does feel like it was for cameras older than that. The in-lens autofocus motor is on the leisurely side, and when paired with the D5300 it feels like the camera has something from Nikon’s early attempts at autofocus than the advanced 39 point autofocus module. Trying the lens on my D300 made it slow as well! Shame, as first-time buyers looking at D5300 might come away with a different impression.
CK: Actually, I felt in terms of AF speed, the AF-S 18-55mm f/3-5.5.6G VR isn’t that bad. Maybe a little on the slow side, but is still acceptable. The early Fuji X-series cameras are slower, and even the new Sony A7 with the 24-70mm f/4 isn’t that fast either.
YS: The Canon kit lenses have always been a touch faster, and the new EF 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM is even faster. Try it sometime, it does feel a class apart. The camera has no real issues in operation either. It performs better than its price would indicate. Sure, there are faster cameras, but with a decent lens, the camera is in the fast camera group, not slow.
David: The use of this camera for soccer moms, and casual users is well understood and documented, but to me, this camera, with one of those new fangled primes (albeit bigger full frame ones) like the 24 f1.4 AFS, or the new 35mm f1.8 AFS full frame lenses should pack quite a punch as a (relatively) small reportage / photojournalistic camera – with its quiet shutter, smaller size, and the Wifi feature allowing photojournalists to instantly transmit their pictures across the wire.
YS: Oh yes, the shutter is a very well-behaved affair. Nothing too noisy. Unlike that directional pad.
CK: Image quality wise, there’s not much to shout about. It’s not bad – It’s what you’d expect from a modern day camera.
YS: I actually thought the image quality is pretty good. In low ISOs the 24 megapixels really shine, and in high ISOs it is as good as they come at the pixel level. The D5300 is pretty much clean to ISO 800, though fine detail is getting eroded by that level. From ISO 1600 onwards there is a more significant drop in colour information, and by ISO 12800 the image is simply too noisy for most uses, with so much noise in the shadows. In practice this means I am comfortable taking it as high as ISO 3200 for most uses, and ISO 6400 as a last resort.
David: Yup, nothing much to talk about here – the sensor quality has been a known quality since the D7100, and without the anti aliasing filter, produces razor sharp images enough to satisfy anyone.
YS: As it was with operation performance though, the kit lens lets the camera down. Images are soft in the corners at all focal lengths at the widest apertures. The centre is not critically sharp either but should pass muster for most people. Stopping down helps somewhat, but I think the D5300 deserves a better lens than this. Trying a cheap and old 50mm f/1.8 (non-D) at f/4.0 shows what is possible with the D5300’s sensor.
I also noted that the lens exhibits some focus shift when stopping down, causing the point of focus to shift forward. The new collapsible 18-55mm kit lens that is shipping with the D3300 has to improve on this!
The Nikon D5300 perhaps reflects one of the conundrums that faces camera makers today: How to create a compelling product after years of carefully managed upgrade iteration while making sure that low-end stays low-end. The fact is that for all the little gotchas with the user interface and ergonomics, the D5300 has both the technical specifications and performance that cameras of just several years ago would have struggled to match. The little gotchas do hold the camera back. The user interface that is geared towards consumers rather than photo enthusiasts. That really annoying directional pad. The kit lens that just lets down the rest of the camera, from both performance and image quality aspects.
CK: Actually, I think the era of low-end DSLRs is over. There really isn’t much point in buying low-end DSLRs anymore, given the plethora of different mirrorless systems available. They are smaller, lighter and achieve pretty much the same (if not better) quality as DSLRs. True, the D5300 is a very decent camera indeed, but it that’s all it is. Nothing exciting. Nothing revolutionary. Ho hum.
YS: A state of the art 24 megapixel sensor with a 39 point autofocus system and a 5 FPS continuous shooting mode is now unexciting. And costs only slightly more as a film SLR of its type back in the film era. Are we spoilt or what?
CK: It’s about time Nikon and Canon wake up and focus on creating proper mirrorless systems for their consumers. These can both cover the low-end as well as the mid-high end (a bit like how Nikon has the V and the J series.) This will also help them re-capture a market that they are slowly losing.
YS: Without turning this into too big a sideshow about mirrorless cameras, I do think both Nikon and Canon are willing to rely on their current market share and brand name to get by until they are sure they want to do this seriously. It is just a matter of when. The only danger is having “when” happen too late.
To conclude, the Nikon D5300 is just too good a camera to not be recommended. Since that does describe is just about any camera out there nowadays, I will be a bit more precise.
If you are a photography beginner, you might want to consider a camera with a user interface that you can grow into. If not, there is no shame in picking it. Upgrade the lens the first chance you get though.
If it is the case of just getting something better for your snapshots, this is way more camera than you will ever need. Like the photography beginner, you might want to upgrade the lens if you want to make full use of the camera, but you may never notice the difference, especially if the camera’s output will be in the form of downsized images on the Internet.
For these two groups, the competition comes in the form of the Canon EOS 700D, which we have not reviewed. While technically inferior on paper, with it using the EOS 7D sensor from 2008, as well as lacking in Wifi and GPS, it does have a better lens. The 18-55 STM is faster to focus and reports elsewhere place it as a good performer. The EOS 700D also has a touchscreen which many will like, especially those in the consumer category. Consider them carefully, and ideally try them out in a store first if you can.
Finally, for the experienced Nikon shooter, the D5300 is a very decent alternative camera for travelling light, but you might want to keep an eye on one of those sexy mirrorless systems out there. The weight savings with a good lens is quite significant, and so is the size difference. You will want to balance the differences in operation speed and image quality, not to mention the cost in starting a new system. The D5300 might be plain, but if you give it a chance, overlook a few flaws introduced for the purposes of cost budgeting or marketing segmenting, and give it a good lens, it will get the job done.by