With many of the same specifications as the D5300, but with an added vari-angle touchscreen and a tweaked body design, is the Nikon D5500 really offering enough to stand out from its predecessor?
For Nikon, the D5000 series of cameras is a way to have multiple entry-level DSLRs to suit all budgets. Differences between the cameras are subtle, but with each new incarnation comes small things that build upon what is, fundamentally, a solidly performing entry-level DSLR. However, the removal of this filter means that images from the D5500 can be affected by moire patterning, which occurs when shooting recurring patterns such as pinstriped shirts and other similar designs. Previous entries in the D5000 series have seen upgrades made to the processor, but the D5500 doesn’t follow suit.
The D5300 has a native ISO sensitivity spanning ISO 100-12,800, plus an expanded H1 setting equivalent to ISO 25,600. The D5300 introduced built-in Wi-Fi and GPS connectivity to the series, but while the new D5500 retains Wi-Fi, GPS has been removed.
Thankfully, the Wi-Fi connectivity is very good, allowing users to connect to the camera from a smart device using the free Nikon Wireless Mobile Utility app – available for both Android and iOS. Other than the flat profile, the video functionality is largely unchanged from the D5300: full HD 1920 x 1080-pixel video recording at frame rates of 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p, as well as other, lower-resolution formats.
On top of the camera is a hotshoe and a built-in microphone that records stereo sound in video footage.
Nikon’s engineers have been busy over the last few years giving its DSLR line-up a structural makeover. In terms of size, the D5300 measured 125 x 98 x 76mm, whereas the new D5500 measures 124 x 97 x 70mm.
Being at the upper end of Nikon’s entry-level DSLR line-up, there are minimal buttons and the layout is very straightforward.
With a little menu diving through custom settings, it’s possible to select different controls linked with the LCD. A total of 39 AF points, including nine cross-type points, are featured inside the D5500, as is the Multi-CAM 4800DX focusing sensor.
When faced with challenging low-light conditions, the focusing still finds its target in under a second with a little help from the AF assist beam. Autofocusing in live view is still rather slow, but its saving grace is that it’s consistent and accurate when it does lock on. Like the D5300, the D5500 features a 2016-pixel metering sensor with settings for matrix, centreweighted and spot metering. With its 24-millon-pixel DX format sensor that lacks an optical low-pass filter, the D5500 is capable of recording huge amounts of detail, as long as a suitably sharp lens is used. The D5500 gives good results in our Applied Imaging tests, typical of what we’d expect from a modern APS-C sensor. The D5500’s JPEG images at lower ISO sensitivities of ISO 100-400 are superb, as the in-camera processing reduces the small amount of noise present in the raw images without sacrificing much of the detail. You have only to cast your eyes over the specification sheet of the D5500 to see how strikingly similar it is to the D5300. The main difference between the D5500 and its predecessor is the body shape, which draws inspiration from the more recent D750. The other significant change is that touchscreen functionality has been added to the D5500.
At the Pre-CES Digital Experience event we had a chance to get our hands on the new Nikon D5500 enthusiast DSLR. Rather than upgrading a model and discontinuing the last one, Nikon keeps roughly three D5000-series models going at the same time. At the 2014 Amateur Photographer Awards, the D5300 took the Best Entry-Level DSLR award – can the D5500 take the series up a notch?

With a resolution of 24.2 million pixels, it is the same resolution and size as the Nikon D5500’s predecessor, the D5300. Nikon says that it feels the advantages of the added detail captured outweigh the disadvantages of potential moire patterning. It features the same Expeed 4 processor as the D5300, and the same 5fps shooting speed as boasted by the D5300 and D5200. Perhaps Nikon is hinting at better in-camera processing by featuring the very same ISO sensitivity range on the D5500, though now ISO 100-25,600 is all native, rather than including a special expanded setting. Instead a GP-1A GPS module will need to be purchased separately (?189) for those users wishing to geotag images. From there, users can share images online, download them to their devices and also wirelessly control their cameras.
However, the act of shooting video is greatly improved thanks to the vari-angle touchscreen – more on this later. With the D5300 we saw Nikon adopt a brand-new monocoque structuring for the camera, which was taken up by the D750 a few months later. Comparing the D5300 to the D5500 on paper would have you believe that the D5300 has the bigger grip. This gives a different user experience and those who are au fait with touchscreens will likely find this their go-to method.
For example, it’s possible to slide your thumb across the LCD to adjust ISO sensitivity while looking through the viewfinder. This same specification is carried over to the D5500, resulting in a reasonably large and clear viewfinder.
However, this screen now boasts touchscreen functionality, which greatly adds to the usability of the camera.
Colours are clear, punchy and true to the scene on the back of the camera, and the screen’s refresh rate is also very good. Even though a large portion of my shooting with the camera was carried out on cold winter days in England, the D5500 still delivered tonally rich images. Its JPEG output exhibits Nikon’s trademark punchy colour rendition, with rich, saturated colours. A dynamic range of 12.3 EV at ISO 100 indicates that raw files should contain plenty of additional recoverable shadow detail. It’s only at ISO 800 that I started to notice obvious luminance noise, mostly localized in the shadow areas; but looking really closely, low contrast detail starts to disappear too. With the same sensor, AF system and metering chip, its core credentials remain practically identical. It provides a different user experience, one that I think many first-time DSLR owners will find favourable. Like the D5300, the D5500 has no optical low-pass (anti-aliasing) filter, which should in turn allow its sensor to resolve a high level of detail. Also, it’s worth noting that it’s possible to remove a lot of moire in post-production should it occur. Though it is likely that, as a new camera, there has been tweaks made to some algorithms to achieve better in-camera noise reduction in JPEG images, as well as more advanced calculations obtained from the 2016-pixel RGB colour sensor.
This is somewhat disappointing, though for many users it is a feature that goes largely unused. A workaround to make up for the lack of GPS is to add the location data of your smart device to images when they’re uploaded, but this does not offer the same functionality as the old GPS module of the earlier camera. The intention is to give users shooting video a high-dynamic range piece of footage that is perfect for colour grading and sharpening in post-production. This design does away with the conventional metal chassis and polycarbonate exoskeleton and instead uses a single shell constructed from thermoplastic, which is reinforced with carbon fibre.

However, while the dimensions are slightly larger, the redesigned body of the D5500 gives a far more pronounced grip and a much deeper gap between the lens and handgrip.
Many of the core controls can be adjusted by tapping the i button and users can see the values on the rear LCD. Of course, more physical controls are great, particularly for the professional who knows their camera like the back of their hand, but when using cameras with very few designated buttons to control things, it’s a great help to have an intuitive touchscreen interface by which to adjust controls.
It is also possible to place one of the focus points wherever desired in the frame using the LCD.
In good light, the focusing locks on straight away, typically taking only a fraction of a second. I found that in high-contrast scenes, the first areas to become clipped are the highlights. Bark of trees, green grass and the odd flecks of coloured flowers were all well saturated and punchy. As with the company’s other SLRs, dynamic range is impressive, with a wide range of tones recorded from the highlights to the deepest shadows. Good results are maintained through to ISO 400, but then results start to fall more quickly. However the camera continues to give entirely usable files up to ISO 3200, and it’s not until ISO 6400 that processing starts to become quite aggressive, and detail starts to breakdown seriously. Also, factor in that Nikon has managed to shave 60g off the overall weight compared to the D5300 and it adds a lot to the handling of the camera.
When working on a tripod where buttons aren’t easily accessible, the touchscreen is great for quick changes. It’s a design feature we praised highly in the D750 and it’s great to see the same style rolled out on the D5500. Video users will find the ability to change settings in video, without physical buttons, great as they won’t nudge the camera out of position and the button presses won’t be audible. This is simply fixed by dialling down the exposure compensation and, thanks to the good dynamic range of the D5500’s sensor, there’s plentiful room to lighten the shadow areas in-camera or in post-production. Indeed to make full use of the sensor’s capabilities you’ll need to either engage Active D-Lighting when shooting JPEGs, or post-process from raw.
The highest settings are, as usual, both really only for use when absolutely necessary, with ISO 25600 in particular giving large amounts of chroma noise and little in the way of fine detail. Overall, Nikon has built upon the solid foundation of the D5300 and made a couple of changes that have improved upon the camera further. I found, when walking around with large lenses, the camera now sits more comfortably in the hand than its predecessor. Also, when using the vari-angle screen to shoot at high angles, the ability to tap the touchscreen to activate the shutter is a very welcome feature – though what I find most useful is pinch zooming to check focus quickly.
It would have been quite an advantage to have seen the highlight protection metering from the D810 and D750 handed down to the D5500, but I guess this is a feature reserved for premium models. Images are highly detailed with consideration to sensor size, and noise is very well controlled even at higher ISO sensitivities. Although the AF in live view is a touch slow, the regular autofocusing is extremely quick in both continuous and single modes. There’s also a good range of focus points and coupling the camera with a faster optic than the standard kit lens really shows what the D5500 can do.
Colour rendition is also one of the D5500’s strong points, delivering very dense, tonally rich images with punchy colours.

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