Nikon D5600

Nikon’s brand new DX format D5600 is the latest model in its 5000 series of cameras, which is designed for advanced beginners who are either new to DSLRs, or upgrading from an older entry-level model. The camera replaces the hugely successful D5500, which has been available for two years, and comes right off the back of Nikon’s recent D3400 release, which is a slightly less advanced version of this new model...

Nikon D5600

Nikon D5600

At the heart of the D5600 is a 24.2MP CMOS sensor. It’s remarkably similar to the one found in the D7200, which image quality analysts DxO rate as having the best sensor score of any APS-C DSLR ever (across all brands), and the D3400 and D5500, which come in second and third. So this camera builds on some superb imaging technology that has outperformed anything else on the market. At the time of print, DxO hasn’t yet rated the D5600, but, in our own detailed image quality testing, we found sensor performance to be exceptional, displaying very similar image quality to the three cameras previously mentioned. There’s more on our test results on the opposite page.

It’s worth noting that, as on the D5500, this particular chip has no anti-aliasing filter built in, which makes images very slightly sharper. However, it does increase the risk of moiré – an occasional optical interference effect produced when shooting close patterns or textures. Unlike on the cheaper D3400, an in-built Dust Reduction system automatically vibrates to keep the sensor free of dust contamination.

The D5600 is powered by an Expeed 4 processor. This keeps high performance features such as continuous shooting with AF, or data-heavy image processing, running smoothly, and facilitates a large ISO range and advanced video performance. Exactly the same processor powers much more advanced full-frame models, such as the D750 and D810.

Main features
As well as its impressive sensor and processor, the D5600 is a relatively well-specced camera, especially given that it’s the second least advanced DSLR in Nikon’s line-up. Slightly disappointingly, though, its spec sheet is virtually identical to its predecessor and, as such, the D5600 is pretty much the epitome of the trend towards subtle upgrades rather than game-changing new releases.

For anyone shooting in low light conditions, the camera boasts an ISO range of 100-25,600, exactly the same as on the D5500. This allows for blur-free shots without the need for a tripod. In testing, we found images were relatively noise-free up to around ISO 1600, and perfectly useable until ISO 6400. Beyond this, noise is more of an issue, with ISO 25,600 only really useful when there’s no other option. Thanks to its Expeed 4 engine, the camera is proficient at reducing excess digital noise from JPEGs without compromising too much fine detail. Low light shooting is also aided by the lens’ Vibration Reduction system, which compensates for camera shake to the tune of around 4 stops.

For those who shoot fast-action subjects, such as sports, wildlife or children, the D5600 offers a shooting speed of 5fps for 12-bit RAWs or 4fps for 14-bit RAWs, exactly the same as its predecessor. This speed is marginally inferior to Canon’s 750D and 760D, which can shoot 5fps for 14-bit RAWs.

In our testing, the 5600D kept up its 5fps shooting speed with AF-C for 8 RAWs before its buffer filled up and the burst speed slowed. This is the same as the Canon 760D’s 8-shot buffer. The camera’s autofocus system boasts 39 AF points, including 9 more accurate cross-type near the centre – again, identical to the D5500. As expected, focus modes include the usual single point, 9-, 21- or 39-point dynamic area AF, Face-priority and 3D tracking for very fast moving subjects.

On the rear of the camera is a 3.2in 1037k-dot screen that’s slightly larger than the one found on Canon’s 750D. The screen flips out to help you compose images from tricky angles, and even goes to 180° so you can take selfies more easily. When not in use, you can fold it inwards against the body so it doesn’t get damaged.

The D5600 inherits touchscreen from its predecessor too – the D5500 was the first Nikon DSLR to adopt it – enabling fingertip focusing and shooting, as well as menu navigation and image review controls. One of the few new additions to this model comes in the form of a firmware tweak to the touchscreen functionality. This includes a frame advance bar, which allows you to flick through images much more quickly as you review them, and an in-camera crop function. The former is borrowed from Nikon’s D5 and D500.

The other significant change – in relative terms – is Nikon’s new SnapBridge functionality, which has previously appeared on two other cameras, the D500 and the D3400. The idea is that the camera establishes and maintains a Bluetooth connection with a smartphone or tablet, and automatically sends across a 2MP version of every image in the background as you shoot (you can send full-sized versions if you prefer). This is the perfect size for sharing online, so you don’t have to bother with resizing in Photoshop, and you won’t have to fiddle around with cables and card readers. The downside to SnapBridge is that it’s far slower than Wi-Fi – around 0.035MB/s, meaning afull-sized image takes several minutes! Also, you can’t use it to change camera settings remotely, so it’s only really superior for its background transfer capabilities. SnapBridge can be used to trigger the camera, which is why Nikon has removed the infrared remote receiver on the front and back.

Battery life is 480 shots from a single charge, which is a little on the low side, especially considering the less advanced D3400 offers 1200 shots, and Canon’s 750D offers 1230.

Movie functionality
If you like to shoot video on your DSLR, the D5600 offers Full HD (1080p) at 50fps, which means you can slow down your footage to half speed and it will still play perfectly smoothly. For anyone who wants to record high quality sound, there’s an audio-in port for attaching an external microphone, although there’s no audio-out, so monitoring it as you record isn’t possible. New to this model is Timelapse, which allows you to shoot images at timed intervals and then stitch it into a movie. This comes with exposure smoothing to fix any frames that are too bright or too dark, which could cause flickering in your video.

SnapBridge transfer functionality is compatible with videos, but due to huge file sizes, you have to send them manually via the SnapBridge app.

Handling & build quality
If you’ve ever used a D5500, you might find the D5600 familiar. In fact, the two bodies seem identical, other than the badge and the missing infrared receivers on the front and back of the body. Even the dimensions match, albeit the D5600 is 5g lighter.

In a way this is a good thing – the D5500 most certainly wasn’t lacking in terms of handling, so Nikon had no real need to change anything. The camera is exceptionally comfortable to hold, and the grip is fairly deep. For a DSLR, the body is very compact. Build quality is good, and the menu is well designed. There’s only one finger dial, which isn’t ideal (the D7200 has two), so that can slow you down when changing settings, and there’s no dedicated ISO button, although a Function button near the badge is set to ISO by default.

The kit lens could be easier to use now that it has lost its AF and VR buttons, and many aren’t fans of the collapsible lens mechanism, as having to press and turn the zoom ring every time you get your camera out feels like a second ‘on’ switch. You do get used to this over time though.

Verdict
With one of the best APS-C sensors on the market, as well as a fast processor and a sharp kit lens, the D5600 kit gives excellent image quality. The rest of the core spec is adequate (5fps shooting, 39 AF points, ISO 100-25,600 and Full HD video), but virtually identical to the D5500. Okay, the D5600 is 5g lighter, there’s SnapBridge, a few more touchscreen functions and time-lapse shooting, but that really is it. The only other difference is the new kit lens, which is slightly less easy to use than the old one. The current lowest kit price is £799, making it £130 more expensive than the D5500. Some will go for the newer model just to keep up to date, but many will feel it doesn’t offer enough upgrades to justify the extra money.

Pros
Excellent image quality  
Large, flip-out touchscreen  
Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth Fast Expeed 4 engine  
Fairly small and light body

Cons
Very similar to D5500  
SnapBridge quite slow Battery life limited  
No AF or VR buttons

Specification

  • Lens: 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 (also available in 18-105mm and 18-140mm kits)
  • Effective resolution: 24.2MP
  • Sensor: 23.5x15.6mm DX format CMOS
  • Processor: Expeed 4
  • LCD: 3.2in 1037k-dot flip-out touchscreen
  • Viewfinder: 95% coverage
  • Autofocus: 39 AF points (11 cross-type)
  • ISO: 100-25,600
  • Shooting speed: 5fps for 12-bit RAWs
  • Video: Full HD (1080p) at 50fps
  • Pop-up flash: GN12
  • Other features: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (SnapBridge), time-lapse movies, dust-reduction system
  • Battery life: 480 shots
  • Card type: SD, SDHC, SDXC
  • Size (WxHxD): 124x97x70mm
  • Weight: 465g
  • Web: www.nikon.co.uk

Alternative DSLR kit options

Canon 750D kit
The 24.7MP 750D sits above the 1300D and below the 80D in Canon’s range. It boasts a 3in flip-out touchscreen, 19 cross-type focus points, fps shooting and Wi-Fi and NFC. There’s also a 760D, which is almost identical on the inside, but has a slightly more advanced exterior. Read the full review.

Pentax K-70 kit
Dustproof, freezeproof and water-resistant, the K70 is a great option for outdoor shooters. It comes with a 24MP APS-C sensor, an ISO range of 100-102,400, 6fps shooting, a 3in flip-out screen and Full HD video. The camera’s kit lens is also fully weather sealed. Read the full review.

This review was first published in the March 2017 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.