Nikon divides its entry-level range of D-SLRs into two tiers; the D3000 range and the slightly more advanced D5000 series. The D5500 is the latest update to the upper tier, and sees a few new tweaks and additions to its predecessor, the D5300. The range is updated fairly regularly though, with this being the third release in the past 30 months. There’s no internal overhaul – so it’s evolution not revolution – and differences are therefore quite subtle. Most retailers have all three on sale simultaneously, indicating that the D5500 is an update rather than a replacement. There are a few additions though, so we got our hands on one to find out what’s new...
Features & Build
The most significant new feature on the D5500 is the introduction of touchscreen technology. You can now adjust settings, focus, shoot and scroll through your images with just the swipe of your finger. The dimensions and resolution of the screen still matches the D5300 though. It’s a 3.2in 1037k-dot TFT vari-angle LCD with 170º viewing angle and 100% frame coverage. This is the first Nikon D-SLR to boast a touchscreen, making its operation more akin to a smart device.
The screen isn’t the only smart thing about the D5500 though – the inclusion of Wi-Fi means it’s possible to control it remotely as well as instantly share your images via a smartphone or tablet. GPS has been dropped on this model, but presumably few will notice as it’s a feature used rarely. Most of us know where we were when the picture was taken, as there’s usually a clue in the image!
The sensor is a 24.2Mp APS-C chip with no Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF) – the same as the D5300. It measures 23.5x15.6mm and produces a resolution of6000x4000px, which is comfortably big enough to make prints 50cm wide.
The EXPEED 4 image processor is another common feature, however the native ISO range is now 100-25,600. The top setting (without expansion) on the D5300 is 12,800, so this update offers enhanced sensitivity.
The pairing of sensor and engine allows images to be captured at a top speed of 5fps, which offers no advance on the pace of its siblings.
The AF system is nothing new, either. It’s the dependable Nikon Multi-CAM 4800DX module with TTL phase detection, 39 focus points (including nine cross-types), and is used in several APS-C D-SLRs from the same stable.
The D5500 is capable of recording Full HD video clips at frame rates up to 50p/60p. There’s Continuous Live View autofocus, to keep your subjects sharp. Video is enabled by turning on Live View with the lever switch, and then by simply hitting the Record button.
All these features are housed in a robust monocoque structure, made from a carbon-fibre composite material. It means the camera can be slimmer, which in turn makes the grip deeper. It’s lighter too, weighing just 470g.
On the top-plate you’ll find a rotating metallic mode dial, housing the M, A, S, P, Auto, Effects and Scene modes. Adjacent to this is a metallic sub-command dial used to adjust settings. Above the viewfinder you’ll find a pop-up flash, and a hotshoe if you want to add an external flashgun. There’s a dozen other buttons scattered across the side and rear, but it doesn’t feel at all cluttered.
Performance & Handling
The D5500 sits very firmly in the hand. The new deeper grip really makes a huge difference. It’s comfortable yet secure, and the rubberised textured areas ensures it won’t slip. The shutter button and sub-command dial both fall naturally under the forefinger and thumb, so ergonomics are sound.
Adjusting the settings is quick and intuitive. The i button has been moved from near the viewfinder to above the D-Pad, providing quicker access. From here you can change 14 different camera settings, such as image quality, focusing, metering and more. They can be set with the D-Pad, but it’s quicker and easier to use the touchscreen instead. You can also adjust the exposure settings by tapping the screen, though this isn’t any quicker than using the traditional dials.
If you prefer to use Live View, the vari-angle screen is great. It flips out of the body and twists round making it simple to compose from challenging angles. Shooting couldn’t be easier. Simply tap the screen for where you want to set the focus, and once it’s locked on, the camera takes the shot, just like a smartphone. Focusing is a bit slower when using Live View, but this is the case on all D-SLRs. It occurs because with the mirror up, the phase-detection sensors can’t operate, so instead the slower contrast-detect AF is used.
Focusing through the viewfinder is fast and accurate. We had no problems locking on to all manner of subjects, and when light became scarce, the AF assist lamp helped get a good focus.
When shooting video, it was easy to set focus and exposure by tapping on the screen. However, when we reviewed the video the focusing mechanism could be heard on the soundtrack. The other frustration with video is that there’s no headphone port, so you can’t monitor the audio you’re recording.
The EXPEED 4 image processor impressed. The buffer never filled when shooting continuous JPEGs but was capped to 100, and a solitary JPEG took just 0.75sec to save. A 12-bit RAW was cleared in 0.9sec while an impressive burst of 25 RAWs could be shot before it slowed and these took just 1.72secs to write to card. A more detailed 14-bit RAW option is available but this results in a burst rate a little slower than 5fps.
Value for Money
The D5500 has an RRP of £679 bundled with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, or £639 body-only, putting it on a par with its competitors. The Canon 750D, set to be released in April with a launch price of £689, offers a similar spec with a 24.7Mp APS-C sensor, a touchscreen and a matching frame rate of 5fps. If you’re more interested in saving cash over having a touchscreen, then the slightly older D5300 can be picked up for £559 with the same lens. But if you want the latest Nikon entry-level D-SLR, you won’t be disappointed with the D5500.
If you’re looking for an entry-level D-SLR, then the D5500 should definitely be on your shortlist. It’s got all the features you’d expect from a camera in this category, as well as a few pleasant surprises. It handles well, making it a pleasure to use, and the image quality impressed during our tests. As far as updates go though, it’s somewhat limited and so is unlikely to tempt many D5300 users into an upgrade.
Touchscreen technology is a welcome addition, but some may view it as a luxury rather than an essential when it comes to choosing a camera. The newly-scuplted grip gives more comfort and confidence, and the extra stop of ISO is useful in low light, but that’s about the sum of the differences between the two cameras. If you don’t mind spending an extra £120 for these new features, then the D5500 will serve you well.
- Resolution: 24.2Mp (6000x4000px)
- Format: RAW, JPEG & MOV
- Sensor: APS-C (23.5x15.6mm)
- ISO: 100-25,600
- Shutter: 30-1/4000sec & Bulb
- AF system: Nikon Multi-CAM 4800DX with TTL phase detection
- Focusing modes: Autofocus, Single, Continuous, Auto AF-S/AF-C and Manual focus
- Metering: Matrix, Center-Weighted and Spot
- Burst rate: 5fps
- Monitor: 3.2in 1037k-dot TFT vari-angle LCD touchscreen
- Viewfinder: Yes
- Pop-up flash: Yes Hotshoe: Yes
- Video: Full HD 1080p @60fps
- Write speeds: 0.9sec RAW, 0.75sec Extra Fine JPEG
- Storage: SD, SDHC and SDXC
- Weight: 470g (body only)
- Dimensions: (WxHxD) 124x97x70mm
- Visit: www.nikon.co.uk
This review was first published in the Spring 2015 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.