Nikon D5500 Field Test: Matt Golowczynski
At a glance
- 24.2-million-pixel, CMOS sensor
- Single-lens reflex viewfinder
- ISO 100-25,600
- 3.2in, 1.037k-million-dot, vari-angle touchscreen
- 1,920×1,080p HD video mode
- 470g (with battery and memory card)
- Price: Around £450 (used, body only), £570 (with 18-55mm II kit lens)
Towards the end of last year I found myself in a situation that will be no doubt be familiar to many photographers, namely deciding on whether to stick with a familiar camera system or opt for something different entirely. I was preparing for a short trip around Southeast Asia and I was open to exploring something new to serve as my main travel camera, having previously let go of my ageing Nikon D5100, and later a faulty D5300.
Given that it managed to satisfy the same criteria that meant I chose its forebears, the Nikon D5500 was the obvious answer. The combination of it being small and light enough for travel, with a capable sensor and core feature set, yet affordable enough to mean I could use it in a range of places without too much worry, meant that it was high up on my shortlist. Yet, the wealth of then-current and recently discontinued alternatives was making me reconsider.
Perhaps a mirrorless body with a couple of lenses would be a better idea? Or even a high-quality compact? The standard of compacts has certainly improved enough over the last few years to make these more viable. In the end, a chance visit to a local retailer suddenly made my decision easier. The retailer was selling an ex-display D5500 for almost half its usual price. This was partly down to it coming with no box, straps, manuals or even a charger, but even without these it was a steal (particularly as it had managed retain a mint condition). Furthermore, with my existing Nikon lenses and compatible accessories I would need nothing more, save for a charger, which I picked up cheaply online.
The D5500 was announced at the start of 2015, and was notable for being the first Nikon DSLR to be equipped with a touchscreen. At the time of its release it was positioned above the most junior D3300 but beneath the D7100, and was designed along very similar lines to the previous D5300. It offers a 24.2MP DX-format sensor (without an anti-aliasing filter), together with a 3.2in vari-angle display, an Expeed 4 processor, 39-point AF system and a respectable 5fps burst shooting option.
Nikon had managed to construct it with a smaller and lighter body than the D5300, and, no doubt partly due to the addition of an eye sensor next to the viewfinder, was able to give it a much stronger battery life too, at around 820 frames per charge – a great advantage for travelling. Less of an advantage here was the decision to drop the GPS unit from the D5300, although this wasn’t something I imagined I would use. In any case, this would still be possible were I to keep the camera partnered with my smartphone through its Wi-Fi system, or alternatively via an external GPS dongle.
Elsewhere, the camera offers pretty much everything one might expect from such a model, including a sensitivity range that ventures up to ISO 25,600, 14bit Raw file recording and an interval timer for the creation of time-lapse footage. The model isn’t quite advanced enough to gain the 4K video recording option that’s started to make an appearance elsewhere in the Nikon lineup, but the Full HD alternative does at least shoot at a range of resolutions and frame rates up to 60p, and there’s even a microphone port for those keen to improve the quality of audio recording.
Together with my AF-S DX Nikkor 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR and AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G lenses, the setup provided me with an effective focal range of 24-128mm and 75mm respectively. I imagine many photographers would consider this range to be too limiting for travel, but having already used these optics for a longer trip a few years previously, I was familiar and comfortable with what this combination would allow.
My planned route would see me arrive in Bangkok before I ventured east through Cambodia, first seeing the famous Angkor Wat complex and the capital Phnom Penh before spending some time down on the coast. I would then cross the border into Vietnam, travelling to Ho Chi Minh City before heading north to Hoi An. Finally, I would spend some time trekking around the Sa Pa region, before my last stop in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi.
Handling and customisation
The first time I handled the D5500, I was struck by how different it felt in my hands from previous models. While a handful of small, largely cosmetic changes to buttons and other controls are clear on sight, once you have it in your hands you marvel at just how compact and lightweight Nikon has managed to make it while retaining the DSLR form.
Nikon claims that a revised internal structure has allowed the camera to be slimmer than was previously possible, and this has allowed for the grip to be deceptively deep. It’s somewhat unusual on such a small body to be able to get as much of your hand around it as you can here, and I found it provided excellent support for my AF-S DX Nikkor 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR at full extension. I imagine that those with slightly larger hands may be put off by the small buttons, however, and potentially even further by their shallowness when pressed.
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