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Nikon D5300 review: A great everyday dSLR

This $1,100 dSLR kit earns our Editors' Choice Award for being a great generalist camera.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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9 min read

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With the D5300's excellent photo quality, fast performance, and great feature set, Nikon succeeds at improving on an already great camera, the D5200.

Nikon D5300
8.1

Nikon D5300

The Good

Excellent photo quality, a great feature set, and speedy performance put the <b>Nikon D5300</b> ahead of the pack.

The Bad

The default settings could be better and Live View is still really slow to use.

The Bottom Line

The Nikon D5300 is a great choice as a general-purpose dSLR.

As the least expensive camera yet to use a sensor without an optical low-pass filter (OLPF), the Nikon D5300 delivers sharper images than most cameras in its class. It sports an improved body design with a slightly larger viewfinder and a bigger, higher-resolution LCD than its predecessor, bakes in Wi-Fi and GPS capabilities, and incorporates a stereo microphone. It uses a new version of Nikon's Expeed image processor, which allows for the addition of 1080/60p video, an extra stop of ISO sensitivity, better battery life (the D5300 also takes a new battery), and a couple of new in-camera effects, toy camera and HDR painting. In addition, the camera ships with a new kit lens, the 18-140mm f3.5-5.6, which provides more flexibility than the 18-105mm f3.5-5.6 that initially accompanied the D5200.

Image quality
The D5300 delivers excellent photo quality for its price class. Though it doesn't have the broadest tonal range I've seen, it generally produces sharp photos with excellent color reproduction and really good JPEG images in low light; it's as good as the Fujifilm X-M1 and arguably better because the higher resolution gives it more detail to work with. Its images are noticeably better than the D5200's at every ISO sensitivity, though it looks like that's simply because they're sharper, not less noisy.

Nikon D5300 photo samples

See all photos

Because the sensor lacks an antialiasing filter, the images retain excellent sharpness even as noise rises. JPEGs look very clean up through ISO 800, and they're still quite good at ISO 1600. While ISO 3200 shows quite a bit of detail degradation, it's still quite good in well-lit areas, and many of my ISO 6400 shots are quite usable, even printed to 13x19. While shooting raw is recommended for making subsequent exposure adjustments, I really couldn't improve on the JPEG processing and noise reduction results at any ISO sensitivity. Keep in mind that I shoot in Fine JPEG -- 1:2 compression, which is essentially lossless (JPEG 1:2 uses lossless RLE for spatial compression, but there's always a little color and tonal compression simply transcoding from the raw to the JPEG) -- while the camera defaults to 1:4 Normal compression, which is unequivocally lossy. If you leave it on the defaults, your mileage may vary.

Click to download ISO 100



ISO 1600

ISO 6400

Nikon's default settings deliver a very good balance between accuracy and pop, with saturation and contrast boosted slightly but not enough to produce wholesale hue shifts or egregious clipping in shadow or highlight areas. The bigger issue is the matrix metering, which, as with the D5200, tends underexpose. Since there doesn't seem to be a lot of recoverable highlight detail it probably makes sense to underexpose, but if it bothers you it's easily fixed with exposure compensation or switching metering schemes.

The video is more than acceptable for personal use. There are none of the artifacts that I usually see with OLPF-free sensors and fewer problems with moire and aliasing than in the Canon EOS Rebel models. Darker exposures do tend to really block up in the shadows, though.

Performance
The autofocus system is unchanged, but the D5300 bumps up to the next generation of image-processing chips over the D5200; the result is similar but overall slightly better performance. As with the D5200, the slow lens driving proves to be the bottleneck in autofocus speed, even with the new 18-140mm kit lens. Nonetheless, it's certainly fast enough for most personal or family photography.

It takes about 0.3 second to power on, focus, and shoot; time to refocus and shoot runs about 0.6 second in both good and bad lighting conditions. The low-light autofocus proves to be the most notable improvement over the D5200. Two sequential JPEGs run 0.2 second, increasing slightly to 0.3 second for raw, and with flash enabled it's still a decent 0.7 second. Continuous-shooting performance matches the D5200 at 5.1fps for unlimited JPEGs, and the raw burst remains a still-disappointing six frames for a reasonable 4.7fps.

The stabilization in the 18-140mm lens is quite good; this is handheld at 90mm, 1/10th second, which for me would normally be a shaky mess. Lori Grunin/CNET

Unfortunately, Live View autofocus is still frustratingly slow to use, and the wide-area AF (the default) is too big -- you end up with a lot of incorrectly focused shots. The AF also pulses while shooting video.

The updated viewfinder is pretty nice for this class of camera, and the larger, higher-resolution LCD is also very good.

One PSA: some third-party lenses may have issues with the camera. For instance, Sigma discovered its "Nikon mount lenses containing internal motors do not properly operate the optical stabilization (OS) and Live View Auto Focus functionality," and is offering free firmware upgrades.

Design and features
With some tweaks to the design of the D5200, the D5300 remains a comfortable, logically laid-out camera. It's smaller and lighter, with more room around the grip. On the top-right shoulder of the camera sits the packed mode dial with the usual set of manual, semimanual, and automatic modes�and a Live View toggle switch extending from it. The movie record button, info button, and exposure compensation buttons are behind the combo shutter button and power switch. The back controls are arranged in a typical fashion. The information edit button -- not to be confused with the info button on the top -- brings up the interactive information display where you adjust most of your shooting settings. I still prefer a thumb-operated record button, and find the drive-mode button a little small and hard to feel, even in its new location on the side, and the navigation multicontroller is even harder to manipulate than last year's hard-to-manipulate model. But overall the camera delivers a streamlined shooting experience.

Canon EOS Rebel T5i Nikon D3200 Nikon D5200 Nikon D5300 Pentax K-50
Sensor (effective resolution) 18MP hybrid CMOS 24.2MP CMOS 24.1MP CMOS 24.2MP CMOS
(14 bits)
16.3MP CMOS
(12 bits)
22.3 x 14.9mm 23.2 x 15.4mm 23.5 x 15.6mm 23.5 x 15.6mm 23.7 x 15.7mm
OLPF Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Focal- length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 12800/ 25600 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/
200 - ISO 6400/ 12800 (exp)
ISO 100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 12800/ 25600 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 51200
Continuous shooting 5fps
6 raw/22 JPEG
4fps
n/a
5fps
n/a
5fps
n/a
6fps
8 raw/30 JPEG
Viewfinder (mag/
effective mag)
95% coverage
0.85x/0.53x

Optical
95% coverage
0.80x/0.53x

Optical
95% coverage
0.78x/0.52x
Optical
95% coverage
0.82x /0.55x
Optical
100% coverage
0.92x/ 0.61x
Autofocus 9-pt AF all cross-type; center cross to f2.8 11-pt AF
center cross-type
39-pt AF
9 cross- type
(Multi- CAM 4800DX)
39-pt AF
9 cross- type
(Multi- CAM 4800DX)
11-pt AF
9 cross- type
(SAFOX IXi+)
AF sensitivity -0.5 to 18 EV -1 to 19 EV -1 to 19 EV -1 to 19 EV -1 to 18 EV
Shutter speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/6,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync
Metering 63-zone iFCL 420-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 2,016-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 2,016-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 77 segment
Metering sensitivity 1 to 20 EV 0 to 20 EV 0 to 20 EV 0 to 20 EV 0 to 22 EV
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/60i/ 50i/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p/ H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/60p/60i/ 50i/30p/ 25p/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/
24p/25p; 720/50p/ 60p
Audio Stereo; mic input Mono; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Mono
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
IS Optical Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift
LCD size 3 inches articulated, touch screen
1.04 million dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,000 dots
3.2 inches articulated
1.04 million dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless flash Yes Yes No n/a Yes
Wireless connectivity None Optional
via WU-1a ($59.95)
Optional
via WU-1a ($59.95)
Wi-Fi None
Battery life (CIPA rating) 440 shots 540 shots 500 shots 700 shots 710 (AA Lithium); 410 (Lithium Ion)
Size
(WHD, inches)
5.2 x 3.9 x 3.1 5 x 3.8 x 3.1 5.1 x 3.9 x 3.1 4.9 x 3.9 x 3 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.8
Body operating weight (ounces) 20.8 17.6 19.9 16.9 23.2 (with Li-ion battery)
Mfr. price $749.99 (body only) n/a $649.95 (body only) $799.95 (body only) $699.95 (body only)
$849.99 (with 18-55mm STM lens) $549.95 (with 18-55mm lens) $749.95 (with 18-55mm VR lens) $900 (with 18-55mm lens, est) $779.95 (with 18-55mm WR lens)
$1,049.99 (with 18-135mm STM lens) n/a $949.95 (with 18-140mm lens) $1,099.95 (with 18-140mm lens) $879.95 (with 18-55mm WR and 50-200 WR lenses)
Release date April 2013 April 2012 January 2013 October 2013 July 2013

The camera retains a lot of the nice extras, including interval timer shooting, quiet shutter (rare in this class of camera), and a reasonable set of effects. The built-in geotagging includes logging. While camera GPS tends to be iffy in Manhattan, the D5300's seems even more oddly random; for example, at one point it tagged my location while I was facing north but not south, standing in the same spot. It also loses the signal periodically, so, for instance, six photos in the middle of a properly tagged set would have no location info. It needs a little tweaking.

The Wi-Fi seems to connect pretty seamlessly, though the camera really needs a direct-access button to turn it on rather than a dive into the menus -- or support for NFC to enable quick setup. However, connecting to both Apple and Android devices is relatively painless. The app isn't particularly full-featured at the moment. You can view and download photos from the camera and you can shoot tethered; though you can't change any settings, you can touch focus. I don't like that the app stays loaded in memory in Android when you disconnect.

I do have some quibbles. The defaults are disappointing; I kind of understand shipping with 12-bit raw, and a lot of manufacturers default to manual movie controls set to off, but I will never get used to cameras of this class not starting out with the highest still and movie quality possible. And the practice of defaulting to resetting the file-naming sequence every time you remove or format a card has caused me no end of grief in the past; this time I remembered to change it before I started testing. Additionally, there's still only a single programmable function button and no ability to save custom settings.

For a complete accounting of the D5300's features and operation, download the PDF manual (Annoyingly, at the moment you can only download a somewhat uselessly abbreviated version of the manual; the full version is only available on the CD that comes with the camera.)

Conclusion
While my recommended kit -- the one with the 18-140mm lens -- runs close to $1,100, the price will likely drop just below $1,000 by mid-2014; it's a good buy now, but by then it should be a really good value. Though the 18-140mm lens is still a slow kit lens, it's far better and more flexible than the cheap 18-55mm, and I like it better than the 18-105mm model. In image quality the camera is comparable to the more expensive D7100, and while it's not as fast or durable, it's good enough as long as you're not shooting fast action. And it's a far better package than competing models at its price, thus earning it an Editors' Choice Award.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Raw shot-to-shot time
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim light)
Shutter lag (typical)

Canon EOS Rebel T5i
0.7
0.3
0.3
0.8
0.2

Nikon D3200
0.3
0.6
0.5
0.5
0.3

Pentax K-50
1.2
0.3
0.3
1
0.4

Nikon D7100
0.3
0.2
0.2
0.6
0.4

Nikon D5200
0.3
0.2
0.2
0.8
0.5

Nikon D5300
0.3
0.3
0.2
0.6
0.6

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Nikon D5300
8.1

Nikon D5300

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8Image quality 8