X

Nikon D5500 review: It's great, but grip the D5500 before you get it

It's as good as its predecessor the D5300, but one of the few tweaks in the D5500 may not please everyone.

LoriGruninNewHeadshot.jpg
Lori Grunin
LoriGruninNewHeadshot.jpg

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.

See full bio
8 min read

Ever since I reviewed it in 2013, I've been recommending the Nikon D5300 as my top choice for a general-purpose dSLR suitable for kids-family-and-travel photography. The D5500 is a modest update over the D5300, with some design tweaks and a touchscreen display; however, its features aren't as outstanding as they were when the D5300 debuted a couple years ago, and I have mixed feelings about the design changes.

nikon-d5500-01.jpg
8.0

Nikon D5500

The Good

The Nikon D5500 delivers excellent photo quality as well as a performance that can keep up with your kids and pets.

The Bad

The redesigned grip may not be comfortable for people with large hands, and Nikon really needs to update its Wi-Fi app.

The Bottom Line

Lightweight and compact with everything the family photographer needs, the Nikon D5500 maintains its position as a great general-purpose dSLR.

One significant difference between my evaluation units of the D5300 and D5500 is the lens; the D5300 had a much better, albeit a lot bigger and more expensive, 18-140mm f3.5-5.6 lens. For the D5500, Nikon created its primary kit with the 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 II lens -- $850, £720, AU$1,000 -- a lighter, smaller, collapsible model that makes the system feel a lot lighter, but that also feels like a real step down.

Image quality

Given that almost nothing's changed in the camera's imaging pipeline from the D5300, it's unsurprising that the image quality looks about the same. I did find the exposures better this time, though I can't directly compare because we've changed our testing methodology since then.

Nikon D5500 photo samples

See all photos

Its photos are sharp with good color, although a little on the cool (blue) side, and produces excellent JPEG images in low to very low light up through ISO 3200; higher than that and you lose detail and the color shifts, but depending upon your needs and the scene they may still be usable.

You can fix or improve photos quite a bit by shooting raw when it comes to bringing out highlight or shadow detail or making photos a little bit sharper, though the tradeoff is adding some grain.

The video quality is very good, certainly better than average for your sports and vacation shots. If you want to shoot more serious video, Nikon includes a flat picture profile so that you can preserve the otherwise clipped bright and dark areas.

Analysis samples

nikon-d5500-low-iso-970.jpg
Enlarge Image
nikon-d5500-low-iso-970.jpg
In-focus areas remain sharp through ISO 1600, at least in good light. Lori Grunin/CNET

nikon-d5500-high-iso-970.jpg
Enlarge Image
nikon-d5500-high-iso-970.jpg
Between ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 the more aggressive noise-reduction kicks in and you can see it get mushy in the highly detailed areas. Lori Grunin/CNET

nikon-d5500-color-970.jpg
Enlarge Image
nikon-d5500-color-970.jpg
JPEGs at the default color settings tend to be a little cool, but pleasing, especially if you prefer saturation and contrast over accuracy in reds and pinks. Lori Grunin/CNET

nikon-d5500-rawjpegdark-970.jpg
Enlarge Image
nikon-d5500-rawjpegdark-970.jpg
I was able to brighten this image up by 4 stops without a significant increase in noise or loss of detail; that's quite good. Lori Grunin/CNET

nikon-d5500-rawjpeglight-970.jpg
Enlarge Image
nikon-d5500-rawjpeglight-970.jpg
I was able to recover a considerable amount of blown-out highlight detail in this photo (note especially the areas in the top right corner). Lori Grunin/CNET

Performance

One of the biggest drags on the D5500's otherwise solid performance is the collapsible 18-55mm kit lens; it moves fairly slowly during focus. The camera starts up, focuses and shoots pretty quickly at about 0.3 second -- much faster than the Pentax K-S2 . Time to focus and shoot from an out-of-focus position is roughly 0.6 second -- that's where the slow lens comes into play. In practice, that means its a little laggy if you like to photograph spontaneous scenes with moving subjects, as opposed to holding the camera in partial focus because you're waiting for something to happen. If you're stepping up from a point-and-shoot, you'll find Live View really slow; 1.3 seconds to focus and shoot.

Two sequential shots takes a reasonably speedy 0.2 second for either JPEG or raw file formats. Using flash increases that to roughly 1.3 seconds. However, unlike many cameras, which let you hold down the shutter, allowing the camera to focus and shoot as soon as the flash has recycled, the D5500 won't register a shutter press until the flash is ready to go again.

Its continuous-shooting performance is good, too, at 5.1 frames per second for a nice burst of more than 30 shots. Raw-format bursts slow down at about 10 shots (for the largest, 14-bit raw files), but up till that it sustains 4.4fps.

Its continuous autofocus operates fairly well, though it depends upon the type of action you're trying to capture. It's not very good on subjects moving toward you, where I couldn't find a mode that worked all the time without accidentally relocking onto something in the background. There's no specific panning mode for the optical image stabilization -- just on or off -- which I think was partly responsible for the low hit rate on panned shots. For subjects staying in a pretty circumscribed area (think jumping) it works fine.

Autofocus while shooting video is a different story. The continuous autofocus is easily distracted. And you really don't want to use the collapsible kit lens with autofocus during video capture; it's the noisiest lens I've ever heard.

The LCD is nice and bright, and because it can flip and twist it's easy to make it more viewable in direct sunlight. The battery is rated for 820 shots, which is good in this era of decreasing battery life.

Shooting speed

Pentax K-S2 0.43 0.5 0.2 0.2 1.2Nikon D5500 0.6 0.6 0.2 0.2 0.3
  • Shutter lag (typical)
  • Shutter lag (dim light)
  • Typical shot-to-shot time
  • Raw shot-to-shot time
  • Time to first shot
Note: Seconds (smaller is better)

Typical continuous-shooting speed

Pentax K-S2 4.7Nikon D5500 5.1
Note: Frames per second (larger is better)

Design and features

Though Nikon only shaved at most a few millimeters off in each dimension, it includes a grip redesign that seems to be just enough to make it feel a lot less comfortable for people with large hands. Similar to that of (but not as extreme as) the Canon EOS SL1 , the grip has a top ledge that pushes your hand down a little; if your hands are big, it can actually push your pinky off the bottom of the grip, which my ginormous-pawed colleague Josh Goldman finds uncomfortable. And it doesn't feel as well-balanced when using the camera with bigger, heavier lenses, if you're considering that.

Notice how the grip overhangs a little bit. Sarah Tew/CNET

Though the top is only a hair narrower, it's got a slightly different layout. The mode dial on the top right has been pared down and now includes the basic manual, semimanual and automatic modes, and has the same Live View toggle switch on it. (On dSLRS, Live View lets you frame through the LCD, like a point and shoot or interchangeable-lens camera, rather than the optical viewfinder.) The back adjustment dial sits on the top, as do the exposure compensation and video record buttons.

On the back, to the right of the optical viewfinder are the autoexposure/autofocus-lock button and the info button which toggles the back information display. Don't confuse the latter with the i button on the back, which brings up an interactive settings panel. To the right of the LCD you'll also find the review button with zoom in and zoom out, plus delete.

There's also Nikon's multiway navigation switch, which feels even harder to operate than before; it's very flat and you have to really concentrate to not move in the wrong direction. A menu button sits to the left of the optical viewfinder.

Overall, the body design, like its predecessors and many of its competitors, is for people who won't be changing settings frequently. The only way to change basics like metering, white balance, or ISO sensitivity -- unless you program the Fn button for one of them -- is through the back control panel.

Nikon's menu system is relatively straightforward, but newbies may have a little trouble finding the settings they want. I always find it a little confusing at first to figure out where Nikon draws the line between the Shooting menu and the Custom Settings menu.

The SD card slot is on the grip side of the camera, which is nice -- much better than in the battery compartment on the bottom -- along with the HDMI-out connector for playing back on a TV. On the right are the mic jack, remote connector and a proprietary (ugh) combo USB and AV-out connector. Toward the front of the body on that side sits the flash popup/flash exposure compensation button, a programmable function button and below the lens release, a drive mode button. I found the placement of the drive mode button awkward, requiring that I move my left hand too much to press it.

The feature set is comparatively less impressive this go round; not much has been added and by now it's got a more typical set of features for its price class. However, it still covers all the bases for a snapshooter, with a variety of filter effects, quiet shutter release (nice for school plays and sleeping babies), and the flip-and-twist display. It also has nice perks like interval shooting (though no in-camera time-lapse movie creation) and in-camera two-shot HDR which produces decent results and is faster than a lot of competitors.

Even though the D5500 has Wi-Fi with easy -- albeit password-free by default and therefore insecure -- connection to your mobile device, Nikon's app is mediocre. It does the bare minimum: Live View plus triggering the shutter and setting the self-timer, shooting via the camera and automatically downloading to the or , and viewing photos on the camera for download. It displays raw files, but you can't filter out one or the other if you shoot raw+JPEG (so there's doubles of everything). And while it reconnects automatically when you jump back to the app, that's because it stays in memory (on )...until you go into your device settings and force quit.

For a complete rundown of its features and operation, download the D5500's manual.

Conclusion

If you can find the D5300 for less money, there aren't enough differences to justify paying more for the D5500, and you're better off spending the difference on a better lens. The D5500 is still an excellent camera, though I recommend you grip it before you buy it.

Comparative specifications

Canon EOS T6i EOS 750D Nikon D5300 Nikon D5500 Pentax K-S2
Sensor effective resolution 24.2MP CMOS Hybrid CMOS III 24.2MP CMOS 24.2MP CMOS 20.1MP CMOS
Sensor size 22.3 x 14.9mm 23.5 x 15.6 mm 23.5 x 15.6 mm 23.5 x 15.6 mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
OLPF Yes No No No
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 12800/25600 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 12800/ 25600 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 51200
Burst shooting 5fps
8 raw/940 JPEG
(likely without continuous AF and IS off)
5fps
n/a
5fps
100 JPEG/raw n/a
5.5fps
30 JPEG/9 raw
(with focus fixed on first frame)
Viewfinder
(mag/ effective mag)
Optical
95% coverage
0.82x/0.51x
Optical
95% coverage
0.82x/0.55x
Optical
95% coverage
0.82x/0.55x
Optical
100% coverage
0.95x/0.63x
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus 19-point phase-detection AF
all cross-type
center dual cross to f2.8
39-pt AF
9 cross- type
39-pt AF
9 cross- type
11 pt AF
9 cross type
(SAFOX X)
AF sensitivity -0.5 - 18 EV -1 to 19 EV -1 to 19 EV - 3 - 18 EV
Shutter speed 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 1/6000 to 30 seconds; bulb; 1/180 x-sync
Metering 63-segment 7,560-zone RGB+IR 2,016-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 2,016-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 77 segment
Metering sensitivity 1 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV -1 - 19 EV 0 to 22 EV
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p, 25p, 24p; 720/60p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/60p, 25p, 24p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/60p, 25p, 24p
H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p,
24p, 25p; 720/50p, 60p
Audio Stereo, mic input Stereo, mic input Stereo, mic input Stereo
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes Aperture only
Maximum best-quality recording time per clip 4GB 4GB 20 minutes 4GB/25m
Clean HDMI out Yes Yes Yes n/a
IS Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift
LCD 3 in/7.7 cm
Articulated touchscreen
1.04m dots
3.2 in/8.2cm
Articulated
1.04m dots
3.2 in/8.2 cm
Articulated touch screen
1.04m dots
3 in/7.7 cm
Articulated
921,000 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless connection Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi Wi-Fi Wi-Fi, NFC
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes
Wireless flash Yes Yes Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 440 shots
(1,040 mAh)

700 shots
(1,030 mAh)
820 shots
(1,230 mAh)
410 shots
(1,050 mAh)
Size (WHD) 5.2 x 4.0 x 3.1 in
131.9 x 100.7 x 77.8 mm
4.9 x 3.9 x 3.0 in
125 x 98 x 76 mm
4.9 x 3.9 x 2.8 in
124 x 97 x 70 mm
4.4 x 3.6 x 2.9 in
122.5 x 91 x 72.5 mm
Body operating weight 20.0 oz (est.)
565 g (est.)
16.9 oz
479 g
16.8 oz
476 g
24 oz
680 g
Primary kit $850
£690
AU$1,050 (est.)
(with 18-55mm STM lens)
$750
£680
AU$1,100
(with 18-55mm VR II lens)
$850
£720
AU$1,000
(with 18-55mm VR II lens)
$800
£650
(with retractable 18-50mm lens)
Release date April 2015 October 2013 February 2015 March 2015
nikon-d5500-01.jpg
8.0

Nikon D5500

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Image quality 8
laptop
Get the best price on everything
Shop your favorite products and we’ll find the best deal with a single click. Designed to make shopping easier.
Add CNET Shopping