Nikon D5500: Performance test
Nikon D5500: How does it perform?
Putting the D5500 through its paces
The successor to the D5300, the D5500 basically takes the articulating LCD screen, Wi-Fi capabilities and adds the element of touch control, while putting it all into a smaller and lighter body. There’s now also an eye-sensor to automatically shut off the LCD screen when your eye is at the viewfinder, thus helping to conserve energy.
The D5500 again comes without the anti-aliasing (AA) filter, and like the D750 before it, uses Nikon’s new monocoque design, which implements a carbon fiber outer body shell instead of the usual chassis/baseplate combination, leading to some incredible weight savings. All in, it's fairly impressive for an entry-level DSLR that certainly doesn’t feel like it’s targeted solely at beginners.
Imaging capability and usability
As noted before, the D5500’s 24.2 MP DX-format APS-C sized sensor comes without OLPF, just like the Nikon D810 before it. Its native ISO settings are now rated up to ISO 25,600, and the battery life is rated for an impressive 820 shots by CIPA standards. So overall, we were expecting fairly high quality images, and the D5500 didn’t disappoint.
In fact, we were pleasantly surprised at how well the camera fit in our hands and that is in large part due to the depth afforded by the new handgrip. This reviewer has fairly large hands that generally make entry-level class cameras seem like toys - easy enough to hold well, but not easy to handle as the buttons tend to be too close together to reach comfortably. Not so with the D5500, as the mix of functions assigned to physical buttons and those accessed via menu diving seems to be just about right.
Of course, having the same menus accessible by touch makes a world of difference in terms of making changes quickly and easily via the on-screen menus. Given that we live in a world of smart devices with touch, we’re glad Nikon is finally offering touch capabilities with the D5500, putting their cameras at least on the right path towards getting on par with the user-friendliness offered by today’s mirrorless camera options.
We’ve mentioned how much we liked the new Touch Fn that Nikon implemented, and prolonged shooting with the camera only served to reinforce the opinion that it is indeed a very handy implementation to include. We really liked how much more control we could get over focus points simply by sliding our thumb over the LCD panel while shooting, and we must say it’s hard to go back to a normal four-way directional control pad now! Think of it as the equivalent of using a joystick (or a mouse) versus the four arrow keys on your keyboard to navigate your screen. There’s simply no comparison.
If you’re more comfortable with using the focus and recompose method, there’s also a whole list of other functions that can be assigned to Touch Fn. From adjusting your ISO sensitivity level to changing AF-area mode, or even using the screen to adjust aperture values while the main control dial adjusts the shutter speed. We personally think that would be a great configuration for shooting in full Manual mode, as it makes up for just having one main control dial. Another new addition, is a lever for activating Live View mode. The thought of it doesn't sound intuitive, but in practice we found it to be easier than reaching for a small button embedded out of reach.
For our testing, we used the camera mainly in Shutter Priority mode so as to ensure we corrected for handshake, letting the camera’s computer set the ISO and aperture appropriately to compensate. This worked well in most situations, as the D5500 now goes up to ISO 25,600 natively - it’s no longer a boost option, which just goes to show how much confidence Nikon has in the improved processing of this camera.
Indeed, images taken up to ISO 6400 sensitivity were very clean, and while we don’t exactly have images from other APS-C DSLRs for direct comparison, we ran a rough comparison against images we took for our earlier APS-C shootout and we must say the images at ISO 6400 stand up well against the likes of the Canon EOS 7D Mark II and the Samsung NX1. There’s still plenty of detail and noise is extremely well controlled. In fact, there’s almost no color noise to speak of at all, meaning the images should print well in large sizes after a bit of sharpening in post.
Though the camera uses the same Multi-CAM 4800DX autofocus module from the D5300 (which has 39 TTL phase detection points, of which 9 are cross-type) focusing is generally fast and accurate, and the autofocus points certainly give you enough coverage over the frame to get your desired focus in general. Where it does suffer a bit, is when doing continuous autofocus with live-view activated. That’s when the camera tends to hunt, so we’d recommending shooting through the viewfinder if you’re trying to capture sport/fast action.
On that note, the D5500’s 5 frames per second continuous shooting rate isn’t necessarily slow by any means, but when we tried it in the field for ourselves, it just didn’t quite seem to be fast enough to catch the action. The camera would have to stop after just about two bursts, which is indicative of a smaller buffer in the camera. The processing engine probably isn’t quite catching up to the capture rate of the shutter, resulting in the camera having to wait for the buffer to clear before being able to start a new round of burst captures.
But that’s perhaps the only knock we have on this camera. Honestly speaking, we think the D5500 makes a great secondary camera for people who already have a set of Nikon lenses and would like a compact DSLR option to bring for everyday use. Or maybe for someone who needs to cover events and wants two or more lightweight bodies with which he/she can mount an assortment of lenses on.