Nikon D5300 at a glance:

  • 24.2-million-pixel, DX-format CMOS sensor
  • New Expeed 4 image-processing engine
  • ISO 100-12,800 (expandable to ISO 25,600)
  • 39-point Multi-CAM 4800DX AF sensor with nine cross-type points
  • No anti-aliasing filter
  • New EN-EL14a battery with 20% power increase over the EN-EL14
  • Street price around £749 with 18-55mm kit lens

Nikon D5300 review – Introduction

When the Nikon D5300 was launched in October, Nikon was keen to stress that it was not a replacement for the Nikon D5200 or D5100. Rather, it was a continuation of the D5000 series, so neither the D5200 nor the D5100 would be discontinued.

This new camera therefore expands Nikon’s range of ‘entry-level’ DSLRs, sitting at the top of the line-up as a ‘high-end’ model. With a variety of special effects modes, it ticks all the right boxes for the creative enthusiast photographer and boasts some impressive specifications. Also, thanks to the fact there’s no anti-aliasing filter, and that it has similarly high-resolution DX-format sensor as the D5200, the D5300 has the potential to produce fantastically detailed images. In addition, the D5300 has built-in Wi-Fi, GPS and features a new Expeed 4 processor.

Nikon D5300 review – Features

The Nikon D5300 has a 15.6×23.5mm, DX-format sensor with a resolution of 24.2 million pixels, which is fractionally higher than the 24.1 million pixels of the D5200. Thanks to the removal of the micro-blurring optical low-pass (anti-aliasing) filter, the D5300 should be able to resolve a higher level of detail than the previous Nikon D5000-series models. The lack of an anti-aliasing filter does mean, though, that there is a risk of moiré patterning on images. This usually occurs when photographing recurring patterns, such as the ones found on textiles, but it can be largely removed in post-production. Nikon was keen to stress that removing the anti-aliasing filter is a worthwhile trade-off to improve the overall image resolution.

Every new D5000-series camera so far has come with an upgraded processor, and the D5300 has the new Expeed 4 image-processing engine. This allows the same 5fps shooting speed as that offered by the D5200 but the new processor should allow quicker and more accurate calculations from the 2016-pixel RGB sensor. In turn, this should achieve better colour rendition. Also, the Expeed 4 processor should improve the  noise performance throughout the ISO sensitivity range.

The Nikon D5200 saw the introduction of Wi-Fi compatibility via two additional extras – a WU-1a Wi-Fi module and a GP-1 GPS module, which cost around £250 combined. Thankfully, the D5300 has both Wi-Fi and GPS built in, so users can geotag images, send pictures to a smartphone/tablet and even wirelessly control the camera from a smart device via the free Nikon WMU app.

As well as the night vision, colour sketch, miniature, selective colour, silhouette, high key and low key effects, the Nikon D5300 includes two further special effects modes in the form of toy camera and HDR painting.

Nikon D5300 review – Build and handling

While the D5200’s body has a polycarbonate exoskeleton that is based around a metal chassis, the D5300 body is a ‘monocoque’ design. This involves using a single shell made of carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic without the metal chassis, which cuts down on weight while maintaining durability. As a result, the D5300 weighs just 480g and has dimensions of 125x98x76mm, which is 25g lighter than the D5200 and a few millimetres smaller in width and height.

The depth is unchanged, so the handgrip is still chunky and comfortable. I found that even with large lenses the D5300 felt well balanced in my hand.

The camera has minimal buttons and the layout is very simple. By hitting a button marked ‘i’, users can access the shooting menu on the LCD, which can handle most controls users are likely to need. I found myself using this for the majority of situations, although it was too slow for quick adjustment of the ISO. For this reason, I opted to set the custom function button located near the lens mount to access the ISO adjustment.

The menus are very easy to navigate and have optional tips should users not understand a setting. In general, the system is ideal for ‘entry-level’ enthusiast photographers.

Nikon D5300 review – Metering

As mentioned previously, the D5300 has a very capable 2016-pixel metering sensor. In evaluative metering the camera consistently achieved an accurate exposure even when faced with tricky high-contrast scenes. Of course, it’s not infallible, because on occasions areas of highlight detail became burnt out, so I dialled down the exposure compensation to optimise detail for post-production. Also, when using spot metering on a very bright background, some images were a little overexposed. However, for the most part, the camera is extremely accurate.

Nikon D5300 review – Dynamic range

Image: Using Wi-Fi, I was able to send shots directly to a tablet and edit in Adobe Photoshop Touch. I got the most from the dynamic range by boosting the shadows.

For general shooting, the D5300’s DX-format sensor, coupled with the very accurate metering, achieves a great dynamic range. At ISO 100, the camera produced a dynamic range of 12.35 stops of light. Used in ‘normal’ conditions, I found that the D5300 rarely lost detail in either the highlight or shadow areas. However, when shooting in more challenging situations where the dynamic range would be expected to struggle – such as very bright conditions – detail does start to be lost.

As the metering tends to cause highlight detail to be lost before shadow detail, I shot at -1EV when faced with challenging scenes. I noticed in both raw and JPEG files that a large amount of tonal detail is retained in shadows and highlights. Using Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop, I was able to lighten the shadows and darken the highlight areas down to a achieve a more tonally rich image. Also, an in-camera retouch menu allows users to brighten shadow areas by adjusting the active D-lighting.

Nikon D5300 review – Autofocus

The Nikon D5300 has the same Multi-CAM 4800DX AF sensor with 39 points, including nine cross-type points, as that found in the D5200. I found that when focusing in situations with lots of available light, the camera took just a fraction of a second to lock. Even in low-light situations, the D5300 usually took well under 1sec to achieve focus and rarely did it hunt or miss focus. Also in low light, close-range focusing is aided by the AF assist beam. However, due to the size of the body, larger lenses and/or lens hoods will obstruct the AF assist beam from illuminating the scene.

Nikon D5300 review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity

Image: This image was taken at ISO 3200 and it is a crop of approximately 40% of the original. The noise is very well controlled and not detracting from the image

Nikon claims that with the new Expeed 4 processor noise reduction is equivalent to 1 f-stop. For this reason, the native ISO range has been extended to ISO 100-12,800, with Hi1 equivalent to ISO 25,600.

At ISO 100 the Nikon D5200’s raw file scored 30 on our resolution chart. The D5300 pushes this impressive score even further, scoring 31 at ISO 100, while also making improvements upon the D5200 performance in higher ISO sensitivity settings. Typically this was +1 or +2 on our resolution score.

The Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens is OK, but it fails to unlock the true potential of the camera. Better-quality glass would improve things significantly. I shot some images using a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens and saw a vast improvement in quality.

Pictures taken from ISO 100-400 are noise-free unless pixel peeping. At ISO 800 some luminescence noise appears in dense shadow areas, but overall it’s well controlled. Images up to 3200 are usable. Previewing in full screen mode on a 24in screen, luminescent noise is only evident at ISO 6400 and above. At this ISO detail begins to smudge, with JPEGs being particularly affected. I was able to get more detail from a processed raw file.

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 macro lens. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution at the specified sensitivity setting.

Nikon D5300 review – White balance and colour

Many of the standard white-balance settings are present on the Nikon D5300. These include incandescent, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade, custom preset and fluorescent lighting with seven variants. When selecting one of these presets, tapping on the D-pad will allow users to correct or alter the colour between green, amber, blue and magenta. This is great for adjusting the white balance quickly to suit the scene. Typically, I found it useful for correcting tungsten lighting by shifting the colour bias towards the blue area. Also, this can be used to tone the images. I found the automatic white-balance setting to be accurate for the most situations. Overall, I think the colour rendition is fantastic, constantly giving tonally rich images that are among the best in its class.

Nikon D5300 review – Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video

Like many entry-level DSLRs, the Nikon D5300 uses a pentamirror system inside the viewfinder. This has been redesigned to allow the viewfinder to achieve 0.82x magnification in comparison to the 0.78x magnification of the D5200 and D5100.

Both the resolution and size of the LCD screen have been increased on the D5300. It is a 1.073-milion-dot Vari-angle LCD as opposed to the 912,000 dots of previous models. I found it has great colour reproduction and a high refresh rate, while the viewing angle is good even in bright sunny conditions. The screen is fully articulated, which is an advantage in bright conditions.

Video can be filmed at 1920×1080 pixels at frame rates of 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p and lower-resolution formats. A microphone is built into the top-plate next the hotshoe, which delivers crisp sound quality to videos.

Nikon D5300 review – Our verdict

There has been criticism levelled at the Nikon D5300 that its upgrades are too modest and they appear to be only a short jump from previous models. While this is in some ways true, I think Nikon has an already successful camera and added some worthy additions in areas that matter. For example, the new processor reduces noise and improves the standard ISO sensitivity range, allowing better low-light shooting than previous models. Also, the removal of the anti-aliasing filter has improved the resolution. These two features take the image quality to an even higher standard than previous models.

An easy-to-use Wi-Fi system and GPS capabilities add some very useful functionality to the camera, bringing it  up to date. However, the app is very limited and doesn’t allow full manual control when the camera is tethered to a smart device. In comparison to other DSLRs with remote shooting functionality, the D5300 is very difficult to use and restricted in its operation. However, the sharing part of the app works seamlessly.

The D5300 offers many scene modes and colour options for the creative photographer, as well as excellent colour rendition and dynamic range. Overall, Nikon is offering something to suit most users and I think this is exactly what is needed for a high-end entry-level DSLR.

Hands-on review

Nikon D5300 at a glance:

  • 24.2-million-pixel, APS-C-sized CMOS sensor
  • 1.037-million-dot, 3.2in, 170° LCD screen
  • Expeed 4 image processor
  • 39-point AF system with nine cross-type sensors
  • ISO 100-25,600
  • Price £730 body only

Nikon D5300 – Introduction

While the serious enthusiast is unlikely to be swayed into buying a Nikon DSLR over a Canon model purely because the Nikon camera is newer, the reality is that at the non-premium end of the market this is how some people make their buying decisions. ‘Newer’ must mean ‘better’.

This demand for the ‘new’ explains why we see such short product cycles in the camera market, and why manufacturers feel the need to introduce even small advances in technology or feature sets in cameras with completely new names – rather than a ‘Mark II’ type of naming format.

Those familiar with Nikon’s range of DSLRs may not see the sense in the company’s introduction of the new D5300, especially as Nikon will maintain the D5200 alongside this model in the range – new and old together. By doing so, though, Nikon expands the number of cameras it has on offer and the number of price points it can cover, while also being able to have a model that can carry a ‘New’ sticker, and which introduces new features to the price band in which it will sit.

That’s not to say that the Nikon D5300 isn’t different to the D5200, though, as a new processor, new body design and the integration of wireless communications do genuinely bring additional benefits to the photographer.

Nikon D5300 – Design and handling

Nikon is very pleased that it has achieved a new way of constructing camera bodies, which it describes as a ‘monocoque’. Instead of there being a chassis, onto which the components and the body shell are attached, the D5300 is designed to have everything screwed to the insides of the body form itself: exoskeleton, rather then the usual endoskeleton.

Image: The top of the camera houses only a few control points, keeping the layout simple and unintimidating for newcomers. A stereo microphone lives in front of the hotshoe

The D5300’s body shell is also made of a new material, although Nikon won’t say what that new material is – just that it is new. The upshot is that the body is less heavy than it might have been, and is 25g lighter, including the battery, than the camera it doesn’t replace, the D5200.

I’m not entirely sure that when I used the camera I could appreciate the exact weight loss that has occurred, but I was able to enjoy the fact that this is truly a lightweight DSLR, of the type that we might not mind carrying all day, over the shoulder, in a bag or in a large pocket. The body is very small too, although it is balanced with a reassuringly large grip for the right hand. It seems ironic that a small and light camera should need a large grip, but I found it allowed me to be aware I was carrying the camera, and should a larger lens be attached it will help to support the forward pull of such a weight distribution.

Image: The body styling will be familiar to those used to the Nikon 5000 series, as will the standard menu. The 3.2in flip-out screen has impressive visibility

The buttons are arranged much as one might expect, with all the principal controls falling easily to the finger or thumb. The rear 3.2in LCD is very nicely bright and clear, with its 1.037-million-dot resolution. Nikon has set the viewing panel into the glass screen, so there are no gaps or internal reflections, which produces good contrast and a clear view from a quoted angled of up to 170°. I am impressed.

In live view, the screen works well when the camera is held low or high, and I found the AF quick enough and seemingly accurate. The response of the shutter in live view also seems good.

Image: Nikon has retained its choice of layouts for the rear-screen display, with text-based and graphically expressed options to suit personal preferences

Nikon D5300 – Still to test

The principal changes in this model are of the sort that will only be proved in testing, but at this stage their potential is worth pointing out. Using the higher-capacity Expeed 4 processor, Nikon claims it has been able to reduce noise in its images through the use of more complicated calculations. A related benefit is that now noise levels are lower the company is comfortable offering a higher ISO setting – the Nikon D5300 allows ratings of up to ISO 25,600. More complex calculations also provide the potential for better white balance assessment in automatic modes via a more comprehensive assessment of the scene, and a better rendition of colour overall.

Lower noise should also lead to better resolution of detail from the 24.2-million-pixel sensor, as should Nikon’s decision to do without the micro-blurring effects of a low-pass (anti-aliasing) filter. Leaving the low-pass filter off the sensor has become very fashionable, and I suspect it will be a great draw for many photographers. Moiré in images created by a sensor with 24 million pixels, even an APS-C-sized sensor, is still something that is quite likely to occur, but there is also plenty of software to correct it after the event.

The other thing to note is that this model sees the introduction of a new battery cell, which Nikon says increases capacity from 500 shots to 600 compared to the cell used in the D5200. It annoys me when companies change their battery forms, but on this occasion the new cell and that used in the D5200 are interchangeable.

Obviously, I couldn’t test the battery life of the camera, but we should take the increase as good news. I will also have to wait to test the Wi-Fi and GPS capabilities of this new model, but neither can be held as negative points just for their inclusion. The Wi-Fi integration means users will be able to control the camera from an Android or iOS device, and will be able to wirelessly transfer images for viewing, editing and sending while on the go.

Image: The new battery, which is backwards compatible with the D5200, offers a longer life. There is no low-pass filter on the sensor, for extra resolution

Nikon D5300 – Conclusion

It would be easy to dismiss the Nikon D5300 for being too similar to the D5200, but that really isn’t the point. There is not much wrong with the D5200, and the changes that this new model brings can only make it better. Perhaps Nikon could have called it the D5200 ll, but I’m not sure it matters one bit.

The Nikon D5300 will cost around £730 body only and be available from 14 November.