D5600 re­view

Does Nikon’s new DX-for­mat cam­era of­fer any­thing new? Rod Law­ton re­veals all...

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We put Nikon’s lat­est en­thu­si­ast D-SLR through its paces

The D5600 is the lat­est D-SLR in Nikon’s D5000-se­ries cam­era range. It’s one step up from the new en­try-level D3400 (which we re­viewed in is­sue 65) and one step down from the en­thu­si­ast and pro-ori­en­tated D7200 and D500. In one re­spect, though, it’s one up on all of them, as the only DX-for­mat Nikon D-SLR with a vari-an­gle screen. This is handy for sub­jects where you have to ma­noeu­vre the cam­era into a tricky po­si­tion, and all of the Nikon D5000se­ries cam­eras boast this fea­ture.

Tech­ni­cally it re­places the D5500, but Nikon has a habit of keep­ing older mod­els on sale even after newer ones have come out, so you can ex­pect to see both on sale for the time be­ing. That said, there’s not that much to choose from be­tween them – the D5600 is more of a ‘re­fresh’ than a whole new cam­era. There is one key dif­fer­ence, though, and that’s the ad­di­tion of Nikon’s SnapBridge tech­nol­ogy for im­age trans­fer – more of which later.

In many other re­spects, the Nikon D5600 is much like its pre­de­ces­sor. It has a 24.2-megapixel DX sen­sor, again mi­nus an anti-alias­ing fil­ter to max­imise its po­ten­tial to cap­ture detail, and this is paired with the same EXPEED 4 pro­ces­sor. It also has the same ISO range (100-25600) and the same max­i­mum burst rate (5fps), which means it can cer­tainly turn its hand to ac­tion pho­tog­ra­phy.

Su­per­fi­cially, it’s not un­like the cheaper en­try-level Nikon D3400, but it ac­tu­ally boasts much bet­ter fea­tures. Un­like the D3400, it fea­tures a built-in sen­sor clean­ing sys­tem, and the pop-up flash is more pow­er­ful, too. The D5600 also has a neat and straight­for­ward Time Lapse Movie mode pre­vi­ously only found in more ad­vanced Nikon D-SLRs.

There’s a nor­mal movie mode too of course, and although it can’t shoot 4K, it can cap­ture Full HD at up to 60/50fps. Ac­tu­ally, it can cap­ture 4K after a fash­ion, us­ing the Time Lapse mode men­tioned above. It’s re­ally easy to use, too – you just choose the de­lay be­tween shots and the length of time you want to shoot for.

The 39-point aut­o­fo­cus sys­tem is not Nikon’s best, but it’s a big step up from the 11-point AF sys­tem in the D3400. An­other ad­van­tage the D5600 has over the D3400 is in its RAW files. The D3400 only shoots 12-bit RAW files, whereas the D5600 cap­tures po­ten­tially higher-qual­ity 14-bit RAW files, in com­mon with the rest of the Nikon D-SLR range.

Build and han­dling

All of the D5600’s fea­tures are wrapped up in a com­pact body that’s ac­tu­ally 5 grammes lighter than its pre­de­ces­sor, the D5500, and with a healthy bat­tery life of 820 shots. The D5600 will go on sale with a va­ri­ety of kit lenses, in­clud­ing the AF-P 18-55mm lens tested here, Nikon’s 18-140mm AF-S lens and a twin-lens AF-P kit com­pris­ing the 18-55mm

and new 70-300mm AF-P tele­photo. The D5600 will al­most cer­tainly surprise you the first time you pick it up. For a D-SLR, it’s un­ex­pect­edly small and light – al­most as small and light as a D-SLR-style mir­ror­less cam­era. In fact, the only thing that gives away the D-SLR de­sign is when you re­move the lens and see the depth of the mir­ror box. In­deed, the body is even thin­ner than the en­try-level D3400, and yet the grip is deep and well sculpted, giv­ing you a proper hold of the cam­era.

This is a plas­tic rather than met­al­bod­ied cam­era, but it feels sturdy and well-made, and the con­trols have a good feel to them too. Some of the but­tons are oddly small and the icons are a lit­tle hard to read, but this doesn’t af­fect their oper­a­tion.

And for an in­ex­pen­sive kit lens, the AF-P 18-55mm zoom has a good feel, too. The only an­noy­ance is that you need to press a but­ton on the bar­rel and twist the lens to ex­tend it for use, and then do it in re­verse when you put the cam­era away. This does make the lens more com­pact, though, and the whole cam­era-lens com­bi­na­tion is eas­ier to pack up and carry around.

The op­ti­cal viewfinder uses a cheaper pen­tamir­ror de­sign than the pen­taprism ar­range­ment of more ex­pen­sive Nikons, but the viewfinder im­age is still bright, crisp and clear and, of course, com­pletely lag-free, un­like with an elec­tronic viewfinder. You can only see 95% of the scene, so your im­ages may have a lit­tle more around the edges than you ex­pected, but you won’t no­tice the dis­crep­ancy much and you can al­ways crop the edges if you do. This is stan­dard with lower-cost pen­tamir­ror viewfind­ers and not spe­cific to the D5600.

The screen is ex­tremely im­pres­sive, partly be­cause of its res­o­lu­tion and clar­ity, and partly be­cause Nikon has found the space to mount a full­yartic­u­lat­ing 3.2-inch dis­play on the back of such a com­pact cam­era body. Vari-an­gle dis­plays are still not that com­mon on D-SLRs, per­haps be­cause most pho­tog­ra­phers pre­fer to shoot us­ing the viewfinder, and haven’t yet em­braced the flex­i­bil­ity of Live View (see page 50).

One ex­pla­na­tion for this is that Live View modes on D-SLRs force a swap from the reg­u­lar ded­i­cated

aut­o­fo­cus sen­sor to a slower con­trast­based sys­tem us­ing the sen­sor im­age it­self. Some man­u­fac­tur­ers have started in­tro­duc­ing faster hy­brid on-chip phase-de­tec­tion aut­o­fo­cus, but Nikon isn’t one of them.

On the strength of the D5600’s Live View per­for­mance, though, maybe it doesn’t need to, be­cause the new AF-P 18-55mm lens trans­forms the cam­era’s Live View per­for­mance. It’s still not as fast as a mir­ror­less cam­era, but the speed and re­spon­sive­ness of Live View aut­o­fo­cus is un­ex­pected – and it works re­ally well with touch con­trol. Just tap an ob­ject in the scene and the cam­era will fo­cus on that ob­ject and take a pic­ture at once.

The touch­screen is use­ful for many tasks. Press the ‘i’ but­ton on the back of the cam­era to get the in­ter­ac­tive set­tings dis­play, and then just tap the op­tion you want to change. And in play­back mode you can use swipe and pinch/zoom ges­tures to browse and look at your pic­tures in detail.

You don’t have to use touch­screen con­trol if you don’t want to, though, or if it’s wet or you’re wear­ing gloves, be­cause you can do ev­ery­thing us­ing tra­di­tional con­trols if needed. SnapBridge is one of Nikon’s key new tech­nolo­gies, and although the prin­ci­ple is re­ally sound, there are some is­sues. The SnapBridge app uses the low-en­ergy Blue­tooth tech­nol­ogy to main­tain an al­ways-on con­nec­tion with the cam­era, au­to­mat­i­cally trans­fer­ring low-res 2MP pho­tos to your smart de­vice as you take them. For trans­fer­ring high-res pho­tos, or re­mote cam­era con­trol, it switches to Wi-Fi. You wouldn’t want to leave the Wi-Fi on all the time, though, be­cause it drains the bat­tery.

The trou­ble with Wi-Fi con­nec­tions is you of­ten have to man­u­ally con­nect your smart de­vice to a cam­era’s Wi-Fi net­work ev­ery time you want to use it, so if the app can do that for you then it’ll be a real time saver.

This worked fine with our An­droid smart­phone, if a lit­tle more slowly than we ex­pected. If we switched modes on the app to one that re­quired Wi-Fi, the smart­phone launched the cam­era’s Wi-Fi re­motely and con­nected with­out any in­ter­ven­tion from us (though we timed the switch over to Live View re­mote shoot­ing at a tardy 50 sec­onds).

If you own an iPhone or an iPad, though, it’s dif­fer­ent. Ap­ple’s iOS op­er­at­ing sys­tem pro­hibits any app from chang­ing your net­work set­tings – it’s a ba­sic se­cu­rity mea­sure that means you have to do this man­u­ally.

The up­shot is that if you’re us­ing the SnapBridge app on an Ap­ple de­vice, you have to go into the de­vice’s Wi-Fi set­tings each time Wi-Fi is re­quired. This is a ma­jor draw­back and, in some re­spects, is worse than the old Wi-Fi-only sys­tem.

We’re now wait­ing for clar­i­fi­ca­tion from Nikon about whether this can be re­solved some­how, or whether it’s an in­su­per­a­ble is­sue with Ap­ple’s mo­bile op­er­at­ing sys­tem. The is­sue doesn’t arise with the D3400 be­cause it’s Blue­tooth-only, and when we re­viewed the D500 the iOS ver­sion of SnapBridge was not yet avail­able.

For­tu­nately, the D5600 is a very good cam­era, with or with­out its SnapBridge fea­ture, but we wouldn’t rec­om­mend that you buy it solely for the SnapBridge con­nec­tiv­ity.

Per­for­mance

Our lab tests showed that there’s very lit­tle to choose from in pic­ture qual­ity be­tween the D5600, D5500, D3400 and D7200. This is hardly sur­pris­ing, be­cause they all share the same 24-megapixel APS-C sen­sor, with no anti-alias­ing fil­ter.

The D5600’s aut­o­fo­cus, white bal­ance and ex­po­sure sys­tems worked well. Nikon’s Ac­tive D-Light­ing sys­tem can be ef­fec­tive for very high-con­trast scenes, such as ar­eas of light and shade on a sunny day. It works by re­duc­ing the ex­po­sure to en­sure the bright­est parts are cap­tured, and then pro­cess­ing the photo to bring out detail in shadow ar­eas. Some­times, though, it can pro­duce a vis­i­ble ‘glow’ or soft out­line around ob­jects against a blue sky, so that’s some­thing to watch out for.

The auto white bal­ance did pro­duce some­what cold-look­ing re­sults in some of our out­door shots, es­pe­cially in the warm light­ing con­di­tions of a low sun. The so­lu­tion is sim­ple – just switch to the Di­rect Sun­light white bal­ance set­ting, or shoot RAW and ad­just the white bal­ance later.

Dy­namic range from the cam­era is good in real-world con­di­tions, and the D5600’s RAW files have a good deal of shadow detail, plus a lit­tle ex­tra high­light detail that you can pull back in pro­cess­ing if you need to.

The fine-detail ren­di­tion is also es­pe­cially good and, un­like a lot of cur­rent kit lenses, the new AF-P 18-55mm holds its sharp­ness right to the edges of the frame and at longer zoom set­tings, too.

The D5600 is an easy cam­era to use, not just be­cause the con­trols are straight­for­ward, but be­cause it also de­liv­ers a high hit-rate of tech­ni­cally good pho­tos. Be­ing new, though, it’s not cheap, and at the time of writ­ing the ex­ist­ing D5500 still looks to be bet­ter value over­all.

Live View switch Live View is ac­ti­vated by this switch around the mode dial. The mir­ror flips up, the shut­ter opens and you can then com­pose pho­tos on the rear screen. The D5600 has a ded­i­cated Ef­fects mode with Night Vi­sion, Super Vivid, Photo Il­lus­tra­tion, Pop, Toy Cam­era, Minia­ture (below), Se­lec­tive Color, Sil­hou­ette, High Key and Low Key ef­fects. You don’t get any real con­trol over the set­tings, but you can have fun with dif­fer­ent ‘looks’. Touch con­trol Use the touch­screen to change set­tings, set the fo­cus point in Live View and swipe through your im­ages in play­back mode. AF-P aut­o­fo­cus Nikon’s new AF-P kit lens seems to trans­form the D5600’s Live View AF per­for­mance. It’s much faster and smoother than with pre­vi­ous cam­era and kit lens com­bi­na­tions, mak­ing the D5600’s vari-an­gle dis­play even more use­ful for ev­ery­day pho­tog­ra­phy.

The D5600’s auto white bal­ance can pro­duce slightly cool colours in day­light, but switch­ing to the Di­rect Sun­light pre­set fixes that (top). The de­fault colour ren­di­tion is good, but if you need more vi­brancy, the Pop ef­fect (above) will do the trick!

The vari-an­gle touch­screen makes low-level com­po­si­tions so much eas­ier, and the qual­ity of the D5600’s 14-bit RAW files al­lows ex­ten­sive post-shot edit­ing in Light­room to bring out the colours, sky detail and shad­ows on a dull, over­cast day.

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