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