The D5500 is a competent camera that can meet most of the needs of its target market. Upgrading to the D5500 could be justified for buyers who skip a couple of generations, as well as owners of two or three year old D3*** models.
The main benefit of the D5500 over its predecessor is the touch screen interface, which is convenient but rather clumsy and slow.
The size and weight differences between the D5500 and D5300 bodies are marginal but the new camera gives you much better battery capacity and a few additional in-camera processing options, although it lacks the in-camera GPS provided with the D5300.
Nikon introduced its D5500 DSLR camera at CES in January, skipping a number in its modest update to the D5300, which we reviewed in January 2014. Most of the changes affect secondary controls, leaving the main components unchanged. Overseas, the camera is being offered in black and red but only the black model will be sold in Australia. The review camera was supplied with the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR II lens, which was covered in our review of the D3300 in October 2014.
Angled view of the D5500 with the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR II kit lens. (Source: Nikon.)
Unlike most other local distributors, Nikon doesn’t supply recommended retail prices (RRPs) so we’ve carried out a Google search on local online re-sellers to find out typical selling prices. The lowest price we found for the body alone was just under AU$800 ““ and we suspect it was from a grey market importer.
The average online price from reputable re-sellers was around AU$925 for the body and AU$1020 for the single-lens kit. At those prices, it wouldn’t be worth importing the camera from off-shore re-sellers.
Who’s it for?
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to classify Nikon’s D5*** cameras as ‘Advanced’ since so many of their features and controls are designed for novice users so, starting with this review, we’ll be re-classifying this line as ‘Entry-level’, as we did with the original D5100 in May 2011.
While the bodies of successive D5*** cameras have become progressively lighter, sensor resolution has doubled since the original D5000 and processor chips have been progressively updated, essentially this line has been developed for snapshooters and contains few genuine innovations.
Newly added features like the touch-screen interface will clearly appeal to smart-phone users ““ although the D5500’s integrated Wi-Fi has some catching up to do in order to make photo sharing as easy as it is with a camera-phone. Novice users will probably enjoy the in-camera effects modes, proliferation of scene pre-sets and the automatic re-setting of the camera when functions like the self-timer are used or the flash is switched off.
But, while useful to people who never move from the green Auto shooting mode, auto re-sets are a hindrance to serious photographers. So, while the D5500 can deliver high-resolution images, it won’t suit anyone wanting full exposure control or even those looking for a camera to learn on. And it’s a relatively poor choice for those who shoot a lot of video.
The body of the D5500 is only marginally smaller than its predecessor and even smaller than the entry-level D3300 we reviewed in October 2014. The size difference between the D5500 and D5300 is probably too small to be significant but the 60 gram reduction in body weight is worthwhile if you have to carry the camera for a while.
Front view of the D5500 with no lens fitted. (Source: Nikon.)
Top view of the D5500 with no lens fitted. (Source: Nikon.)
Back view of the D5500 with the monitor facing into the camera body. (Source: Nikon.)
Both cameras have similar body designs, with a carbon-fibre monocoque structure that is almost seamless (although neither camera is ‘weatherproof’). The mode dial on the D5500 has been simplified by shifting all the scene pre-sets into a single sub-menu accessed via the SCENE setting.
A new proximity sensor has been added to switch off the LCD monitor when the camera is raised to the photographer’s eye, although its screen size and resolution are unchanged since the D5300, as is its adjustability. Users can now access some of the latest smart-phone controls, including touch shutter and touch focus functions as well as the standard flick, slide, pinch and stretch controls.
These facilities make navigating the menu faster and more efficient and facilitate focusing when shooting movies. A new Function menu on the screen provides touch access to functions like aperture and shutter speed adjustments, sensitivity and AF point and area selections as well as scene and effect selections.
However, the optical viewfinder has been modified slightly since the D5300, although it retains the same pentamirror structure. While it still provides the same 0.82x magnification, the eyepoint has been reduced to 17mm and the dioptre correction range has contracted from -1.7 to +1.0 dpt in the D5300 to -1.7 to +0.5 in the D5500.
The addition of touch-screen controls to the LCD monitor makes it more competitive with Canon’s up-coming EOS 750D, which also offers 24-megapixel resolution. Key specifications for both cameras are almost identical, although the D5500’s sensor is about 10% larger and its body is smaller and 135 grams lighter.
Battery capacity has been improved significantly, from approximately 600 shots/charge to 820 shots/charge in the new camera. But the built-in GPS recorder has been removed, leaving D5500 users reliant on their cellphones for data acquisition (via Wi-Fi) or the optional GP-1A accessory.
The Flat Picture Control, introduced with the D810 is a new addition to the Picture Control sub-menu, along with a Clarity setting in the Picture Control adjustments. These settings can now be adjusted in quarter-steps and the Brightness range has been expanded to cover +/- 1.5 steps. There are also three new Special Effects: Super Vivid, Pop and Photo Illustration (shown below), but the total remains at 10 as the Colour Sketch and HDR Painting effects have been removed.
Examples showing the new additions to the Effects menu, from left: Super Vivid, Pop and Photo Illustration.
The sensor in the D5500 is essentially the same 24.2-megapixel CMOS chip as in the D5300 and also lacks an optical low-pass filter (OLPF). Both cameras use the same EXPEED 4 image processor and offer a sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 25,600.
However, in the D5300, the top sensitivity was accessed via the Hi 1 setting, while in the D5500, the full range is accessible by default. But users who want to select the Auto ISO control in the P, S A and M shooting modes must still switch it on via the ISO sensitivity settings section of the camera’s menu. (The maximum sensitivity and minimum shutter speed can be set for Auto ISO shooting.)
Both cameras support a maximum continuous shooting speed of five frames/second but the capacity of the buffer memory is slightly higher in the new camera at 10 14-bit RAW files or 14 12-bit RAW files, compared with six and 13 respectively in the D5300. Typical file sizes can be found in our review of the D5300.
Both cameras share the same 39-point phase detection AF system, which has nine cross-type points and a working range of -1 to +19EV. Single, continuous and auto servo AF modes are supported, along with predictive 3D autofocus tracking plus face recognition in live view mode.
The 2,016-pixel metering system is unchanged and the D5500 also uses proprietary Scene Recognition System algorithms as part of its metering technology. The integrated Wi-Fi system is the same as the D5300’s and the built-in flash is unchanged, with a Guide Number of 12 (ISO 100, 20 °C).
Nikon’s 2,016-pixel i-TTL flash metering system is used by both cameras and both are compatible with Nikon’s Creative Lighting System when used with the SB-910, SB-900, SB-800, SB-700 or SB-500 Speedlights as a master flash, or when the SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander is used. But the built-in flash can’t independently control off-camera flashguns.
Like other entry-level Nikon cameras, the D5500 has some really irritating defaults. For example, the self-timer switches off automatically after each use so you have to dive back into the menu each time you want to use this function. A similar process occurs with the flash, which defaults to auto pop-up unless you forestall it. The most infuriating thing is that these defaults take over even in the P, A, S and M shooting modes, where more knowledgeable photographers would expect to be able to over-ride them ““ and keep them over-ridden.
Video resolution and frame rates are unchanged from the D5300 and like most DSLRs, you can only record movies in Live View mode. Like its predecessor, the D5500 uses the MOV, H.264/MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding and Linear PCM audio.
Two tiny stereo microphones are lodged on the top of the flash housing, just in front of the hot-shoe. But they’re quite close together so stereo separation isn’t great. Recording modes, bit rates and capacities can be found in our review of the D5300.
Users can take a still photo while recording a movie clip, but only by pressing the shutter button. However, the touch shutter can’t be used.
The built-in Wi-Fi hasn’t changed since the D5300 and still only supports sharing of still pictures. Nikon’s Wireless Mobile Utility app must be installed on the smart device used for controlling the camera and transferring images. Setting up connections can be clunky because you must decide which connection protocol to use: push-button WPS, PIN-entry WPS or View SSID.
Back view of the D5500 showing the monitor extended and tilted up for waist-level shooting. (Source: Nikon.)
The monitor is the same size as the D5300’s and provides the same degree of adjustability. The touch screen on the connected device lets you control the camera remotely, but functions are somewhat limited.
Photos are sent to the smart device as they are taken but the image size can vary, depending on whether images are sent singly or in batches. Batch transmissions usually involve downsampling to 1920 x 1080 or 640 x 480 pixels with minimal user control over the size selected. Uploading to sharing sites is carried out via the smart device.
Playback settings are also unchanged since the D5300. Moving the playback zoom buttons close together below the arrow pad seems to be a good idea but doesn’t radically change these functions.
No software was supplied with the review camera but it was easy enough to access downloads on Nikon’s local website by clicking on the Service and Support tag. This takes you to the Nikon Asia website where you can find the latest version of ViewNX 2, Nikon’s standard image processing software. The D5500 wasn’t supported by Adobe Camera Raw (our preferred raw file converter) when this review was conducted so we used ViewNX 2 to convert NEF.RAW files from the camera into 16-bit TIFF for our Imatest measurements.
The D5500 feels comfortable in the hands and is likely to suit most potential users. However, the button controls are rather small and would probably be difficult to operate by anyone with large hands and/or limited dexterity.
It would have been nice to see dedicated buttons for ISO and white balance. But menu diving is required to access these functions, although you can adjust ISO via the Info panel. It’s accessed by pressing the ‘i’ button and can be operated by touch, although it takes longer to use than a well-placed button control.
Thankfully, the exposure compensation button, though small, is well positioned for easy access. The default setting for the re-located Info button appears to be toggling between the viewfinder and monitor screens, although it can also be used for resetting factory defaults when it and the Menu button are held down for more than two seconds.
The control dial is well positioned and easy to access with your thumb. But there’s only one dial, which makes shooting in M mode more laborious that it would otherwise be. While shutter speeds can be changed by rotating the dial, you must press the exposure compensation button to toggle to aperture selection and then rotate the dial.
The movie button is awkwardly positioned and a bit too close to the shutter button for most potential users. The memory card was a tight fit in the dedicated compartment but, once installed, seemed quite secure.
The touch-screen on the monitor is a bit hit-and-miss. It worked reasonably quickly for changing camera settings but the touch shutter was quite sluggish and often took two seconds or more to capture the shot in Live View mode. It was more responsive when zooming in on an image in playback mode but usually often required two or three spread gestures.
Not unexpectedly, still images from the review camera were similar to those from the D5300, with a slightly warm cast in some JPEG images, particularly skin tones. Imatest showed reds, oranges and blues to have elevated saturation in JPEG shots and revealed a few colour shifts. But on average, colours were satisfactorily recorded.
Exposure metering was similar to the D5300’s and, regardless of the metering pattern selected, most exposures were well-positioned, although we found some corrections were needed for subjects with wide brightness ranges. In normal light levels, the Active D-Lighting function ensured highlight and shadow details were recorded adequately in most JPEG shots.
Autofocusing speeds were similar to the D5300’s when the viewfinder was used for shot composition. However, focusing was noticeably slower in Live View mode when the Touch screen was used. Fortunately, hunting was negligible in low light levels with both options, despite the time taken for the camera to focus in Live View mode.
Imatest showed resolution to be above expectations for a 24-megapixel camera for both JPEG and NEF.RAW files and similar to the results we obtained from the D5300. This is much as we expected since both cameras have the same sensor and image processor and both lack an optical low-pass filter. A steady, gradual decline in resolution was recorded as sensitivity was increased, as shown in the graph of our Imatest results below.
High ISO performance was almost identical to the D5300, again not surprising. Long exposures at night showed little noise right up to ISO 6400 with a gradual increase in noise and progressive softening at the two higher settings. The same applied to flash shots.
The built-in flash was able to record almost evenly balanced exposures across the camera’s sensitivity range with the lens at 55mm. Very slight under-exposure occurred at the lowest ISO settings and about 0.3EV of over-exposure at the two highest sensitivity settings. The top three settings were also a little soft and lacking in contrast.
The auto white balance setting showed significant improvements in performance, almost compensating for the warm cast of incandescent lighting. Very good correction was provided for daylight-balanced fluorescent lighting and complete correction for shots taken with the camera’s built-in flash.
The pre-sets over-corrected to varying degrees with all types of lighting, with flash faring much better than either incandescent or fluorescent lights. The camera provides the standard in-camera correction facilities for JPEG shots, enabling users to tweak colour balance at will. Manual measurement is also supported and delivers good results in most situations.
We had similar problems with tracking AF to the issues we found with the D5300 when shooting movie clips. The zoom movement on supplied kit lens was also quite stiff, leading to jerky clips. Using the Live View mode caused re-focusing in movie mode to be quite slow, with a noticeable lag when focusing on subjects that changed position within the frame as well as during moderately fast pans. Fortunately, in bright conditions, once the camera locked onto a subject, focus tended to be maintained.
The review camera was susceptible to recording camera sounds while shooting movie clips and the shutter noise was particularly intrusive when still shots were captured during movie recording. Wind noise could also be problematic, even when the wind cut filter was engaged.
We carried out our timing tests with the same 32GB SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC UHS-1 card as we used for testing the D5300. Like its predecessor, the review camera powered-up in less than a second and shut down almost instantly. Most response times were similar to the D5300’s, although Live View shooting was generally slower.
When the viewfinder was used for shot composition, we measured an average capture lag of 0.2 seconds, which was eliminated with pre-focusing. In Live View mode, capture lag was a consistent 3.2 seconds.
Shot-to-shot times averaged 0.6 seconds when the viewfinder was used and 5.4 seconds with Live View. Shot-to-shot times with flash averaged 4.5 seconds when the viewfinder was used.
Going by the indicator light on the rear panel, image processing times were slightly faster than those we recorded for the D5300. It took 0.65 seconds on average to process each JPEG file, 1.1 seconds for each NEF.RAW file and 1.9 seconds for each RAW+JPEG pair.
In the continuous high-speed shooting mode, the review camera recorded 35 high-resolution JPEGs in 7.4 seconds without slowing, which equates to a rate of five frames/second. It took 28.1 seconds to process this burst.
With the continuous low-speed mode, the review camera recorded 10 high-resolution JPEGs in 3.2 seconds. Processing of this burst was completed within six seconds of the last shot being captured.
The buffer memory filled after seven 14-bit NEF.RAW files, which were recorded in 2.1 seconds in the continuous high mode. Processing time for this burst was 10.8 seconds. The buffer was limited to five RAW+JPEG frames, which were also captured in 1.1 seconds. It took 10.1 seconds to process this burst.
The D5500 is a competent camera that can meet most of the needs of its target market. Upgrading to the D5500 could be justified for buyers who skip a couple of generations, as well as owners of two or three year old D3*** models.
The main benefit of the D5500 over its predecessor is the touch screen interface, which is convenient but rather clumsy and slow. The size and weight differences between the D5500 and D5300 bodies are marginal but the new camera gives you much better battery capacity and a few additional in-camera processing options. But it lacks the in-camera GPS provided with the D5300.
Twenty-four megapixels is more than most potential purchasers of this camera actually need and it’s significant over-kill for those who only shoot to share pictures on social networks. And the D5500’s Built-in Wi-Fi is no better than the D5300’s.
To utilise the potential of the camera’s sensor, you need a high-quality lens. However, although the kit lens we tested with the camera we received could reach expectations with at least one aperture/focal length setting, in many other respects (build quality and operating smoothness) this lens doesn’t make the grade.
It would have been great to see at least one exciting technological advancement ““ or even a decent step forward in functionality ““ in the latest Nikon DSLR. But the company (like many other Japanese camera manufacturers) seems content to iterate products in micro increments at the risk of having several generations of cameras sitting on dealers’ shelves awaiting a largely indifferent buying public. That’s a very risky strategy in today’s market.
Image sensor: 23.5 x15.6 mm CMOS sensor with 24.78 million photosites (24.2 megapixels effective)
Image processor: EXPEED 4
Lens mount: Nikon F mount
Focal length crop factor: 1.5x
Image formats: Stills – JPEG: Baseline compliant with fine (approx. 1:4), normal (approx. 1:8), or basic (approx. 1:16) compression, NEF.RAW (12- or 14-bit, compressed), RAW+JPEG; Movies – MOV, H.264/MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding with Linear PCM audio
Image Sizes: Stills ““6000 x 4000, 4496 x 3000, 2992 x 2000; Movies: [Full HD] 1920 x 1080: 50p, 30p, 25p; [HD] 1280 x 720 50p; [VGA] 640 x 480 25p
Image Stabilisation: Lens-based
Dust removal: Image sensor cleaning, Image Dust Off reference data (Capture NX-D software required)
Shutter (speed range): Electronically-controlled vertical-travel focal plane shutter (1/4000 to 30seconds in steps of 1/3 or 1/2 EV; Bulb; Time; flash synch at 1/200 sec.
Exposure Compensation: +/- EV in 1/3EV steps (+/-EV for movies)
Exposure bracketing: 3 frames, in steps of 1/3 or 1/2EV
Other bracketing options: WB (3 shots in 1EV steps)
Self-timer: 2, 5, 10 or 20 seconds delay; 1″“9 exposures
Focus system: Nikon Multi-CAM 4800DX autofocus sensor module with TTL phase detection, 39 focus points (including 9 cross-type sensor), and AF-assist illuminator (range approx. 0.5″“3 m/ 1 ft 8 in.”“9 ft 10 in.)
Focus modes: Single-servo AF (AF-S), Continuous-servo AF (AF-C), Auto AF-S/AF-C selection (AF-A); predictive focus tracking activated automatically according to subject status, Manual focus (MF): Electronic rangefinder can be used
Exposure metering: TTL exposure metering using 2016-pixel RGB sensor with 3D colour matrix metering II (type G, E, and D lenses); colour matrix metering II (other CPU lenses), Centre-weighted (75% to 8mm circle in centre of frame) and Spot (3.5mm circle) metering patterns
Shooting modes: Auto modes (auto; auto, flash off); programmed auto with flexible program (P); shutter-priority auto (S); aperture-priority auto (A); manual (M); scene modes (portrait; landscape; child; sports; close up; night portrait; night landscape; party/indoor; beach/snow; sunset; dusk/dawn; pet portrait; candlelight; blossom; autumn colours; food)
Special effects modes:Night Vision; Super Vivid; Pop; Photo Illustration; Toy Camera Effect; Miniature Effect; Selective Colour; Silhouette; High Key; Low Key
Picture Control Modes: Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape, Flat; selected Picture Control can be modified; storage for custom Picture Controls
Colour space options: sRGB and Adobe RGB
ISO range: Auto, ISO 100 to 25600, in steps of 1/3EV
White balance: Auto, incandescent, fluorescent (7 types), direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade, preset manual, all except preset manual with fine-tuning.
Flash: GN approx. 12 (ISO 100, 20 °C); i-TTL flash control using 2016-pixel RGB sensor is available with built-in flash
Flash modes: Auto, auto with red-eye reduction, auto slow sync, auto slow sync with red-eye reduction, fill-flash, red-eye reduction, slow sync, slow sync with red-eye reduction, rear-curtain with slow sync, rear-curtain sync, off
Flash exposure adjustment: -3 ““ +1 EV in steps of 1/3 or 1/2 EV, in P, S, A, M, and SCENE modes
Sequence shooting: Max. 5 shots/sec. for JPEGs and 12-bit NEF.RAW files; 4 fps for 14-bit raw files
Buffer capacity: Max. 100 Large/Fine JPEGs, 14 12-bit RAW files or ten 14-bit RAW files
Storage Media: Single slot for SD, SDHC, SDXC cards (compatible with UHS-I standard SDHC / SDXC memory cards)
Viewfinder: Eye-level pentamirror with approx. 95% FOV coverage, approx. 0.82x magnification, 17 mm eyepoint, -1.7 to +0.5 dioptre adjustment, Type B BriteView Clear Matte Mark VII screen
LCD monitor: 3.2-inch TFT vari-angle LCD touch screen with 1,036,800 dots, 170 ° viewing angle, approx. 100% frame coverage, brightness adjustment, and eye-sensor controlled on/off
Playback functions: Full-frame and thumbnail (4, 12, or 80 images or calendar) playback with playback zoom, movie playback, photo and/or movie slide shows, histogram display, highlights, photo information, location data display, auto image rotation, picture rating, and image comment (up to 36 characters)
Interface terminals: Hi-Speed USB, Type C HDMI connector, Stereo mini-pin jack (3.5 mm diameter); supports optional ME-1 stereo microphones
Wi-Fi function: IEEE 802.11b/g, 2412 MHz – 2462 MHz (1-11 ch), Wi-Fi / WPA2 PSK encryption, Infrastructure mode
Power supply: EN-EL14a rechargeable Li-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 820 shots/charge
Dimensions (wxhxd): Approx. 124 x 97 x 70 mm (excluding protrusions)
Weight: Approx. 420 grams (body only); 470 grams with battery and card
Based on JPEG files
Based on 14-bit NEF.RAW files converted with Nikon ViewNX 2.
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
Auto white balance with flash lighting.
30-second exposure at ISO 100, 24mm focal length, f/4.
10-second exposure at ISO 800, 24mm focal length, f/6.3.
3-second exposure at ISO 6400, 24mm focal length, f/7.1.
2-second exposure at ISO 12800, 24mm focal length, f/8.
2-second exposure at ISO 25600, 24mm focal length, f/11.
Flash exposure at ISO 100, 55mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 800, 55mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 6400, 55mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/8.
Flash exposure at ISO 12800, 55mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/10.
Flash exposure at ISO 25600, 55mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/11.
18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/8.
55mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/8.
18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/60 second at f/3.5.
55mm focal length, ISO 280, 1/100 second at f/5.6.
38mm focal length, ISO 560, 1/60 second at f/4.8. D-Lighting switched off.
38mm focal length, ISO 1000, 1/60 second at f/9. Auto D-Lighting.
55mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/200 second at f/7.1.
55mm focal length, ISO 640, 1/160 second at f/8.
32mm focal length, ISO 250, 1/250 second at f/8.
55mm focal length, ISO 360, 1/250 second at f/8.
55mm focal length, ISO 720, 1/100 second at f/9.
23mm focal length, ISO 1250, 1/30 second at f/4.5.
20mm focal length, ISO 1800, 1/60 second at f/3.8.
50mm focal length, ISO 7200, 1/80 second at f/8.
38mm focal length, ISO 25600, 1/60 second at f/16.
Still frame from Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) video clip recorded in 50p mode.
Still frame from Full HD video clip recorded in 25p mode.
Still frame from Full HD video clip recorded at 24 fps.
Still frame from HD (1280 x 720 pixels) video clip recorded in 50p mode.
Still frame from VGA (640 x 424 pixels) video clip recorded at 25 fps.
RRP: n/a; ASP body only: AU$925; US$899.95; ASP as reviewed with AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II lens: AU$1020; US$999.95
- Build: 8.5
- Ease of use: 8.3
- Autofocusing: 8.5
- Still image quality JPEG: 8.8
- Still image quality RAW: 9.0
- Video quality: 8.5