Equipment Review: Nikon D5300

Entry level DSLRs have it bad this couple of years with compact cameras being over taken by smartphones and at the other end of the spectrum the DSLRs are seeing increased competition from the mirrorless cameras such as the Olympus OMD EM1 Micro Four Thirds, Panasonic G7 and GM1 and Fujilfilm X-E2.

The mission of entry DSLR camera is basically to introduce the Nikon F-Mount system to the masses and this would include a all out fight with the mirrorless competitors to convince consumers that going DSLR would be the wiser move.

Hence Nikon D5300 is armed to the teeth when it comes to features and there are some improvements over its predecessors

  • Maximum ISO boosted from 6400 ISO to 12800 ISO potentially able to shoot better in light starved environment
  • Slight bump of resolution to 24.2MP
  • A bigger rear screen at 3.2″ that comes with better resolution
  • The D5300 got lighter weighing in at 479g and shedding 0.1″ off its girth at 3″
  • Adds GPS feature
  • Adds Wi-Fi image transfer

Despite the smaller size, the D5300 is still a comfortable camera to hold with good deep grip which is great for one hand operation if there’s a need. The camera is still light and is a welcome relief for those who loathes carrying equipment around when matched with the 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens. And to answer the competition from smartphones, it follows some of the newer cameras to introduce Wi-Fi for wireless transfer of images for quick sharing on social networks such as twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

My experience with the camera app on my Android phone was at best agreeable. There are now better implementation of camera apps so that one can actually control the camera via the smartphone to take a photo for example. Granted one couldn’t really focus via the phone since the camera needed human input to get the correct zoom, the rudimentary app support for the camera pales in comparison with other camera offerings. In short, the app needed a bit more work to get the best out of the D5300.

What’s special for this camera is the inclusion of the GPS module. For those who likes to document the images and matches it to the location on the map, this is certainly a welcome feature where one can quickly share the location of the shot being taken.

As mentioned, the Nikon D5300 is a camera that supposed to convince a potential customer to adopt the Nikon F Mount system. On the whole it has done pretty well as what I would expect from a company who is synonymous with DSLRs (or course the other would be Canon).

What Nikon could improve is to match a better Kit Lens to the body, something akin to the excellent D70 kit lens, the Nikkor 18-70mm f3.5-4 that has provided fantastic value to DX users (and I have kept it despite offerings to sell).

As of now, Nikon is going to supercede the kit lens with one that is collapsible, much like the one on Olympus Pen MFT system so the camera takes even lesser space in the bag. Optically I couldn’t say how much in could improve and my experience with it is prompted me to advice on a quick upgrade of the lens to maximise the potential of Nikon D5300.

Once a better lens is used, in my tests that includes the Nikkor 50mm f1.4 G lens and Tamron 17-50 f2.8 lens, the Nikon D5300 did perform really well.

D-lighting holds on to both the details in the sky and in the shadow areas.

Over zealous HDR High function which is way too much. The D5300 do give a lot of convenience to users for some effects such as HDR that was in the domain of advance users just a couple of years ago. Convenience however doesn’t mean indiscriminate use. It is best to control the effect.

As expected, the richness of Nikon DSLR colours shines through. Bokeh is induced using the f2.8.

Once under good window light, the D5300 24MP gives a very vivid and crisp colour

Skin tone is muted when picture is shot in portraiture picture control settings

Skin tone again pretty muted under florescent lamp

Auto White Balance is quite good though some images from this set needed a bit of colour tweaking.

Some candid shots

Shot at ISO 3200 1/6 of a second with f2.8 aperture setting on the Tamron lens. Noise control is superb here.

Direct mono conversion in camera. A bit of contrast is definitely needed.

The main problem with Nikon entry level cameras, the D3xxx and D5xxx series is that consumers would need to get lens that has its own focusing motor in order to enjoy Autofocusing function. I do have a great Nikkor 50mm f1.4 G lens but it wouldn’t Autofocus on these cameras.  Contrast this with its closest competitor, the Canon 700D, and it doesn’t handicap their customers that can’t work with lens that couldn’t AF.

The other beef I would say is the lacklustre pro support that Nikon give to the DX (crop sensor) users. The best pro-level Nikon DX body is the D300s (it is at best museum grade artifact in the camera world) and the best current DX body is the D7100.

Although I understand the need to push users to adopt full frame cameras such as the D610, it would also meant huge expenditure to change the whole lens kit. In this sense, Canon supporters are well er, supported, with the rumoured pro level 7D Mark 2 in the works. Imagine linking that camera with the Sigma Arts Series 18-35mm f1.8 lens making it a match made in heaven.

As you can see from above photos, the DX range has a lot of life left and some pros, including myself, are seeing more value from crop frame bodies and the Sigma lens is the prime example of that. Other types of shooters may include the wild life photographers where they can use the crop sensor to their advantage in the form of a zoom effect.

As such, if there’s any indication, going DX lens is not going to be wise given Nikon’s emphasis on FX (full frame) bodies and hence getting the D5300 may be a single purchase itself and become a white elephant if one upgrades to FX soon after. If that’s the case, getting bridge cameras such as the excellent Sony RX10 provides a better value proposition.

Need other advice? Get the D610 instead and grow your hobby using full frame bodies and lens system now which is what Nikon is trying to do to maximise their profits. The thing that has thrown the spanner in the works is the introduction of a mirrorless Full Frame camera in the form of Sony A7. The alternatives from mirrorless are very compelling now and Nikon has a battle in their hands this year.

Unless you are a user who is not inclined to get a full frame camera and is satisfied with the Image Quality, then getting the DX range is quite alright. If getting the full AF support of any lens in Nikon or any 3rd party manufacturer is important to you, going straight to D7100 is definitely the way forward (the Nikon D300s is way too old).

The other notable development that came out from Nikon at the start of the year is the exclusion of an Anti-Aliasing (AA)  filter on the new D3300 entry level camera. What the news entails is the possibility of having a sharper image as AA filters do cause a slight blurness to the image to combat moiré effect, or unwanted patterns being shown in images die to the interaction between patterns of images capture and the sensor array.

The incidence of a user capturing moire effect is quite minuscule unless one do shoot a lot of portraiture shots with textures in textiles. And so taking out the AA filter may help in improving the image quality in this case.

What this meant, unfortunately, is that D5300 sensor with the AA filter may be outshone by its lesser model in the near future and it would be wise to wait and observe how that sensor would perform.

More photos can be seen here.

The Nikon D5300 is now available in Black Body Only – S$1,089.00, with 18-55mm kit (Black, Red, Grey colour) – S$1,279.00; with 18-140 VR Set – S$1,499.00

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