It's not hard to imagine that Nikon might rest on brand recognition for consumer cameras, but that didn't happen with the D5300. Under the hood, this camera has a few key changes make all the difference. With some very substantial kit options, it offers a bit more bang for the buck with on-board GPS, WiFi, and expanded in-camera editing.
Don't get us wrong: The D5300 is in no way a revolutionary camera, but it's a great body to learn on if you plan to buy into the Nikon lens system. If this sounds attractive to you, definitely check the D5300 out.
Meet the new SLR, same as the old SLR
With nary a year passing since the arrival of the D5200, Nikon brings us the D5300. It's a camera that shares most of the exact same characteristics, but with a few key differences under the hood. The new model sports the same familiar design cues, light chassis, and a slightly re-designed grip. The combination is a winning formula that will be welcoming to newcomers and comfortable to any existing Nikon users.
Handling the D5300 is a treat if you're used to older and heavier SLRs because of that light weight. The redesigned grip provides more surface area to latch onto, giving you excellent control over the camera when framing. When shooting at odd angles, you can also make use of the articulating 1.037m-dot LCD on the back, which flips out from the body to provide a live view of your shot.
Controls on the D5300 are logically placed and labelled, but advanced shooters might be dismayed to find just a single control dial. Once in your hand, your index finger will naturally find itself resting on the shutter release, while your thumb rests right on the rear control dial—exactly where these two digits should be. Even full manual shooters can use the dial, or the dial along with a second button, to control aperture and shutter speed.
Shooting with the D5300 is a pleasure, though. As with other traditional DSLRs (opposed to newer mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras) the Nikon D5300 has an optical viewfinder alongside informational overlays for focus and exposure. As good as electronic viewfinders have gotten, a traditional optical finder is still the best for judging focus. The 0.82x magnification finder here covers 95% of the frame in either direction, which is more than sufficient for a camera of this level.
Nikon is offering the D5300 body-only for $799.95, with the new 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens for $899.95, or with an 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6 lens for $1099.95. We tested the 18-140mm lens with the D5300 for the purposes of this review and while it gives you a little extra reach, the kit is a little pricier than average. Plenty of retailers are selling bundles with the 18-55mm and a second telephoto lens for similar prices, which usually nets you a 75-300mm or 55-200mm lens instead. The 18-140mm lens is also quite a bit heavier than the usual plastic 18-55mm lenses. Ultimately our standard opinion on kit lenses is they're good starting points, but a simple 50mm f/1.8 lens will net you far superior performance for just a few hundred dollars.
Moving the goalposts
It used to be that the "entry-level" cameras were significantly flawed devices that got you in the door with cheap prices and at-least-it's-not-another-point-and-shoot performance. That's changed in the last few years, with sub-$1,000 cameras routinely matching what even professional cameras were capable of just 5-6 years ago. With excellent cameras starting at just $600, it's a tough sell to get people to move up the price ladder. To that end, Nikon is including on-board GPS and WiFi standard, with no extra adapters required.
With the exception of the GPS antenna (and geotagging), there really isn't much new with the D5300's body when compared with its predecessor. Most of the camera's features are the exact same, the swiveling display is different only in that it has more pixels, and the menu system is virtually identical. It may be a bit boring, but it's tough to stray into uncharted territory.
I will say that the mirror assembly makes shooting with the live-view on an incredible hassle. It takes a lot of time for that clunky thing to move, and you can wait up to two full seconds to get your camera back and shooting. For that reason alone, we recommend using the viewfinder out in the field except when framing at tough angles. It's the fastest, most accurate way to shoot with a traditional DSLR, and the D5300 is no exception.
Though not nearly as fast as Nikon's next model up, the D7100, the D5300 is not half-bad at capturing action. Able to take photos in RAW + JPEG at about five frames per second, the Nikon DSLR won't miss much. However, if you want to take a long string of consecutive shots, we recommend shooting in RAW or JPEG and not both. The buffer fills quickly with this camera, so overloading the processor will lead to a limited number of stills captured in each burst.
Additionally, the same Expeed 4 processor that enables fast processing of burst shots grants the D5300 the ability to record full 1080p/60p video, along with lower resolution cinematics. Though it doesn't have the option for a higher framerate like Nikon's 1-series cameras, the HD video we shot with the D5300 had very few artifacting, trailing, or compression errors. The Nikon D5200 earned itself a healthy reputation as one of the best DSLRs for video on the market and the D5300 fulfills that legacy admirably. The camera also has a 3.5mm microphone jack, but serious videographers may want to upgrade to the D7100, which has both headphone and mic jacks.
Eat dust, older cameras
Though it's tempting to expect a lot out of a new release, there's not much more you could ask for when it comes to performance. It's better than the D5200 by a nose in virtually every category we measure, while falling behind only Samsung's NX300 when it comes to out and out performance.
By giving the AA filter on the sensor the boot in favor of capturing fine detail, the D5300 enjoys much better sharpness results than its predecessor. However, the sensor can only do so much: The kit lens makes the image get a bit soft at full zoom, and the corners go sooner than that. It's a common issue with kit lenses—and to be honest, not at all surprising—but it is something to be aware of. If you're going to be shooting something, follow the salty photographer's mantra: Don't be afraid to get in close! Otherwise, snag a better lens. For the price of the D5300 and 18-140mm you could always buy the body alone ($799.95) and grab a used 50mm f/1.8 AF-S Nikon lens that will work great.
Another issue you'll want to keep an eye on is noisy images. The D5300 does keep a lid on it fairly well, but ISO 1600 and above will bring over 2.5% noise to your shots. This level of variation is visible only at large prints, however, and annoying 8x10 or under will still look fine. Still, there's a larger dip in performance than we were expecting from ISO 800 to ISO 1600, and it's troubling when most of the competition can hit ISO 1600 without much of an issue. In all but extreme low light situations, though, the D5300 holds its own.
Once again, we do have to add a big caveat: Nikon's iffy automatic white balance performance. When you move from room to room or from indoors to outdoors, often the color of the ambient light changes. Most cameras account for this and adjust as well as possible, giving you an image that looks close to what you actually saw. The D5300 is relatively poor at this, especially indoors with incandescent, fluorescent, or mixed lighting. If you need a clinically accurate photo or notice a sudden, odd green cast to your shots, take the same photo again in RAW, which will let you fix the white balance after the fact.
As far as video is concerned, it's hard to ask for more at this price bracket. The Nikon D5300 produces sharp, fluid cinematics in bright and low light alike. Videographers will enjoy a high level of control as well, with full exposure control as well as the aforementioned 3.5mm mic jack and audio levels. If video is important to you and you're on a budget, the D5300 is a stellar choice, as artifacting and other issues are kept to a relative minimum.
Solid sequel to the D5200, with fit and finish to match
Despite its extreme similarity to last year's D5200, Nikon's D5300 is a solid step forward that combines excellent performance and a surprisingly robust feature set. Mirrorless cameras are more improving at a rapid pace these days, and it's clear Nikon is feeling the heat. The D5300 may look like the same old boring Nikon DSLR, but with WiFi, GPS, an AA-less 24-megapixel APS-C sensor, stellar video quality and control, and the traditional comfort of an optical viewfinder, the D5300 is a formidable market presence that puts all of Canon's sub-$1,000 offerings to shame.
There are some drawbacks to the traditional design, however. The mirror box necessary to accommodate the optical finder is a bit of a hindrance of you prefer to shoot in live view, as it slows down the operation. It also adds considerable size to the camera, and though it's still quite portable, the D5300 is far bigger than its mirrorless competition. That aside, the performance offered by the D5300 is certainly good for the money.
This is a camera that users can grow with. The guts of the device are great, and Nikon's lens system is as diverse as it is storied, with options not only for professionals but for those with limited means to dedicate to photography. Though a DSLR doesn't always mean a more "serious" camera, the D5300 fits the bill in its price bracket for those looking to sink their teeth into a substantial shooter—**especially** if you're looking to shoot video.
If you pine for a second control dial and weather sealing, the Pentax K-50 has been a stalwart contender at $699.95. If you're okay with the control scheme, but want a comparable camera without the bulk, the world of mirrorless brings us the superior Samsung NX300 for $749.99. But the D5300 is one of the best all-around DSLRs we've seen in awhile, showing that traditional DSLR design isn't dead yet.
By just about any metric, the Nikon D5300 is a solid camera. Lacking an AA filter, the sharpness results are a cut above the D5300's predecessor, and it's no slouch when it comes to videography, either. Though we are dismayed to see dynamic range performance take a small step back at higher ISO speeds, the base level of performance is top-notch.
Really, there's little weakness in the performance of the camera—its shortcomings are more in the realm of handling and other physical issues. If you're all set with the form factor of a DSLR, this will be right up your alley, and offers commensurate performance for its pricetag.
Fantastic color accuracy, just stay away from Auto WB.
In our labs, the Nikon D5300 posted a decent ∆C00 color saturation error of 1.87—which is almost perfect for all practical purposes. Anything nearing ∆C00 of 2 is approaching the ideal anyways, so no worries there. This result was achieved with the Standard color profile, which also saturates the entire color gamut to 107.6%. Again, a perfectly decent result.
Straying from the Portrait color profile will net you varying color errors and saturation, often by design. Landscape mode and Vivid mode will wildly oversaturate your photo's colors to make them "pop" more, while Standard mode and Neutral mode are a bit more accurate.
White balance is a bit of a mixed bag with the D5300, as the automatic white balance setting is quite terrible. If at all possible, definitely try to set your white balance using the presets, or even manually. Otherwise, you're looking at wildly bad color problems in the presence of light sources like incandescent bulbs or fluorescent lighting.
Sharp shots, early-onset noise
The removal of the AA filter was a tipoff that the Nikon D5300 might have a higher sharpness performance, and that appears to be the case. Posting higher scores than its predecessor, the Nikon D5300's sensor gives the camera quite a bit more capability in the sharpness department.
The weak link in the chain here appears to be the kit lens, however. With some fringing issues and added distortion, the only fault we found with the D5300's sharpness results came from the massive 18-140mm lens. Predictably, at full-wide the lens adds in a ton of barrel distortion, while at full telephoto it crunches in the edges with pincushion distortion. Though both can be remedied somewhat by the distortion correction in the camera's menu settings, it's not a perfect fix.
Worthy of note is the lack of severe oversharpening, or attempts by the camera's software to "fix" sharpness issues. It's comforting to know that you get what you ask of your camera through the settings, but you may be used to this post-processing if you're coming from a point and shoot.
Sharp, solid cinema
Keeping in line with the other results, the video shot by the D5300 is quite sharp and fluid. You won't notice any artifacting or stuttering issues, even at 1080/60p. Reduced resolutions also seem to handle video fine, and the lack of an anti-aliasing filter doesn't seem to get in the way of quality motion pictures. In bright light, we recorded 700 lw/ph both horizontally and vertically—a perfectly good result.
If we had to pick one tiny problem, it'd be the introduction of slight frequency interference. If you happen upon some high-contrast, tightly-packed lines, you'll notice that there's a tiny bit of strobing. However, they have to be super fine, and super close together to be much of an issue.
Low light sensitivity is stellar, though it will never rival that of the Nikon D4s or anything. If you're shooting vids, you'll need an ambient light level of 4 lux in order to maintain 50 IRE (the minimum standard for broadcast-quality video). Rest assured that this will be more than adequate for birthday parties or other low-light situations. Just be aware that sharpness drops a bit in low light: At 60 lux, we recorded video sharpness at 625 lw/ph horizontally, and 650 lw/ph vertically.
Noise is a disappointing tale, however. Though it's technically better than that of the D5200, it's still not all that great. Couple that with the fact that garbage data cracks 1% very early on, and you get an idea of where this performance is headed. ISO 1600 sees the noise levels ramp up to about 3%, and your photos will bear a rather large amount of junk data.
Thankfully, noise reduction isn't applied too aggressively, and turning it off will disable most of the processing going on behind the scenes. Though that may seem like an obvious statement to make, the reality is many cameras will retain a certain level of NR even with the option disabled. With high ISO NR enabled, you will notice a bit of detail loss in high ISO shots, but noise is kept in check better.
Honestly you can get away without using the NR settings too agressively and still get a fairly detailed picture. Though the NR settings help dispell noise, they will rip out fine details that are tough to distinguish from sensor noise.
Meet the tester
Staff Writer, Imaging@cthomas8888
A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.
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