While camera manufacturers have devoted a lot of attention to advanced models, there's still a place in the market for compact, point-and-shoot cameras. The Nikon S5300 is one of those cameras. Featuring convenience features like wi-fi, it also sports an 8.6 fps burst mode and an 8x optical zoom that gives it an edge over smartphone snapshots.
With some stores offering the camera for as low as $150, the Nikon S5300 certainly qualifies as a budget camera. And with budget cameras we always have to ask, is the image quality and performance acceptable, or should you save up a little longer for a pricier model? We took this camera for a spin to find out—get all the details with our Nikon Coolpix S5300 review.
Nikon Coolpix S5300 Review: Body & Design
For a budget camera, the Nikon Coolpix S5300 is surprisingly well built. The exterior of the camera doesn't have a cheap plastic feel—it's actually constructed with metal. The construction feels smooth and durable. The front of the camera has a nice subtle curve to it as well.
With a small body, the S5300 is certainly portable, even pocketable. It's a little over 3.5 inches wide, and about three quarters of an inch thick—making it about as portable as a cell phone.
The top of the camera features just the on/off button, the shutter release and a zoom toggle. They're well placed and easily reached with the index finger.
The back of the S5300 is largely occupied by the large LCD screen. It's bright and easy to read, and while out on a sunny evening, the screen wasn't too overpowered by the sunlight. Next to the screen, there's a dedicated record button for movies next to a small grip for your thumb. Underneath that is the button for adjusting the mode and recalling the images. The menu controls double as shortcuts for flash, exposure compensation, macro and self timer. Below that is the menu access and delete button.
The layout, in general, works pretty well. Those who have shot Nikon before will be looking for the burst mode within the self-time shortcut, but it's not there. Nikon has moved that setting into the menu, not a good change, in my opinion. The remaining settings are just as I expected them, however. The menu is easy to navigate, and well-organized.
The design isn't perfect, however. On at least two occasions, the lens cover did not open automatically when the camera turned on. A slight touch was all it needed to pop open, however—this issue is often caused if the camera is bumped or dropped. (A Nikon representative confirmed the Nikon S5300 has a one year warranty, which would fix the issue for free).
Nikon Coolpix S5300: User Experience and Performance
Like most point-and-shoots, the S5300 is designed to be simple to use. The camera includes an automatic mode, but the user can adjust the ISO to a set number, leave it on automatic or use the fixed range auto to avoid excessive noise. The white balance and burst mode can also be adjusted on auto.
For a bit more control, a variety of scene modes are available and are still simple to use. Scene auto selector will even select the scene mode for you, and seemed to work pretty well. The available scene modes include portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, party/indoor, beach, snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close-up, food, museum, fireworks, black and white copy, backlighting, easy panorama, and pet portrait. While I wasn't able to test every scene mode, the ones I did use seemed to work pretty well. The only mode I was disappointed in was the backlight mode—it helped lighten up the subject some, but it was still quite a bit underexposed (too dark).
The Nikon Coolpix S5300 also has a selection of digital filters for familiar looks like black and white, sepia, and selective color, as well as a few more unusual ones, like mirror and toy camera. There's also a smart portrait mode, that takes several images in a row and selects the best one, helping to avoid blinks.
With the dedicated movie button, you can shoot videos in almost any mode, including the digital filters like black and white. Videos are easy to shoot with the separate control. Both zoom and autofocus are functional during video, though at the far end of the zoom the picture tends to look a little soft.
The Coolpix S5300 isn't Nikon's cheapest consumer point-and-shoot on the market, but it's not the most expensive either. Sitting in between the S3600 and the S6800, the S5300 sits at a mid-range for speed too, with a decent 7 fps burst speed that records about 7-8 shots at a time. Those seven shots take about 10 seconds to process before you can shoot another photo, which isn't bad for a camera at this price, but it can mean some missed moments if you're shooting fast action.
For single shots, with the autofocus on (there is no manual focus available), there's about a 2-3 second delay before a second image can be taken, which, again, is good for a camera that's less than $200. Start-up is quick at right around three seconds. When the camera goes to sleep from non-use, however, it actually takes longer to wake up then it does to power on—about five seconds.
While the camera did seem a bit slow while I was out shooting, the actual recorded times aren't bad for a budget camera. Speed is something that's usually sacrificed to keep a camera's cost down, but the S5300 really wasn't too sluggish at all.
The autofocus picked up subjects fairly well, and worked efficiently. The autofocus tends to favor the center of the frame, but will pick up a subject that is off-center if there is enough contrast. A few of my shots were slightly out of focus, but not an overwhelming number. The shots that weren't quite sharp in the right spots tended to be images taken with limited lighting.
Nikon Coolpix S5300 Review: Image Quality
I was pleasantly surprised by the image quality from the S5300. For a low cost point-and-shoot, a majority of the images turned out very well.
Color reproduction on the S5300 was excellent. A bright blue sky with mixed in clouds is hard for cameras to properly expose for, but the S5300 handled the outdoors scenes easily. Low light shots, of course, didn't have quite the vivid look of the outdoor images, but colors and ambient light are still reproduced quite well for the conditions.
In our sharpness test, the camera performed well for the category, outperforming my iPhone in leaps and bounds (the cheapest dedicated cameras might not compete with some smartphone cameras in some areas). Lines and edges are generally sharp. The S5300 also picked up texture and detail well.
Noise reduction at high ISOs was a little less impressive, but, since we're comparing the S5300 to other sub-$200 point-and-shoots and not advanced cameras, it's certainly not a deal breaker. Here's what a 100% crop looks like at each ISO setting:
|ISO 125 (100% crop)||ISO 200||ISO 400||
|ISO 1600||ISO 3200||
Despite taking on a little grain, low light images aren't too bad. Ambient light is recorded well and details are still noticeable and sharp. There's a little more trouble with the autofocus in low light, but it's still able to perform most of the time. Where the S5300 seemed to have the most trouble was with backlighting. The backlighting mode helped some, but the subject was still quite underexposed, and the images taken with this mode tended to have a little odd fringing around the edges, an issue we didn't see on any other setting.
The S5300 offers 1080p HD video, which is good for the price point. However, it only records at 30 fps, so sometimes footage looks a little choppy. Indoors, the picture looks quite grainy. Sound is picked up well, however, and the zoom and autofocus are functional while recording. It's certainly not stellar vide quality, but it's sufficient for short home video clips and a better option than the 720p cameras.
Nikon Coolpix S5300 Review: Sample Images
Nikon Coolpix S5300 Review: Conclusion
The Nikon S5300 has surprising image quality and performance for a $180 camera. There are a few flaws, mainly some trouble with the lens cover and difficulty with backlighting, but the S5300 remains a good option. Speed and image quality are both beyond what we expected for such a low cost camera.
The Nikon S6800 will offer a little more speed and likely a better autofocus if you can swing the extra cash, but if you can't the S5300 will capture family memories just fine. Hitting closer to the $200 mark, the Sony WX220 is a bit faster and has a longer zoom, with early reviews indicating good noise reduction as well. But, just like the S6800, it comes in at a higher price point as well.
The Nikon Coolpix S5300 is a solid camera considering the price tag. There are a few better options out there—but they also come at a higher price.