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Nikon’s affordable DSLR is getting even more connected — the Nikon D5600 packs in much of the same imaging tech and body style of the D5500, but adds Bluetooth connectivity and built-in time lapses. Sitting towards the low end price-wise just after the D3400, the D5600 packs in a pretty powerful set of imaging capabilities for less than $800 with a kit lens.
So how does the camera measure up in the real world compared to those brags on paper? We spent a few weeks with the camera for a Nikon D5600 review to see how this budget DSLR really performs.
Body & Design
The Nikon D5600 is impressively small for a DSLR. While there’s of course a larger box in the middle to encase the mirror and a large grip (which also happens to accommodate the battery), the camera, at it’s thinest section, is comparable with a mirrorless camera. The weight, at a touch over a pound, is pretty transport friendly for the DSLR category as well.
While the smaller body of the D5600 of course means the controls are closer together, the control scheme still offers easy access to every setting in the exposure triangle while in manual mode. The control dial resting near the right thumb controls shutter speed, while pressing the nearby +/- exposure compensation button at the same time will adjust aperture instead and the FN button at the front towards the lens switches the dial’s function to ISO.
The top of the camera houses a mode dial next to that control wheel, though unlike Nikon’s pricier DSLRs, there isn’t a wheel to control shot modes such as burst mode and timer. A switch off of the mode dial turns on the Live View in the viewfinder. Both a dedicated record button and an exposure compensation shortcut sits between the dials and the traditional shutter release circled by the on/off toggle.
The back of the camera is dominated by one of the D5000 series selling points — a tilting LCD touchscreen. The screen flips out to the side for an unobstructed view from the front or can be tilted at any angle to shoot in awkward compositions or fight glare from sunlight. Next to the screen is a set of menu controls, though with the touchscreen Nikon no longer uses the arrow keys as shortcuts.
Another set of controls sits at the front of the camera, towards the lens and a relatively easy reach with the left hand. The top button pops up the flash and adjusts flash compensation. Underneath is that function button (which by default controls ISO) and towards the bottom is a button to adjust from single shots to burst shooting and timer.
Much of the camera’s menu is unchanged from previous models, using a similar organizational scheme but adding controls for the camera’s new features, including Bluetooth. A quick menu on the touchscreen brings a number of other controls within a few taps, including the focus area, focus mode, metering mode, white balance, RAW and exposure bracketing.
The kit lens, an 18-55, is also a bit more compact than the option from a few years ago, though the kit lens is the same one that was paired with the D5500. The lens locks in place when not in use, which gives it a slightly shorter profile, though adds a few seconds to get it ready to shoot, since you have to unlock it first.
Nikon captures a pretty solid design with the D5600. Larger hands may find the controls a bit more cramped than options like the D7200 but the tradeoff is a smaller size and less weight around the neck. Access to controls is quick and simple, and while there are fewer physical controls than the D7200 a number of shortcut buttons makes the settings almost just as quick to adjust.
User Experience and Performance
The Nikon D5600 carries the usual slew of DSLR modes, including full manual modes as well as a few dozen scene modes. The latest addition to the shooting options however is a time lapse mode, which will automatically shoot a series of photos over a set period of time and then assemble the shots into a video. The feature allows the user to set the time between each shot and the overall time, as well as whether or not the camera should smooth exposure differences between shots. Time lapse mode, however, is only available inside the auto and scene modes.
The biggest difference between the D5600 and its predecessor is Bluetooth capability. Bluetooth is similar to wi-fi, but is efficient enough to keep a constant connection without severely draining the battery. The connection is easy to set up, with the camera auto recognized by the SnapBridge app, and can be finished in less than five minutes.
The Bluetooth can be used to tag a GPS location to each photograph, a feature previously only available by purchasing an add-on. That connection also allows for an auto backup of photos as you shoot — but don’t get too excited, auto backup files are only two megapixels. Still, those files are accessible online through the Nikon Image Space, so if you accidentally wipe your memory card, you still have some a smaller version of those images. For a full resolution download, you still need to switch over to Wi-fi.
Nikon’s budget models tend to sacrifice some speed, but the D5600 still shoots at a 5 fps burst, respectable for this price point. The camera maintains that speed for about ten seconds, before slowing down but continuing shoot shoot at a slower pace. Shooting RAW, the pace slows after about seven shots but again continues at a slower pace. For a bigger buffer, you can use the slower 3 fps mode and shoot as many JPEGs as you want.
Single shots, in RAW, were about a half second apart, with the autofocus on, with JPEGs about two tenths of a second shorter than that. Without autofocus, shots were about two tenths of a second apart. The autofocus is an impressive improvement over earlier models and earlier kit lenses, but we did still have several shots out of focus when shooting fast action — in this case, dogs at play. I used the D5600 as a secondary camera to shoot a wedding next to my D7100 and it kept up fairly well. The D5600 offers a good amount of speed for the price point, but you may notice a bit of sluggishness over more advanced models.
Autofocus follows a similar trend in video — better than earlier models, good for the price point, but not the best out there. Canon traditionally has faster Live View autofocus but we haven’t yet been able to review their entry-level models to compare.
The Nikon D5600 doesn’t have one stand-out feature — it instead offers a solid blend of performance for the price point. The autofocus is efficient, burst is decent and the addition of Bluetooth and time lapse expands on an already solid list of features.
Images from the D5600 are everything we expected — the sensor remains unchanged from the D5500, which produced some excellent images. The D5600 doesn’t quite have the same autofocus system, burst speed, advanced features or control scheme of the D7200 or the D500, but the image quality is nearly impossible to differentiate with the same or similar sensors in each model.
Sharpness is solid, which tends to create a good amount of detail and texture in the images. Colors also appeared to be fairly accurate under the default color settings, though customizing the look is easy to do with the Picture Controls inside the menu.
Performance at high ISOs is also solid — noise creeps in at ISO 800 and I wouldn’t hesitate to crank it up to 6400 if the lighting is poor, though that’s personal preference.
Videos have a similar color accuracy and level of sharpness. Again, while the autofocus may not be best in class, it’s still pretty solid for the category and the D5600 is a solid video tool for the price.
Nikon has once again created a solid budget-priced DSLR with the D5600. Images are solid, speed is decent and the camera is well designed. The D5600 lacks the more advanced autofocus system of the D7200 and the speed of the D500, but it would be difficult to look at three photographs and determine which one came from the cheapest camera, the D5600.
Essentially, with the D5600 you are paying $200 more for Bluetooth connectivity and a built-in time-lapse mode — the features that determine image quality are indistinguishable between the two. The D3400 is even cheaper and keeps the Bluetooth, but is slower, has fewer autofocus points and skips out on the tilting touchscreen.
While Nikon’s last few budget models have beat out Canon’s in features, the latest Canon Rebel T7i is a close contender with a slightly faster burst speed and a few more autofocus points. The Canon still keeps the optical low pass filter, which prevents distortion in fine patterns but tends to obscure some of the finer details and also has a shorter battery life. The Pentax K-70 is also a close contender with weather-sealing, though fewer autofocus points and shorter battery life.
The Nikon D5600 offers excellent image quality and solid performance with an affordable price tag. While there are a few other models with similar features, the D5600 offers excellent image quality and a longer battery life than other DSLRs.