Nikon D5300 Review
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Nikon D5300 Image Quality
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Vibrant colors with slightly below average hue accuracy.
|In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Mouse over the links to compare ISOs.|
Skin tones. The Nikon D5300's produces healthy-looking pinkish Caucasian skin tones when using manual white balance in simulated daylight, while auto white balance produces slightly warm results. A good job when manual white balance is used. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. The Nikon D5300 shifts cyan toward blue quite a bit, with minor shifts in red toward orange, and light green toward yellow. (The cyan to blue shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors.) With an average "delta-C" color error at base ISO of 6.24 after correction for saturation, overall hue accuracy is a bit lower than average, but still well within what we'd consider respectable. Hue is "what color" the
The Nikon D5300 has a total of seven saturation levels available, three above and three below the default saturation, plus an Auto setting. This covers a pretty wide range of saturation levels, about as wide a range as you're likely to find photographically relevant, apart from special effects that are arguably better achieved in software. The fine steps between settings mean it's easy to program the camera to just the level of saturation you prefer. Saturation also doesn't impact contrast, which is ideal but not always the case.
|Saturation Adjustment Examples|
The table above shows results with several saturation settings, see the Thumbnails index page for more (look for the files named D5300OUTBSATx.JPG). Click on any thumbnail above to see the full-sized image.
| See full set of test images
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Overly-warm results with Auto and Incandescent white balance settings, but good color with Manual. About average positive exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was very warm and reddish with the Auto white balance setting. (We'd say unacceptably so, though unfortunately this is common.) The Incandescent setting was also too warm, this time with a yellowish cast. The Manual setting by far produced the most accurate results, if just a touch cool and magenta. The Nikon D5300 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +0.3 EV. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.
Excellent results under harsh lighting, with good handling of color and contrast, but the D5300 underexposed our "Sunlit" Portrait shots.
|Manual White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Nikon D5300 performed well in terms of color and contrast, but it underexposed our "Sunlit" Portrait a bit more than most cameras do. The D5300 required +1.0 EV of exposure compensation to keep the mannequin's face fairly bright, while most cameras need about +0.7 EV. That's a bit below average performance. On the plus side, the camera did a very good job of holding onto detail in the highlights and deep shadows. We preferred skintones from the Manual white balance setting as they were a touch pinker than Auto. The Nikon D5300 did a great job exposing our far-field scene with only a few highlights and shadows lost. Colors outdoors are vibrant and quite pleasing.
Very high resolution, ~2,800 lines of strong detail from JPEGs, a bit higher from ACR processed RAW files.
|Strong detail to
~2,750 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
~2,800 lines vertical
|Strong detail to
~2,800 lines horizontal
ACR processed RAW
|Strong detail to
~2,850 lines vertical
ACR processed RAW
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,750 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and to about 2,800 lines in the vertical direction. Some may argue for higher numbers, but aliasing artifacts start to interfere with detail at this resolution. Extinction of the pattern didn't occur until around 3,800 lines in both directions. We weren't able to do significantly better with NEF files processed through Adobe Camera Raw with about 50 more lines in both directions, though complete extinction of the pattern was extended up to the 4,000 line limit of our chart. Color moire was more evident in the ACR converted RAW files, however not as high as we'd expect for a camera without an optical low-pass filter. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Sharp images with great detail. Minor edge-enhancement artifacts visible on high-contrast subjects. Moderate noise suppression visible at base ISO.
Sharpness. The Nikon D5300 produces images that are crisp and sharp when coupled with a sharp lens as used in the above left crop. Some very minor edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the halos around the border and text, but default sharpening looks to be a very good compromise between crispness and sharpening artifacts. Some aliasing artifacts such as moiré patterns are visible in our test shots, but that's not a surprise given the camera has no optical low-pass filter. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows some mild to moderate noise suppression, as the darker and lower-contrast areas of the model's hair show significant smudging where individual strands of hair merge. Still, a pretty good performance here considering the resolution and target market. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Nikon D5300 does a great job at capturing lots of fine detail in its JPEGs, but more detail can often be obtained from carefully processing RAW files, while at the same time reducing sharpening artifacts. Let's have a look at base ISO:
In the table above, we compare an in-camera JPEG taken at base ISO using default noise reduction and sharpening (on the left) to the matching RAW file converted with Adobe Camera Raw 8.3 (right) using default noise reduction with some strong but tight unsharp masking applied in Photoshop (200%, radius of 0.3 pixels, and a threshold of 0).
As is frequently the case, the demosaicing in Adobe Camera Raw and sharpening in Photoshop deliver finer detail than the camera, with fewer sharpening artifacts. Looking closely at the images, ACR extracts more detail that wasn't present in the camera JPEG, especially in the red-leaf swatch. The RAW conversion was able to resolve the individual threads, while the camera's JPEG engine tended to blur them away as if noise. Both show moiré patterns in the cloth, though the D5300's default processing does mask it somewhat (which is perhaps a reason why the red-leaf swatch is a little softer than we're used to seeing from a Nikon DSLR). The D5300 did do a very good job at reducing noise while maintaining excellent detail in most other areas of our target. Still, for maximum detail (and flexibility), using a good RAW converter does yield better results than in-camera JPEGs, as is usually the case.
ISO & Noise Performance
Good detail versus noise handling up to ISO 3,200.
|High ISO Noise Reduction = Normal (Default)|
|ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400|
|ISO 800||ISO 1,600||ISO 3,200|
|ISO 6,400||ISO 12,800||ISO 25,600|
Noise levels are fairly low at ISOs 100 through 800, though some detail is lost to noise reduction and an increase in a very fine noise "grain" can be seen as ISO increases. Chroma noise is exceptionally well-controlled , even in the shadows. At ISO 1,600 noise levels increase with a touch more blurring in fine details and more visible grain, but detail retention is still very good. ISO 3,200 shows a larger step in luminance noise, but the noise grain pattern is still pretty tight and film-like, while chroma noise remains remarkably low. As you'd expect, ISO 6,400 is noisier and softer due to stronger noise reduction efforts, but chroma noise is still under control. At ISO 12,800 image quality continues to degrade fairly progressively, with much strong luminance noise, though chroma is still relatively low. ISO 25,600 finally shows some strong chroma noise in the form of purple and yellow blotches, while luminance noise eradicates most fine detail.
Still, excellent high ISO noise performance for an APS-C sensor, especially considering the 24-megapixel resolution. See our Print Quality analysis section below for recommended print sizes at each ISO.
A note about focus for this shot: We shoot this image at f/4, usually using one of three very sharp reference lenses (70mm Sigma f/2.8 macro for most cameras, 60mm f/2.8 Nikkor macro for Nikon bodies without a drive motor, and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/2.0 for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds bodies). To insure that the hair detail we use for making critical judgements about camera noise processing and detail rendering is in sharp focus at the relatively wide aperture we're shooting at, the focus target at the center of the scene is on a movable stand. This lets us compensate for front- or back-focus by different camera bodies, even those that lack micro-focus adjustments. This does mean, though, that the focus target itself may appear soft or slightly out of focus for bodies that front- or back-focused with the reference lens. We know this; if you click to view the full-size image for one of these shots and notice that the focus target is fuzzy, you don't need to email and tell us. :-) The focus target position will have been adjusted to insure that the rest of the scene is focused properly.
Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range, and low light tests
Very good detail in both highlights and shadows, very high resolution. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.
|+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV||+1.0 EV|
Apart from the underexposure issue, the Nikon D5300 handled the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above very well. Though contrast is a little high, shadow and highlight detail are both very good. The +1.0 EV exposure was best here, producing a bright face without blowing out many highlights. Despite the bright appearance, there are actually very few clipped highlights in the mannequins's white shirt. Some shadows are pretty dark, but remain fairly clean except for a slight yellow cast in very deep tones. The camera's contrast adjustment also did a good job of decreasing overall contrast without also affecting color saturation. (See below.) Still, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)
We really like it when a camera gives us the ability to adjust contrast and saturation to our liking. It's even better when those adjustments cover a useful range, in steps small enough to allow for precise tweaks. Just as with its saturation adjustment, the Nikon D5300's contrast setting offers seven levels, plus an Auto setting.
|Contrast set to lowest,
|Contrast set to lowest,
At its lowest contrast setting, the D5300 did a very good job of preserving highlight detail and bringing out shadow detail. Highlight detail was improved, but the contrast setting had a larger impact on opening up the shadows. The lower contrast setting opened-up shadows in our far-field shot as well, without making the image too flat looking. Overall, very good results here.
|Contrast Adjustment Examples|
The series of shots above shows results with several different contrast adjustment settings, showing the minimum step size around the default, as well as both extremes. While you can see the extremes, it's hard to really evaluate contrast on small thumbnails like these, click on any thumbnail to go to the full-size image.
Nikon's contrast adjustment is that it has very little effect on saturation. Contrast and saturation are actually fairly closely coupled, it's a good trick to be able to vary one with out the other changing as well. As usual, Nikon did a very good job here.
Active D-Lighting attempts to preserve detail in both highlights and shadows in high-contrast situations, while maintaining moderate levels of contrast. The series of shots below show the effect of the various Active D-Lighting settings available on the Nikon D5300 on our high-contrast "Sunlit" Portrait scene. Note that Active D-Lighting is different from the touch-up menu's D-Lighting, as it is performed during image capture instead of after. (It does affect only JPEG images though, Nikon very properly doesn't apply tonal adjustments like this to RAW file data. NEF files, however, are tagged so that Nikon software can automatically apply the effect when converted.)
"Sunlit" Portrait Active D-Lighting (0 EV)
Mouse over the links to see how the various levels of Active D-Lighting affects our "Sunlit" Portrait shot at default exposure. Click on a link to get to the full-res image. (Active D-Lighting's effect can be a little subtle in shots like those above, so we decided to use a mouse-over to better show how each setting compares to Off.)
When Active D-Lighting is enabled (Auto is the default), the camera usually exposes for the highlights in an attempt to preserve them, then adjusts the tone curve to bring the midtones and shadows back up to produce an image that doesn't look underexposed. In this case, the default exposure without Active D-Lighting was underexposed and didn't have any blown highlights to preserve, so this is not the best example, although you can still see that highlights are being toned-down while shadows boosted. To see how Active D-Lighting works without underexposure in this shot, see the examples from our Nikon D7000 review.
See below for how Active D-Lighting worked on our Far-field shot.
|Far-field Active D-Lighting (0 EV)|
Here are the results with our Far-field shot. The D5300's Active D-Lighting worked a bit better here, as the default exposure wasn't underexposed like it was for its "Sunlit" Portrait scene. As you can see, Active D-Lighting brought up shadow detail while holding on to more of the highlights, though the difference between different strengths can be subtle.
The D5300 offers an in-camera high-dynamic-range imaging function, something we've seen in several prior models as well as from most competitors. When enabled, the D5300 captures two images with one push of the shutter button -- one underexposed and one overexposed -- and combines them in-camera to produce a high-dynamic-range JPEG. (RAW format is not supported.) The Nikon D5300 seems to perform micro-alignment of the two images so the user manual warns of possible cropping but Nikon recommends the use of a tripod, so it can likely only correct for very small amounts of camera movement between shots. Obviously moving subjects should also be avoided.
"Sunlit" Portrait HDR (0 EV)
Unlike some Nikons which allow you to set the exposure differential between the two images from 1, 2 or 3 EV, and also adjust the amount of "smoothing" that is applied to the boundaries between the two images with selections of Low, Medium and High, the D5300 takes a simpler approach offering just four strengths in addition to Auto. Mouse over the links above to see how various levels of HDR affects our "Sunlit" Portrait shot and click on a link to get to the full-res image.
Again, because of the underexposure issue, these aren't very good examples, but you can still see higher levels make quite a difference to the overall exposure by opening up shadow detail but they can lead to artificial looking shadows around bright objects or halos and glowing around dark ones.
|Far-field HDR (0 EV)|
Here are the same HDR settings with our Far-field shot. Again, some settings do a good job of taming hot highlights while bringing up some of the shadows and deeper midtones, while stronger settings cause a lot of glowing and halos. You can also see ghosting in the flag and leaves from movement between the exposures caused by wind. Still, it's a useful feature for capturing static scenes with dynamic range that exceeds the sensor for those not willing to use manual HDR techniques (bracketing exposure and then combining images in post-processing).
with Face-priority AF
Here, we can see the effect of the Nikon D5300's face detection enabled in Live View mode, as well as full Auto mode which selected Portrait Scene mode. As you can see from the shots above, Face-priority AF mode improved exposure compared to Aperture-priority alone, by using a slower shutter speed of 1/50s versus 1/80, though contrast is still quite high. Portrait Scene mode also improved exposure versus Aperture-priority at f/8, but it also reduced overall contrast and lightened shadows by employing Active D-Lighting, though it boosted ISO sensitivity to 280. In addition, Portrait mode selected a wider aperture of f/5.6 for better subject isolation, and a faster shutter speed of 1/250s to avoid subject motion blur.
Dynamic Range Analysis (RAW mode)
While we once performed our own dynamic range measurements based on in-camera JPEGs as well as converted RAW images (when the camera was supported by Adobe Camera Raw), we've switched to using DxO Labs' results from their DxOMark website. As technology advanced, the dynamic range of modern high-end cameras in some cases exceeded the range of the Stouffer T4110 density scale that we used for our own measurements. DxO's approach based on RAW data before demosaicing is also more revealing, because it measures the fundamental dynamic range of the sensor, irrespective of whatever processing is applied to JPEGs, or to RAW data by off-the-shelf conversion software.
In the following, we use DxO's "Print" dynamic range results, which are scaled based on camera resolution. As the name suggests, this scaling corresponds to the situation in which you print at a given size, regardless of how many megapixels the camera might have. (In other words, if you've decided to make a 13x19 inch print, that's the size you're printing, whether the camera's resolution is 16 or 300 megapixels.) For the technically-minded, you can find a discussion of the reasoning behind this here on the DxOMark website. Also note that DxO Labs uses a signal-to-noise (SNR) threshold of 1 when defining the lower boundary of acceptable luminance noise in their dynamic range measurements, which corresponds to the "Low Quality" threshold of the Imatest software we used to use for this measurement.
Here, we're comparing the Nikon D5300's dynamic range to the Canon T5i (700D) and the Sony A58. As you can see from the above graph (click for a larger image), the D5300's dynamic range is about 1.4 EV higher than the Sony A58 at base ISO (13.86 vs 12.47), and a whopping 2.7 stops higher than the T5i's at its ISO 100 setting (13.86 vs 11.17). It is however important to note that the actual sensitivity from the Nikon and especially the Sony are significantly less than the ISO 100 settings, which means the T5i is at a bit of a disadvantage in terms of noise. Still, the difference is significant at lower ISOs. At ISOs 400 and above the Sony and Canon are about even, but the Nikon manages to best them both all the way to maximum ISO, although the advantage isn't nearly as great as at lower ISOs. Still, excellent results for the Nikon D5300. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Nikon D5300 for more of their test results and additional comparisons.
Low Light. The Nikon D5300 performed well on the low-light test, capturing usable images at the lowest light level (1/16 foot-candle) with the lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 100). As you'd expect, noise increases as ISO goes up and light levels go down, but remains well controlled and fine-grained to ISOs as high as 6,400. We did not detect any significant issues with hot pixels or banding (pattern noise), and only minor heat blooming can be seen emanating from the bottom edge at the highest ISOs.
Color balance is good at higher light levels with Auto white balance, just slightly cool, though there's a strong shift towards magenta at lower light levels.
The camera's phase-detection autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to between 1/8 and 1/16 foot-candle (about 1/11 fc) unassisted with an f/2.8 lens. That's pretty good for its class. And the Nikon D5300 was able to autofocus in complete darkness with the AF assist enabled. Surprisingly, in Live View mode the camera's contrast-detect autofocus was able to focus down to the same light level as its phase-detect system, which is excellent.
Keep in mind that the longer shutter speeds here demand the use of a tripod to prevent any blurring from camera movement. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Digital SLRs like the Nikon D5300 do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.
Very good 30 x 40 inch prints at ISO 100; a nice 11 x 14 at ISO 1600; a good 5 x 7 at ISO 12,800.
ISO 200 makes an excellent 24 x 36 inch print with very crisp detail and color.
ISO 400 images look very good at 20 x 30 inches, and 24 x 36 inch prints have only a minor trace of noise and are usable for all but the most critical of applications.
ISO 800 prints are good at 16 x 20 inches, and the D5300 does a nice job of controlling noise levels for such a large print at this ISO. In addition, subtle contrast detail is really good in our difficult red swatch, something enthusiast and professional grade Nikons tend to shine at.
ISO 1600 produces a very good 11 x 14 inch print. 13 x 19s have a bit too much noise in flatter areas to make our "good" grade, but are still usable for less critical applications or where a mild film-grain look is desired.
ISO 3200 prints begin to show a slight decline in detail in the red fabric area, but 8 x 10s still look quite good.
ISO 6400 is the first ISO where the D5300 outshines its predecessor, besting it by a print size and producing a good 8 x 10 inch print.
ISO 12,800 yields a good 5 x 7, once again besting the D5200 by a print size.
ISO 25,600 does not yield a good print and is best avoided except for less critical applications.
The Nikon D5300 follows in the excellent footsteps of the D5200, producing large prints for its price range and doing a great job with fine detail and color. As compared to many APS-C cameras we have seen recently, the D5300 does a nice job of controlling noise, and when it does appear it tends to look more like film grain than many other cameras' default processing in this class, which can often look more like splotches than grain in flatter areas. It bests the D5200 by a print size at ISO 6400 and 12,800, and almost passes the test at the extended setting of 25,600. Well done, Nikon, for an affordable DSLR that prints this nicely straight out of the camera.
Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and on the Canon Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon D5300 Photo Gallery.
Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon D5300 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.