Nikon D5600 Field Test

A compact, affordable DSLR that builds upon its excellent predecessor

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 03/17/2017

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR AF-S at 500mm (750mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/400s, ISO 900.
This image has been modified. Click for original image.
Introduction

Overall, the updated Nikon D5600 does not bring a lot of new features to the table compared to the D5500 predecessor, which debuted in early 2015. Then again, there wasn't a lot of room for improvement; the D5500 was already a great camera. The biggest difference between the D5600 and the D5500 is Nikon SnapBridge, which comes to the D5600 thanks to its new Bluetooth Low Energy capability. This feature allows for instant and seamless transferring of images from the camera to your smart device.

Beyond this, there are a few minor differences which I will get into during this Field Test, but essentially the D5600 is an incremental upgrade over the D5500. In the case of the D5600, its predecessor was excellent in many ways, and the D5600 is simply building upon a perfectly stable foundation. Let's dig into the Nikon D5600 and see what it can do in the field.

Key Features and Info
  • 3.2-inch tilt swivel touchscreen display
  • 24.2-megapixel APS CMOS image sensor
  • ISO 100-25,600 range
  • 39-point autofocus system
  • 5 frames per second continuous shooting
  • Built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC
  • Instant sharing via Nikon SnapBridge
  • 1080p video recording at up to 60 frames per second
  • Body-only can be found for as little as $700

Compact D5600 offers plenty of control & excellent touchscreen

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Product Image Front

The Nikon D5600 is a fairly compact DSLR. Considering its need for a mirror box and a pentamirror for the optical viewfinder, you cannot expect it to match the form factor of a mirrorless camera. However, compared to similarly-featured DSLRs, the D5600 is small. Its dimensions are 4.9 x 3.8 x 2.8 inches (124 x 97 x 70 millimeters), and it weighs 23.6 ounces (670 grams) with the 18-55mm AF-P kit lens and battery. All things considered, that's a small DSLR that's also very comfortable to hold and use. It offers a surprisingly deep grip, which fit nicely in my hands.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Product Image Top

In addition to the well-designed grip, the D5600 has good physical controls. The top deck of the camera lacks an information display -- remember, it's a small DSLR -- but includes a dedicated mode dial and a rear command dial. There's no front command dial on the D5600, but twin-dial controls are typically reserved for more expensive enthusiast-oriented cameras. The buttons and dials that are provided feel great and are responsive. The shutter release feels notably nice.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Product Image

I do want to note that the placement of the self-timer/drive mode button is unusual, but good once you get used to it. It's located on the left side of lens mount area, and the button is small and sits flush with the camera body, making it difficult to press. The location is actually useful when shooting, as you can simply press it with your thumb as you hold the camera. Additionally, the self-timer setting resets after each image is captured, which is something I did not like. You can go into custom settings "C3" and set the camera to take between 1-9 shots with the self-timer, but you cannot set the camera to stay in self-timer mode after capturing the designated number of shots.

On the rear of the camera, the button layout is standard and user-friendly. What is less standard is the large 3.2-inch LCD display, which has an impressive 1,036,800 dots (345,600 pixels) and offers tilt swivel articulation. The touchscreen display can act as a "selfie screen" if you're into that sort of thing. The large display works very well, and the touchscreen functionality works as advertised; it is particularly useful during live view shooting thanks to its nice touch AF feature.

While the display is great, the optical viewfinder is less impressive. The viewfinder offers a 35mm equivalent magnification of 0.55x, which while decent for its class, is a bit limited overall. Further, the frame coverage is just 95%. Again, competitive with its peers, but 100% viewfinder coverage would be a very welcome improvement.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Product Image Back

The SD card slot is located on the side of the camera, which makes it accessible even when shooting on a tripod, which I love. The card slot door is nice too. It's a small thing, granted, but these little things add up and can sometimes be the difference between a camera being easy to use and being a bit frustrating.

Overall, the D5600 has a great form factor and feels very good to hold and use. Its control layout is generally good, and its large touchscreen display is excellent. The camera may be small, but the level of control it offers photographers is not. It is worth pointing out that the D5600 has lost the infrared remote control support of its predecessor.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR AF-P at 30mm (45mm eq.), f/4.2, 1/125s, ISO 200.
Click for full-size image.

Nikon D5600 User Experience and Shooting Features

Image Quality and High ISO Performance

While some aspects of the camera are entry-level oriented, such as the lack of a top display and twin dial controls, there's an area where there's very little distinction throughout Nikon's DX camera lineup: the image sensor. The Nikon D5600 is equipped with a 24.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS image sensor and is one of the better APS-C sensors around, offering excellent sharpness and dynamic range. DxO Mark gave the D5600 sensor an 84 overall score, which is only three points beneath the top tested APS-C camera, the Nikon D7200.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR AF-S at 310mm (465mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/400s, ISO 140.
Click for full-size image.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
100% crop from the JPEG image above, straight from the camera.
The Nikon D5600 can capture a lot of detail with its 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor. This is a very good sensor, and its performance extends far beyond the price point of the camera.

Click for full-size image.

High ISO Performance

Considering how well the Nikon D5500 performed in our image quality analysis at high ISOs, it's unsurprising that the D5600 follows suit and offers a great combination of detail and noise reduction at higher ISO settings.

Nikon D5600 ISO Comparison
100% center crops from JPEG Fine images with default settings (Click for full-size images)
Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 100 Full Scene
Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 100
ISO 200
Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 400
ISO 800
Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 1600
ISO 3200
Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 6400
ISO 12800
Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 25600

JPEG images look great through ISO 3200 and are certainly usable for many applications at ISO 1600 and 3200 despite losing some fine detail. The noise reduction processing the camera applies offers a good balance of suppressing noise while maintaining fine details. ISO 6400 is okay, but a fair bit of noise sneaks into the image files and fine detail has been removed. ISO 6400 JPEGs are printable at smaller sizes, such as an 8 x 10 or perhaps even 11 x 14, an impressive feat for an APS-C camera. ISO 12800 is okay, but you do lose quite a bit of detail when viewing the image at larger sizes. ISO 25600 is only usable at very small viewing sizes.

Nikon D5600 ISO Comparison
100% center crops from RAW images converted with ACR defaults (Click for full-size images)
Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 100 Full Scene
Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 100
ISO 200
Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 400
ISO 800
Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 1600
ISO 3200
Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 6400
ISO 12800
Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 25600

RAW images are quite detailed through ISO 1600, getting quite a bit softer and noisier at 3200 and 6400, but still being usable for smaller print sizes. ISO 12800 is very noisy, but could be usable for sharing at a small size on the web or maybe even making a small print. ISO 25600, on the other hand, is essentially useless. Nonetheless, impressive performance from the RAW images here for an APS-C sensor with 24.2 megapixels.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR AF-S at 440mm (660mm eq.), f/8.0, 1/400s, ISO 6400.
Click for full-size image.

Overall, the Nikon D5600 offers very good high ISO performance for its class, and you should feel confident using the camera in low light or in action shooting situations where you need to raise the ISO to settings in the range of 1600-6400 to attain high enough shutter speeds for your subject. Its low light capabilities plus the DX crop factor also make the D5600 a solid choice for wildlife photography, especially considering its price point.

Autofocus

The Nikon D5600's autofocus performance is very impressive. It utilizes a Nikon Multi-CAM 4800 DX phase-detect autofocus system. The system is comprised of 39 total autofocus points, nine of which are cross-type, which is a healthy amount. One small issue I had with the autofocus system is that its points don't cover a large portion of the image area.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR AF-S at 310mm (465mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 160.
This image has been modified. Click for original image.

Autofocus area modes include single-point, dynamic-area AF (9, 21 and 39 points), 3D-tracking and Auto-area AF. Dynamic-area and 3D-tracking modes are not available when the autofocus mode is set to AF-S. The D5600 also features face-priority autofocus and subject-tracking AF when using Live View in addition to wide-area and normal-area AF.

Autofocus performance, even in low light, is quite good through the viewfinder. The camera was snappy and accurate using a variety of lenses, including the 18-55mm AF-P kit lens. When shooting in Live View, which uses contrast-detect AF, autofocus performance depended quite a bit on the lens being used. The new AF-P kit lens performed well, offering quick live view autofocus performance. Other lenses, such as the 200-500mm f/5.6E AF-S lens, were slower during live view. Overall, live view performance was generally in-line with other recent Nikon cameras I've used.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR AF-S at 330mm (495mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 360.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image.

Metering

Metering performance was acceptable with the 2,016-pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering II system. White balance metering tended toward the cooler side, but it was generally quite good and both exposure and white balance metering was consistent. The D5600 has a dedicated exposure compensation button on the top of the camera, which is very convenient. Note that when shooting in manual mode, this exposure compensation button becomes the toggle switch for shutter speed and aperture control using the rear dial. Additionally, spot metering is linked to the active autofocus point, which is very nice since you can move it around the frame as needed.

Speed and Performance

Using a Sony UHS-I Class 10 SD card with a stated 94MB/s read speed and 45MB/s write speed, I was able to shoot JPEGs at the specified 5 frames per second, but buffer performance was not as good as our lab results because of my slower card.

I captured a buffer of around 26 JPEG frames at roughly 5fps. The camera cleared the buffer in a surprisingly slow 15 seconds, however. Speeds were slightly slower when shooting RAW or RAW+JPEG, around 4 fps. The RAW buffer was 8 frames, and it cleared in around 6 seconds. The RAW+JPEG buffer was a mere 5 frames and the buffer cleared in around 5 seconds.

Battery life is a high point for the D5600 as the proprietary EL14a lithium-ion battery is rated for a very generous 970 shots with Bluetooth disabled. The camera doesn't support internal charging, however, but the battery life is excellent when using the optical viewfinder.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR AF-S at 500mm (750mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 320.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image.

Shooting Modes

The D5600's mode dial is on the top right deck of the camera and includes standard shooting modes like M, A, S and P. Additionally, there is an Effects mode that includes special filter effects: night vision, super vivid, pop, photo illustration, toy camera, miniature, selective color, silhouette, high key and low key. There is also a mode for no flash auto, auto and scene. There's no special movie recording mode, but you can trigger movie recording in various shooting modes by entering live view and pressing the dedicated movie record button that's located near the shutter release.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR AF-P at 18mm (27mm eq.), f/8.0, 1/400s, ISO 125.
Super High HDR mode. Click for full-size image.

The Nikon D5600 includes a built-in HDR shooting mode, as well, which can be turned on in the quick menu when shooting JPEG file format only. The HDR mode includes auto, extra high, high, normal and low settings.

When playing back images, you have a variety of retouch options, including in-camera raw processing, a new trim (crop) option, resize, d-lighting, quick retouch and much more. Overall, the D5600 offers a wide variety of shooting modes, although an in-camera panorama option would be a welcome addition.

Wireless shooting with the D5600's new SnapBridge connectivity

If you have been following Nikon lately, many of their new cameras have included Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) capabilities. This allows the latest Nikon cameras to be fully compatible with their Nikon SnapBridge smart device application and SnapBridge online image service. The D5600's addition of BLE is one of the big features of this new model, and I tested it with my iPhone 7 Plus.

At first, the D5600 (with firmware version 1.00) refused to connect with my phone during the first three Bluetooth pairing attempts. Finally, the fourth attempt worked, and I could connect. However, image transfer was inconsistent and unreliable, even after connecting. However, the day after the D5600 arrived, Nikon released a new firmware update (1.01), designed to address issues with SnapBridge. After installing the firmware and resetting my connection settings, I was able to successfully pair the D5600 during my first attempt via Bluetooth.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Wireless Application
Screenshots from Nikon SnapBridge iOS application.

If you want to remotely control the D5600 using your smartphone, you need to connect the camera with Wi-Fi, as BLE is not fast enough for streaming a live view from the camera. Unfortunately, as I have seen with other Nikon cameras, you don't have much control of the camera from the smartphone app. You can focus using the display of your smartphone, which is nice, and the real-time view to my phone was of decent quality, although the framerate was quite low, even when the camera was very close to the phone. If you want to change shooting mode or any shooting settings, you must make the changes on the camera, disconnect the camera from your phone and reconnect for the changes to take effect.

One advantage of BLE and SnapBridge is that you can set up your camera and smart device to automatically transfer images from the camera to your device. The transfer speeds are quite slow, but it is happening in the background so it is not a problem. The D5600 does not have built-in GPS, but it can leverage your device's GPS capabilities and embed location data in images when connected. By default, the camera transfers 2-megapixel files to your phone, but you can set it to send original size files if you want. I do not recommend this unless you must have the larger image because the transfer speeds over Bluetooth are very slow when dealing with large images, taking many minutes to transfer files and sometimes not successfully transferring them at all.

Video: Solid Full HD video recording performance

Like the Nikon D5500, the D5600 doesn't offer a lot in the way of video features, although it does produce good-quality Full HD video. The D5600's recording capabilities top out at 1920 x 1080 resolution at 60 frames per second, which is suitable for many uses, but 4K fans will have to look elsewhere.

MOV video files can be recorded for a maximum clip length of only 10 minutes at Full HD at 60p using the High Quality setting, and only 20 minutes at Normal Quality. Normal Quality Full HD up to 30p and HD up to 60p is possible up to 29 minutes and 59 seconds, though. There are no slow motion or high speed video recording options nor is there a headphone jack. With that said, video quality is quite good in a variety of situations, and the camera offers a wide range of control.

Nikon D5600 Video Sample #1
1920 x 1080, 60fps, Auto settings, Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E lens.
Download Original (41MB .MOV File)

You can record full manual video, if you so desire, but the automatic settings do a good job. Autofocus speeds are never excellent, but the new AF-P kit lens is quite quick thanks to its updated focusing design that uses stepping motors, similar to Canon's STM lenses. Focus has a slight tendency to hunt in low light, which can be distracting, but it does okay overall.

Nikon D5600 Video Sample #2
1920 x 1080, 60fps, ISO 800, Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-P lens.
Download Original (99.2 .MOV File)

The touchscreen works well for video, especially with its tilt/swivel functionality, allowing the user to easily move the focus point around the frame. The dedicated record button is well-placed too, making the camera very user-friendly for recording video. While the features list may be somewhat short and the lack of 4K UHD video recording is somewhat disappointing -- while not a big omission compared to the D5600's other DSLR competition -- the D5600 makes capturing good HD video simple and should serve many users well.

Nikon D5600 Video Sample, Low Light
1920 x 1080, 60fps, Auto ISO, Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-P lens.
Download Original (30.3 .MOV File)

In the field: Washington D.C. and the D5600 as a travel camera

I visited a friend from university in Washington D.C. while I had the Nikon D5600 and could test it as a travel camera. When combined with the 18-55mm AF-P kit lens, the D5600 is a very compact DSLR system. This compact size doesn't mean compromising on image quality, however, as I was continually impressed with the 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor. It handled everything very well when rushing from sight to sight.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR AF-P at 29mm (43mm eq.), f/8.0, 1/15s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified. Click for the original image.

It was easy carrying the D5600 around all day, even when packing extra lenses such as the Nikon 20mm f/1.8G and Nikon 85mm f/1.8G, both excellent prime options, by the way.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR AF-P at 50mm (82mm eq.), f/8.0, 1.3s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified. Click for the original image.

The tilt/swivel touchscreen display proved very useful with the D5600, allowing me to easily compose images from otherwise difficult positions. Additionally, the physical controls are in convenient locations, and the touchscreen-based quick menu was useful for quickly changing settings.

Overall, the D5600 is an excellent travel DSLR camera due to its compact size and very capable APS-C sensor. Coupled with the diverse lens selection available for Nikon DX cameras, you can't go wrong with the D5600.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR AF-P at 28mm (42mm eq.), f/8.0, 1/400s, ISO 125.
This image has been modified. Click for the original image.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR AF-P at 38mm (57mm eq.), f/8.0, 1/500s, ISO 100.
Click for the full-size image.
Nikon D5600 Field Test Summary
Compact DSLR offers excellent image quality, great functionality
Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR AF-P at 18mm (27mm eq.), f/8.0, 6s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified. Click for the original image.

What I like:

  • Compact for a DSLR with an excellent grip and good controls
  • Good touchscreen display with great tilt swivel functionality
  • Very good image quality, even at higher ISO settings
  • Reliable and fast autofocus performance
  • Video performance is fine, and the new AF-P 18-55mm kit lens is very good for video thanks to fast, quiet autofocus performance during video recording
  • SnapBridge is neat even though remote shooting capabilities are limited

What I dislike:

  • Limited coverage of autofocus points
  • No 4K video recording
  • BLE can be slow when transferring images, especially full-res images
Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR AF-P at 55mm (82mm eq.), f/11, 0.4s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified. Click for the original image.

The Nikon D5600 offers little incentive for D5500 owners to upgrade, with limited new features. SnapBridge is nice, but I don't consider it worth upgrading for on its own. The camera captures excellent images and offers very good performance overall, making it easy to recommend for someone looking for their first DSLR or looking to upgrade from an entry-level DSLR, such as Nikon's D3000-series. The Nikon D5600 is a very good DSLR that, in many cases, offers performance, particularly in the imaging department, well beyond its price point.

Nikon D5600 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR AF-P at 40mm (60mm eq.), f/9.0, 2.5s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified. Click for the original image.

 



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