Nikon D5500 Conclusion

The Nikon D5500 raises the bar in Nikon's mid-level DSLR line-up, blending a smaller form factor with improved image quality, excellent dynamic range and improved performance in many areas. It ranks among the elite cameras for low light and high ISO performance in this class and price range, making it an intriguing option for shooters wanting to take their game to the next level, and also for a higher-end Nikon shooter wanting a capable back-up in their bag that they can depend on.

The D5500 sports a few notable improvements in the ergonomics department, including a more professional grade rear control dial, a simplified, sleeker mode dial than its predecessor, and the addition of touchscreen functionality to its vari-angle LCD. The maximum native ISO has also been raised to 25,600, and we found in our print quality analysis that you could, indeed, manage a good 4 x 6 inch print even at that lofty setting, which again the D5300 was unable to achieve.

ISO 12,800

We found a lot more to love about the D5500, including the tried-and-true Active D-lighting setting, but didn't have as much luck with HDR on this camera, as it tended to have difficulty stitching the images together with accuracy. There are also the traditional contrast-detect autofocus limitations when using Live view, both for focusing on stills and particularly for videos with noticieable hunting and AF "wobble." (Videos have now been added to our Field Test Part II.)

Burst mode works well on the D5500 in both high (5fps) and low (2-3fps), as we found when shooting NCAA basketball in our second shooter's report, and our lab results reflect an excellent JPEG buffer depth, though not so good when shooting RAW files. The relatively high 24.3mp resolution is a welcome advantage, in terms of being able to easily crop in post-production, and the ability to shoot at ISO 6400 without much cause for noise concern makes the D5500 easily one of the best low-light performers for under $1000.

Adequate burst rates and excellent buffer depth for JPEG shooting

To wrap up the Nikon D5500 conclusion, we'll quote our field tester from his own shooting experience:

"If I only had $2000 or even $2500 to spend on a complete rig and was starting from scratch, I'd go with the Nikon D5500 and use the rest for bright prime lenses, or perhaps a bright all-around zoom."

Indeed, the results from our test lab, our technical analysis and our field testing all point to the same conclusion: a bona-fide Dave's Pick to be awarded to the Nikon D5500.

Nikon D5500: Field Test IField Test IIImage Quality Comparison

Pros: Cons:
  • Amazingly lightweight and compact for a DSLR
  • Great image quality for its class
  • Excellent dynamic range
  • Excellent high ISO performance for its class
  • Very good battery life
  • 39-point AF system with 9 cross-type sensors
  • Fast start-up and shot-to-shot speeds
  • Decent 5 fps burst speed (when shooting JPEGs or 12-bit RAW)
  • Generous 100 frame JPEG buffer lets you keep shooting in burst mode
  • Very high resolution
  • Fast buffer clearing (with fast UHS-I card)
  • Active D-lighting very useful
  • Auto and Incandescent white balance settings too warm in tungsten lighting
  • Shallow buffers when shooting RAW
  • Burst mode slows down with 14-bit RAW files
  • Built-in HDR mode only uses 2 exposures and has difficulty with in-camera stitching
  • No AA filter means it's susceptible to aliasing artifacts
  • Sub-par Live View autofocus performance
  • Lacks the built-in GPS of its predecessor

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