Nikon D5500 Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops from our laboratory Still Life target comparing Nikon D5500 image quality to its predecessor, the D5300, as well as against several competing models at similar price points or in similar categories: Canon T6i, Olympus E-M10, Samsung NX500 and Sony A6000.

NOTE: These images are from best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses. Clicking any crop will take you to a carrier page where you can click once again to access the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera. For those interested in working with the RAW files involved: click these links to visit each camera's respective sample image thumbnail page: Nikon D5500, Nikon D5300, Canon T6i, Olympus E-M10, Samsung NX500 and Sony A6000 -- links to the RAW files appear beneath those for the JPEG images, wherever we have them. And remember, you can always go to our world-renowned Comparometer to compare the Nikon D5500 to any camera we've ever tested!

Nikon D5500 vs Nikon D5300 at Base ISO

Nikon D5500 at ISO 100
Nikon D5300 at ISO 100

Here at base ISO, image quality is similar between the D5500 and its predecessor, but there are subtle differences despite both models being equipped with an EXPEED 4-branded image processor. The D5500's image is slightly crisper with stronger default sharpening and higher contrast. The D5300 however shows better detail in the red-leaf fabric, but also some noticeable moiré, which may be an indication Nikon has revised its anti-aliasing processing (both models do not have optical low-pass filters).

Nikon D5500 vs Canon T6i at Base ISO

Nikon D5500 at ISO 100
Canon T6i at ISO 100

The Nikon D5500 and Canon T6i are both 24-megapixel APS-C models, but as mentioned the D5500 does not have an OLPF while the T6i does, which contributes to the T6i's slightly softer images, although differences in processing are also at play. Both cameras produce excellent images with low noise at base ISO, though.

Nikon D5500 vs Olympus E-M10 at Base ISO

Nikon D5500 at ISO 100
Olympus E-M10 at ISO 200

Here we compare a 24-megapixel APS-C camera to a 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds models which may seem a little unfair. The resolution difference is discernible but at base ISO, the Olympus E-M10 compares quite well otherwise, though it is a touch noisier (but keep in mind base ISO for the E-M10 is higher at ISO 200 versus 100 for the D5500).

Nikon D5500 vs Samsung NX500 at Base ISO

Nikon D5500 at ISO 100
Samsung NX500 at ISO 100

The 28-megapixel Samsung NX500 does out-resolve the Nikon with slightly better fine detail but the Nikon's image has more "pop", with stronger default sharpening and higher overall saturation and contrast. Both soften our red-leaf swatch, but the Samsung shows quite a bit of moiré (it too does not have an optical low-pass filter).

Nikon D5500 vs Sony A6000 at Base ISO

Nikon D5500 at ISO 100
Sony A6000 at ISO 100

These two 24-megapixel APS-C models offer very similar amounts of detail, but with some obvious differences in processing. Where the Nikon looks somewhat oversharpened, the Sony shows hardly any sharpening artifacts. The A6000 also offers better contrast in the red-leaf swatch (and elsewhere) while rendering it smoother than the D5500. The Sony does however leave behind a little more chroma noise in the shadows than the Nikon. Still, both cameras offer excellent detail at base ISO.

Nikon D5500 vs Nikon D5300 at ISO 1600

Nikon D5500 at ISO 1600
Nikon D5300 at ISO 1600

Here at ISO 1600, we can clearly see Nikon has revised its noise reduction and sharpening algorithms. The D5500's image is cleaner and crisper, while the D5300's shows fewer sharpening artifacts and better detail in the red-leaf fabric.

Nikon D5500 vs Canon T6i at ISO 1600

Nikon D5500 at ISO 1600
Canon T6i at ISO 1600

Both cameras show similar levels of detail in the mosaic crop, however the Nikon has fewer artifacts and better color. The noise grain from the Nikon in the shadows is also a little tighter. Interestingly, it is the Canon that does a better job with our difficult red-leaf pattern (Nikon has traditionally performed better in the past).

Nikon D5500 vs Olympus E-M10 at ISO 1600

Nikon D5500 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-M10 at ISO 1600

It's clear from the shadow area in the bottle shoulder crop that the E-M10 is applying stronger noise reduction, yet it leaves behind more chroma noise than the D5500. As expected, the D5500 continues to out-resolve the E-M10 as shown by better detail in the mosaic crop. The Olympus does however do a slightly better job in the red-leaf fabric, while the Nikon does better with the pink.

Nikon D5500 vs Samsung NX500 at ISO 1600

Nikon D5500 at ISO 1600
Samsung NX500 at ISO 1600

At ISO 1600, the NX500's resolution advantage is still apparent with better detail in the mosaic crop, although colors are a little drab. The Samsung's noise reduction is also more aggressive, generating a slightly hammered effect in the shadows. Both cameras struggle about equally with the red-leaf fabric, though the NX500 still shows a touch more moiré. The NX500 does however do a bit better with detail in the pink fabric.

Nikon D5500 vs Sony A6000 at ISO 1600

Nikon D5500 at ISO 1600
Sony A6000 at ISO 1600

Here again both cameras delver similar detail, despite different approaches to noise reduction and sharpening. Like we saw with the Samsung NX500, the Sony A6000's noise reduction tends to cause a hammered effect in flat areas, while the D5500 shows a more natural-looking and tight grain. In areas with fine, higher-contrast detail, the Nikon also looks more natural with fewer artifacts, but it also doesn't look as crisp. The A6000 comes out ahead in the red-leaf and pink fabrics, though, with better detail and contrast.

Nikon D5500 vs Nikon D5300 at ISO 3200

Nikon D5500 at ISO 3200
Nikon D5300 at ISO 3200

At ISO 3200, we can see the D5500 applies more effective noise reduction while continuing to apply stronger sharpening with higher contrast and saturation. That produces images that are crisper and more vibrant, but on the flip-side there are more visible sharpening and noise reduction artifacts, and the D5300 continues to do a little better in the red-leaf fabric.

Nikon D5500 vs Canon T6i at ISO 3200

Nikon D5500 at ISO 3200
Canon T6i at ISO 3200

The D5500's image has a little lower noise and crisper definition along with better color. This time the T6i blurs our red-leaf fabric more than the D5500, but offers slightly more contrast. Overall, it's a pretty close race but we give the edge to the Nikon.

Nikon D5500 vs Olympus E-M10 at ISO 3200

Nikon D5500 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-M10 at ISO 3200

As we saw at ISO 1600, the E-M10 works harder at reducing noise and it shows, with slightly smoother images but higher chroma noise and more noise reduction artifacts. Fine detail suffers more from the E-M10, on top of its resolution handicap compared to the D5500, resulting in a somewhat painted look in our mosaic crop. Both cameras offer similar detail in the red-leaf fabric, but the E-M10's rendering is cleaner and smoother-looking.

Nikon D5500 vs Samsung NX500 at ISO 3200

Nikon D5500 at ISO 3200
Samsung NX500 at ISO 3200

The Samsung NX500 continues to out-resolve the D5500 producing better detail in the mosaic crop but there are more noticeable noise reduction artifacts and saturation continues to diminish.

Nikon D5500 vs Sony A6000 at ISO 3200

Nikon D5500 at ISO 3200
Sony A6000 at ISO 3200

Again, the A6000's image is somewhat cleaner-looking than the D5500's, but has a more "processed" look, with more noticeable noise reduction artifacts.

Nikon D5500 vs. Nikon D5300, Canon T6i, Olympus E-M10, Samsung NX500, Sony A6000

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
High-contrast detail comparison. As expected, all cameras in this group do well with high-contrast detail at base ISO, though we do see that the D5500 has slightly higher contrast with more obvious sharpening halos. As ISO climbs to 3200, the D5500 pulls away from its predecessor as well as the T6i, though the others continue to keep pace. At ISO 6400, we start to see a drop in contrast and detail from all cameras, though the D5500, E-M10 and A6000 continue to offer very good contrast, while D5300, T6i and NX500 drop off more, and the lower-res E-M10 starts to struggle to resolve the fine lines within the lettering.


Nikon D5500 Print Quality Analysis

Very good 30 x 40 inch prints at ISO 100/200; a nice 11 x 14 at ISO 1600; a good 4 x 6 at ISO 25,600.

ISOs 100 and 200 deliver very good prints of 30 x 40 inches and higher, as large as you need until resolution constrains the size, with superb color reproduction and crisp detail.

ISO 400 prints are quite good at 24 x 36 inches. 30 x 40 inch prints show only a minor loss in detail, but are usable for wall display purposes and less critical applications.

ISO 800 yields a good print at 16 x 20 inches with only minor noise apparent in flatter areas of our test target, and a typical loss in contrast detail in our red-leaf fabric swatch. Otherwise, it's a very solid print with nice detail and colors for this ISO.

ISO 1600 images are superb at 13 x 19 inches, which is a nice size at this sensitivity for an APS-C sensor to deliver. The 16 x 20 inch print here is actually quite good, and can certainly be used for any but the most critical applications, with only a touch more noise in a few areas than we generally allow in our "good" rating.

ISO 3200 prints are very good at 11 x 14 inches, with no apparent noise visible, and still maintaining some contrast detail in our red-leaf fabric swatch. Full color representation remains excellent here, as well as nice contrast. Pushing the envelope higher is possible, but some noise is apparent in flatter areas of our target.

ISO 6400 is traditionally a difficult setting for all but the best APS-C cameras, and the D5500 handles it as well as most any we've seen, delivering an unblemished 8 x 10 inch print with virtually no apparent noise while maintaining strong color and detail.

ISO 12,800 yields a 5 x 7 inch print similar to the 8 x 10 at ISO 6400 above, with full color and nice detail.

ISO 25,600 allows for a good 4 x 6 inch print, which is not only better than the D5300 was able to achieve, but puts this camera into a rare class for the APS-C world.

Where the Nikon D5300 upped the ante in print quality and sizes compared to the heralded and award-winning D5200, the D5500 takes image quality to a new level for this line in the print world. Surpassing the D5300's usable print sizes at ISO 200, 400, 800 and 25,600, and yielding generally crisper prints overall, the D5500 makes a strong showing in the price-to-quality as well as the size-to-quality categories, and certainly excels in the print quality department.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell 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 routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)


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