Nikon D5500 Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Slightly higher than average mean saturation with slightly below average hue accuracy.

ISO Sensitivity
100
200
400
800
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, and click on them for larger images.

Saturation. The Nikon D5500 pumps dark blues quite a bit and most other colors by a small amount, but slightly undersaturates bright yellow, light green, and cyans. Mean saturation levels are a little higher than average, but remain fairly stable as ISO climbs except at the highest ISOs where saturation drops a bit. Mean saturation at base ISO is 112.8% or 12.8% oversaturated, a little higher than the 110% average, but as mentioned, much of that is because blues are pushed so much. Overall, we found the D5500's default saturation levels quite pleasing. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. The Nikon D5500's Caucasian skin tones looked just about right when using manual white balance in simulated daylight. A very good job here. Auto white balance produced slightly warmer results. 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 D5500 did shift cyan toward blue by quite a bit at base ISO, with smaller shifts in reds and orange. (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 of 6.64 after correction for saturation at base ISO, overall hue accuracy was a little lower than average (lower numbers are better), but still what we'd consider "good," and hue accuracy remained fairly stable across the ISO range. Hue is "what color" the color is.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Good color with the Manual white balance setting, but overly-warm results with Auto and Incandescent. Average positive exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+0.3 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+0.3 EV
Manual White Balance
+0.3 EV

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, with a strong yellow cast. The Manual setting by far produced the most accurate results, if just a touch cool. The Nikon D5500 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +0.3 EV (most cameras we've tested require +0.3 EV for this shot). 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.

Outdoors, daylight
Good color outdoors, but may tend to overexpose slightly.

Manual White Balance,
+0.7 EV
Auto White Balance,
Default

Outdoors, the Nikon D5500 performed well, requiring +0.7 EV exposure compensation for our "Sunlit" Portrait shot to keep the face reasonably bright. (The average for this shot among cameras we've tested is about +0.7 EV.) We preferred skin tones from the Manual white balance setting as they were a little pinker than Auto, but both were pretty good. Contrast is a little high as you might expect under such harsh lighting, but the camera did a very good job of holding onto detail in the highlights and shadows, however very deep shadows have a yellow tint and are posterized. The Nikon D5500 produced pleasing colors in our Far-field shot, but it overexposed the scene a bit (above right), blowing a few more highlights than we're used to seeing. However shadow detail is quite good, though very deep shadows are somewhat noisy with color casts. (We're talking very deep shadows here, so this won't be in issue for vast majority of properly exposed images.) Overall, very good performance for its class here.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
Very high resolution, ~2,850 to ~2,950 lines of strong detail from JPEGs, a bit higher from ACR processed RAW files.

Strong detail to
~2,900 lines horizontal
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,850 lines vertical
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,950 lines horizontal
ACR processed RAW
Strong detail to
~2,900 lines vertical
ACR processed RAW

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns up to about 2,900 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and to about 2,850 lines in the vertical direction. Some may argue for higher numbers, but lines start to merge and aliasing artifacts interfere with detail at these resolutions. Extinction of the pattern didn't occur until around 3,400 to 3,600 lines. We weren't able to do significantly better with NEF files processed through Adobe Camera Raw, only about 50 more lines in both directions. Color moiré is a little more evident in the ACR converted RAW files, however it's 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.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Sharp images but with visible edge-enhancement artifacts visible on high-contrast subjects. Mild to moderate noise suppression visible at base ISO.

Very good definition of
high-contrast elements,
but with evidence of
edge enhancement.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
though detail remains strong in
the darker parts of the model's hair here.

Sharpness. The Nikon D5500 produces images that are crisp and sharp when coupled with a sharp lens as used for our lab images and in the above left crop. Some 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 good compromise between crispness and sharpening artifacts, especially when printed. 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 at ISO 100, as the darker and lower-contrast areas of the model's hair show some smudging where individual strands of hair are merged together. Chroma noise is more effectively controlled than prior models, however subtle details in the red channel can be reduced as a result, as can be seen in the red flowers of our Indoor Portrait shots (click on the hair crop above right) or in the red-leaf fabric of our Still Life shots (click on the bottle label crop above left). Still, a very good performance here considering it's a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor in low indoor lighting. 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.

Aliasing. You can see aliasing artifacts or hints of them in a number of our D5500 test shots, however the Nikon D5500 does a pretty good job at suppressing color moiré in JPEGs for a camera that doesn't have an optical low-pass filter.

Camera JPEG ACR RAW conversion

Notice above how the in-camera JPEG on the left has virtually no color moiré compared to an Adobe Camera Raw conversion of the same shot, though you can still see luminance moiré patterns (they're a little difficult to spot because of the reflections in the glass). As mentioned, the Nikon D550's color moiré suppression seems to work quite well, but it can lead to other artifacts, such as small dots and lines that break up fine patterns, as well as more noticeable luminance moiré in some cases.

RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Nikon D5500 does a great job at capturing lots of sharp, 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:

Base ISO (100)
Camera JPEG, defaults
RAW via Adobe Camera Raw

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 8.8 (right) using default noise reduction with some moderate 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 some detail that wasn't present in the camera JPEG, especially in the red-leaf swatch where the conversion was able to resolve some of the fine thread pattern, while the camera's JPEG engine tended to blur it away as if noise (anti-moiré processing may also be a play here). The ACR conversion does however show more noise at default noise reduction settings than the camera at its default settings, and it doesn't have as much "pop" as the camera JPEG.

All-in-all, the D5500 did a very good job at reducing noise while maintaining excellent detail in most areas of our target. Still, for maximum detail (and flexibility), using a good RAW converter does yield slightly better fine detail than in-camera JPEGs, as is usually the case.

ISO & Noise Performance
Very good high ISO performance for a 24-megaxpixel APS-C model.

Noise Reduction = Normal (Default)
ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1600 ISO 3200
ISO 6400 ISO 12,800 ISO 25,600

Noise levels are low at ISOs 100 through 400, though some detail is lost to noise reduction even at base ISO. ISOs 800 through 3200 show a nice, progressive increase in very fine noise "grain" but detail remains quite good, and chroma noise well-controlled. ISO 6400 shows a more dramatic drop in image quality with softer detail and more obvious noise, though some fine detail is left, but image quality drops off quickly from there. ISO 12,800 produces significant softness and chroma blotching, while ISO 25,600 shows much stronger noise "grain" that obliterates fine detail, stronger chroma noise and an overall color shift towards yellow/green, particularly in the shadows.

Overall, very good noise performance for a 24-megapixel APS-C model. 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, with good dynamic range. Very good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight
The Nikon D5500 handled the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above well. Though contrast is a little high, shadow and highlight detail are both very good. The +0.7 EV exposure did the best job here, producing a fairly bright face without blowing out too many highlights, though folks printing directly from the camera may prefer the brighter +1.0 EV exposure even though it had a few too many blown highlights for our tastes. Despite the bright appearance in white areas, there are relatively few clipped highlights in the mannequins's shirt and the flowers at +0.7 EV. Some shadows were pretty dark, but remained detailed if a little noisy with color casts. 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.)

Face Detection
Off
Aperture-priority
0 EV
Auto mode
(Portrait)
0 EV
Live View
with Face-priority AF
0 EV

Face Detection. Here, we can see the effect of the Nikon D5500's full Auto mode as well as face detection enabled in Live View mode. As you can see from the shots above, full Auto enabled the flash and selected Portrait Scene mode, producing a well-exposed subject and background. In Live View mode using Aperture-priority, Face-priority AF mode also improved the exposure versus Aperture-priority with the optical viewfinder, selecting a slower shutter speed of 1/30s versus 1/60s to brighten the image (since the other two exposure variables of aperture and ISO were fixed).

Active D-Lighting. 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 D5500 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)
ADL Settings:


Auto
(Default)


Off


Low



Normal



High



Extra High


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.)

As you can see from the images and histograms above, enabling and adjusting Active D-Lighting resulted in brighter more balanced images with boosted shadows and midtones, however highlights remained roughly the same and intact, or slightly reduced. The effect of Active D-Lighting will vary quite a bit with the subject and lighting: The camera decides what needs adjusting, and by how much, so the effect can be quite a bit greater or lesser depending on what the camera "sees".

See below for how Active D-Lighting worked on our Far-field shot.

Far-field Active D-Lighting (0 EV)
Off
Low

Here are the results with our Far-field shot. 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.

HDR Mode. The D5500 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 D5500 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 D5500 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)
HDR Settings:

Off
(Default)



Low



Normal



High



Extra High



Auto


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 D5500 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.

Although portraits aren't good subjects for HDR images, 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)
Off
Low

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, leaves and even in a car from movement between the exposures. 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), though we do wish there was an option to capture more than two images.

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 D5500's dynamic range to its predecessor, the D5300, and also to the Canon T5i (EOS 700D), probably its closest competitor (the T6i wasn't tested at time of writing).

As you can see from the above graph (click for a larger image), the D5500's dynamic range is about the same as the D5300's with just minor variances that are likely within normal test and sample variation. The D5500's dynamic range is however significantly higher than the T5i's across the board, especially at low ISOs where the Nikon enjoys more than a 2-3/4 EV advantage (14.01 vs 11.17 EV) at base ISO. Even at moderate to high ISOs, the Nikon D5500 offers a noticeable advantage over the Canon T5i in terms of dynamic range.

Bottom line, excellent dynamic range performance from the D5500. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Nikon D5500 for more of their test results and additional comparisons.


  1 fc
11 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16 fc
No NR
ISO
100

2s, f2.8

30s, f2.8

30s, f2.8
ISO
3200

1/15s, f2.8

1s, f2.8

1s, f2.8
ISO
25600

1/125s, f2.8

1/8s, f2.8

1/8s, f2.8

Low Light
The Nikon D5500 performed well on the low-light test, capturing bright images at the lowest light level (1/16 foot-candle) even with the lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 100). Of course, noise is higher at ISO 3200 but remains well-controlled and very fine-grained. As expected, the maximum ISO of 25,600 is however quite noisy with noticeably less detail, and is best avoided except for small prints and in emergencies. We didn't notice any issues with hot pixels, banding (pattern noise) or heat blooming.

Color balance was good with the Auto white balance setting at one foot-candle, just slightly cool, though there's the strong shift towards magenta at lower light levels that we often see from Nikons.

The camera's phase-detection autofocus system was able to focus on our test subject down to below the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted with an f/2.8 lens, which is fairly good for a consumer DSLR. And the Nikon D5500 was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist enabled. In Live View mode, the camera's contrast-detect autofocus didn't do as well, only able to focus down to just above 1/4 foot-candle, and AF assist is not supported in Live View mode.

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 D5500 do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.

Output Quality

Print Quality
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.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon D5500 Photo Gallery .

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon D5500 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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