Sunday, December 1, 2013

Nikon D5300 - a hands on review

Coming only one year after the announcement of the D5200, Nikon's D5300 is much the same camera with several built-in improvements. It has a 24mp sensor without the low pass filter, and, along with the Nikon D7100, is currently the highest rated APS-C camera by DXo Labs, besting many full frame and even medium format models. It actually rates higher than all Canon pro cameras, including the full frame models.  Not bad for a camera that costs less than $800.

A 24mp Nikon D5300 camera mounted with a 40mm DX macro lens, and Nikon 70-200mm f/4 zoom behind.
Unlike the D7100, which is considered a semi-pro camera, the D5300 is smaller, with a body frame built mostly of plastic. Another big difference between the D7100 and D5300 is the image size in the viewfinder. The D7100 presents a much large viewing image and 51 focus points instead of the 39 points and 95% image coverage found in the D5300.

Like all Nikon consumer cameras, D5300 can only autofocus with the more modern Nikon lenses. This is becoming less of a problem as Nikon continues to update its lens lineup with more internally focusing lenses.

The chief differences between the D5300 and D5200 include the introduction of built-in wifi smartphone connectivity via a Nikon mobile APP. The D5300 also does away with the anti-aliasing filter to improve sensor resolution. Somehow Nikon has also managed to increase battery life from 500 to 600 images per charge, and reduce the body weight by 25grams. The rear LCD screen is also a tad larger at 3.2" with a bit more resolution than the previous model.

One convenient feature of the D5300 that is not even found on professional Nikon bodies is the flip out viewing screen.This makes the camera handy for reaching into tight shooting spots, overhead shots, or ground level setups.

A lot of what makes a digital camera deliver professional results is also determined by the optics you choose to put on it. For the purposes of these tests I used better quality glass rather than the kit lenses usually sold with consumer cameras. The reason I did this is because I am doing my review from the point of view of a photographer requiring professional results from a camera like this that is used as a spare, as a "crash" camera, or as a light weight, convenient-to-carry occasional camera.

A graphic information screen also acts as a means of making menu selections. Push a button and the display across the bottom becomes interactive allowing you to change any of the displayed items.
The D5300 now has built-in wifi capability. After installing the Nikon mobile APP on a smartphone, the phone can be used to trigger and focus the camera remotely. Images can also be viewed and transferred to the phone. I found this system to work smoothly, much better than it had in the past with the optional wifi accessory on other models.

As already mentioned, the D5300, like other Nikon consumer cameras, cannot autofocus with all Nikon lenses. Autofocus is limited to AF-S and AF-I versions of G and D lenses.

A DX  D5300 on the left is shown next to a D800 on the right to illustrate how much smaller it is than Nikon's FX pro models.
Of course a camera is only as good as the resolution quality it can deliver. Let's take a look at how well it performs.

The still life scene below mimics a tough lighting environment for high ISO shooting. The scene is lit from above with harsh room lights creating deep shadows and washed out highlights. Deep shadows are the telltale place for analyzing noise at high ISO's. Below the photo is a link you can use to download the full resolution image of different ISO settings. All photos were taken in RAW but no post-processing was added. The ISO range goes from 400 to 6400 in one stop increments. My own tests showed that 1600 is the practical ISO limit without much post-processing  massaging of the image. Of course, actual shooting circumstances will be the real determinant of how far it can be pushed.

This scene was used to test the high ISO limits of the D5300 from ISO 400-6400.  The noise level test results were just a little bet better than those found on the Nikon D7100 and D5200.  High res samples of each increment can be downloaded using the links below.

Taken at an ISO of 3200 in a dimly lit room, the girl's face in this photo was lit by the light coming from her mobile phone. At an extremely high magnification the noise is present but not objectionable, and could be handled easily in post-processing. For print sizes up to 8x10" the noise is barely visible. 
I found very little noise correction to be necessary up to the ISO 1250 and 1600 range. After that, noise reduction software was necessary but had a very easy time of producing an acceptable image, even as high as ISO 6400. Of course, excessive noise is also a product of how much you intend to enlarge the image. For most practical uses, where you might be down-sizing it, noise is very low and not visually intrusive, and even ISO 6400 would make a fine 8x10" print.

Click here to download a high res version of this file

The kit lens for the D5300 is a Nikon 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G. While not on a par with Nikon's pro and semi-pro lenses, with an effective full frame focal length of 27-210mm it is conveniently sized and adequate for casual usage -- great to keep around for times when you just want a portable camera for things like family events. As mentioned previously, image quality is mostly a product of how large you intend to use the photograph. I think that at typical enlargement sizes anyone would be hard pressed to distinguish the difference in the images coming from this camera and any of the pro model Nikons.

Colors are still vibrant even on this very overcast day.

Click here to download a high res version of this file


It is small, light-weight, has a plastic body, and is low in cost -- all typical qualities of a consumer camera. Inside, however, it has a sensor and features that perform like a pro. All the features that make the D5300 a consumer camera also make it a perfect choice for professional use in tight quarters, mounted to a helicopter drone, or attached to a moving vehicle to record video. In terms of resolution, color accuracy, dynamic range, or low light shooting  the D5300 is one of the best cameras out there, yielding professional results that out-class many top professional models. So, if you need top performance from a machine at a low cost and/or compact size, the D5300 will fit the bill. For such a small camera it packs a very large punch.

Click here to download a high res version of this file
If you are planning on purchasing this camera, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The Nikon D5300 camera body can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon
The Nikon D5300 camera with with 18-140mm Lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon
The Nikon D5300 camera with with 18-55mm Lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Amazon


  1. How would you compare it to the X-E2? Thanks.

  2. I would have preferred that you reviewed it "as supplied"... that is, with the kit lens. After all, as a consumer, not a professional, I would like to know what to expect.

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    Nikon D5300