Nikon's enthusiast and semi-professional cameras since 2009 -- the D5000 and D7000, and their subsequent successors -- have kicked goal after goal after goal. Each incremental product release has addressed customer concerns, added new features, and bumped up their imaging sensors' megapixel count. That trend thankfully continues with the latest D5300.
- Resolution: 24.2 Megapixels
- Lens Mount: Nikon F DX
- Screen: 3.2-inch, 1,036K-dot
- ISO: 100-12,800 Native
- Storage: SD (SDXC Compatible)
- Warranty: 1 Year
The D5300 is the fourth model in this new Nikon line of succession; it's a 24-megapixel 'advanced beginner' digital SLR, with built-in Wi-Fi and GPS, and just about every feature that an amateur or enthusiast photographer could want. It's really not too different to the D5200 it replaces, with a larger screen and better video recording, which should give you an idea of the high bar that Nikon is constantly pushing itself over.
Nikon and Canon don't really have direct competition between their digital SLRs at this level. The most closely specced and priced Canon is the upper-entry-level EOS 700D, which has a lesser 18-megapixel sensor and lacks the built-in wireless options of the Nikon, but is around 20 per cent cheaper. The D5300 is smaller, though -- at 125 x 98 x 76mm it's a surprisingly compact full-size DSLR, although the 480g weight without battery is solid but not notably heavy nor light.
The D5300's design is standard entry-enthusiast digital SLR fare, with no real problem points. Any DSLR's controls are inscrutable if you've never held one before, but with one shooting mode dial, a single clump of buttons below the rear thumb grip, and a few more strategically scattered across the body, Nikon has made this camera easy enough to understand with a little practice and versatile enough to use in limited manual modes.
In terms of usability, as with most mid-level digital SLRs, we think Nikon's lack of a dedicated front dial for controlling shutter speed or aperture is disappointing. Having to press a secondary button to change shooting settings in manual mode is a pain, and makes the camera harder to use; we'd personally much prefer having the dial there for when it's needed.
The camera's rear screen is one of the big improvements from the previous model. Now a 3.2-inch, tilting and articulating unit, it has 1.04 million dots versus the D5200's 921,000 -- not a huge improvement but still one that's noticeable. We generally don't like the extra bulk and extra moving parts of an articulating screen, but the D5300's display generally blends in smoothly with the rest of the body, sitting under the clear and reasonably large optical viewfinder.
Inbuilt Wi-Fi and GPS makes the D5300 Nikon's most connected digital SLR straight out of the box -- these wireless features actually disappear as you move up the product line into professional models. In terms of storage media, the D5300's single full-size SD slot handles memory cards of up to 64GB, and above whenever they're released. Connectivity apart from the aforementioned wireless is good for this price point -- you'll find a dedicated microphone jack, USB, mini-HDMI and a remote control input.
When it comes to actually taking photos, the Nikon D5300 acquits itself admirably. The 24-megapixel sensor improves from the previous model by removing its optical low-pass filter -- basically a blurry film that robs detail from photos -- and the end result is a slight boost in the level of fine image detail that you're able to see under the most ideal lighting conditions. Theoretically, the removal of the OLPF means even further increased image quality with Nikon's pro-level lenses.
Here, we've curated a few of the photos we took over our fortnight with the Nikon D5300 (although there's a strangely pervasive spider theme, beware). The final two photos compare the minimum and maximum focal lengths of the 18-140mm superzoom lens that we tested the camera with; it's one of the kit options that you can buy the D5300 with, alongside a more compact but less versatile 18-55mm or the camera body alone.
For a digital SLR with a crop (APS-C, the 1.6x smaller cousin of the venerable full-frame 35mm digital) image sensor, the D5300 handles dark lighting conditions extremely well. Crop sensors are finally getting good enough that we'd happily use one to shoot a dim event like a concert or nightclub -- the D5300 in particular is more than capable up to its ISO 6400, only one stop off its native maximum of 12,800. The boosted ISO 25,600 mode does introduce significant chrominance noise and accompanying noise reduction blur, though.
Video quality from the D5300 is similarly good. Full HD 1080p recording is supported, as is the option for a doubly-smooth 60 frames per second, which can come in handy if you're planning to do any video editing or capture some slightly slowed-down scenes.
Wi-Fi and GPS geotagging with the Nikon D5300 is a mix of useful and frustrating. With Nikon's Wireless Media Utility, we initially had more success on Android than iOS -- our iPhone just wouldn't connect until we restarted the phone and camera and tried again. The utility itself is versatile -- you can use it as a wireless viewfinder to compose and capture photos, and access various shooting settings to more easily adjust your shots, or you can simply view and copy photos from the camera's storage to your smartphone or tablet for saving or sharing to cloud storage or social media.
For a buyer who knows a little about photography and about driving a digital SLR, the Nikon D5300 is almost the perfect enabler. At the core of its usage, the 24-megapixel sensor is impressively versatile, making shooting in good and bad light equally possible. The controls are good enough to let you fiddle somewhat and make a limited foray into manual settings -- although the front dial would have been nice to have.