Nikon D5300 review: A camera with a fantastic sensor

it has been a few years since we first reviewed the Nikon D5300, where it’s still a perfectly capable device, even if Nikon’s rivals have been battling it out. Since launch, Nikon released the D5500 (not long after the D5300’s launch mind you) with its superb sensor yet disappointing kit lens and middling controls. Sure, it’s a fine camera, but it just lacks consistency and brings forward problems found in its predecessors.

Back to the D5300, though, which graced our store shelves less than a year since the D5200. Its main raison d’etre was its impressive 39-point autofocus sensor, which really set it apart from the 700D’s 9-point and the K-50’s 11-point sensor. At the time its confusingly awkward controls and mediocre RAW performance set it back. A few years on, though, has it stood the test of time or has it fallen behind the pack?

We originally reviewed the Nikon D5300 at £675, but it can now be found for £479 making it a lot more attractive.

Nikon D5300 review: Build quality

Externally, there’s not much to distinguish the D5300 from its predecessor. It has shed 25g and a few millimetres here and there. The 3.2in, 1,036,800-dot screen is a little bigger and sharper than before, and keeps its fully-articulated design – a big asset for video, macro and self-portrait shots. The drive mode button has been relocated from the top plate to the left side, just below the lens release button. That arguably makes it easier to reach, but harder to find when you’re still getting accustomed to the controls.

Nikon D5300

As before, the self-timer function deactivates after each frame, which is pretty annoying when using it to avoid shaking the camera when it’s mounted on a tripod. Our other grumbles about the controls remain unresolved, too, with few labelled buttons making it over-reliant on menu navigation. Some key features such as the auto ISO mode are buried deep within the main menu.

Nikon D5300

Nikon D5300 review: GPS and Wi-Fi

GPS and Wi-Fi are built in. These features are relatively rare among SLRs, and it’s the first time they’ve been built into a Nikon SLR; they won’t appeal to everyone but they do to us. GPS provides a fun way to browse photo collections in Lightroom or Picasa, and Wi-Fi means you can transfer photos to a smartphone or tablet and upload to social media without waiting until you get home.

Nikon D5300

GPS initially proved to be extremely flaky, frequently forgetting its position. It transpired that the Standby Timer option, which was on by default, meant that the GPS radio switched off after just a few seconds of inactivity. After disabling this feature, GPS worked much more reliably. There’s also a log function, which keeps the GPS radio running even when the camera is off, although this drained the battery in about four hours.

Wi-Fi transfers to iOS and Android devices were handled elegantly. The process starts by sending low-resolution copies from camera to app. This took about 20 seconds for 100 photos but made subsequent browsing extremely responsive. Transfers are at a choice of resolutions from VGA to full size. The app can browse, transfer and display RAW files too, but these aren’t converted to JPEG format so other apps are unlikely to be able to read them. It can transfer videos but not play them.

Nikon D5300

^Control the focus point via a smartphone app

The app also acts as a remote control for taking photos, complete with a live view stream. There’s touchscreen control over the autofocus area. The shutter button captures a photo without focusing, giving a shutter lag of around 200ms. The camera’s controls can’t be used in this mode, but there’s yet another mode that lets the user take photos with the camera in the normal way and transfers them as soon as they’re captured. This should be perfect for inspecting photos on a high-resolution tablet, but the implementation could be better. It only works if the app is specifically waiting to receive a photo rather than inspecting the previous one. Because the iOS app isn’t a native iPad app, it doesn’t take advantage of retina displays.

Nikon D5300 review: Video and shooting speed

The video mode now captures 1080p footage at a choice of 24, 25, 30, 50 and 60fps. The D5200’s 50 and 60fps modes were restricted to 1080i capture, which is best avoided in our opinion. We don’t have much call to shoot at frame rates faster than 25fps, but the ability to slow footage down in software for atmospheric slow-motion shots makes this change worthwhile. 50 and 60fps clips are limited to 10 minutes, while slower frame rates run for up to 20 minutes. Sadly, there’s no improvement to the D5200’s clunky video autofocus, which must be invoked manually by half-pressing the shutter button, whereupon it darts back and forth and adds audible whirrs to the soundtrack.

Shooting performance was broadly in line with the results we got from the D5200. It took 0.6 seconds between shots in normal use, while continuous mode hit the claimed 5fps speed. With a fast SDHC card it kept this speed up for 40 frames before slowing a little, to 4fps. However, enabling digital correction for lens distortions saw performance slow to 2.4fps after eight frames. Raw continuous performance saw a bigger drop, slowing to 1.6fps after six frames. Still, that’s better than the D5200, which slowed after just four frames. It’s also great to see that battery life is up from 500 to 600 shots.

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