So you’re looking for your first DSLR. Something that’s cheap enough and takes some great photos.
How about Nikon’s new D5500? It’s got plenty to tempt you with, from a 24 million pixel sensor to an articulating touchscreen. Plus, it’s packed with Wi-Fi, picture effects, and a battery life that will impress the Duracell bunny.
These are the features that will make your shots look that little bit more professional, and the D5500 marries them together in a fine package.
24 megapixel party sensor
Nikon likes to pack all of its DSLR cameras with a temptingly high pixel count, and its beginner offerings are no different.
Here with the D5500, you’ve got 24 million to play with, which should be more than adequate for almost anyone who’s tempted to own one. It’s also a decent enough resolution for cropping into, handy if you don’t have a long focal length lens, without losing too much in the way of image quality.
Like its predecessor, the D5300, Nikon has ditched the anti-aliasing filter for the D5500. Basically, this means that the sensor should be capable of producing more photographic detail than other sensors that are bogged down by a pesky filter. If you can pick up a macro lens to use with the camera, you’ll be especially pleased with what it can achieve, but even those shots taken with the supplied kit lens pack a reasonable degree of detail punch.
A sensitive sort
Noise is well controlled throughout the camera’s sensitivity range, but you will probably notice some speckling start to appear from around ISO 3200. If you’re hoping to use this camera in an underground crypt, then you’re going to be presented with a fair degree of image degradation at those top end sensitivities of ISO 6400, 12800 and 25600.
Still, that might be the least of your worries if you like to do your snapping in the the kind of location you'd find in Silence of the Lambs.
JPEG images present you with some nicely saturated images - if a little cooler than those from Canon - and you can change Picture Controls if you want to give pictures a little extra oomph, make them moody black and whites, or shoot in a completely neutral palette for picking out detail in post-processing.
Monocoque. It may raise a few sniggers when said out loud, but believe it or not, monocoque is an actual word. It means that the D5500 is constructed from a single piece of magnesium alloy… and that means that it can be light, small and strong. Well, smallish anyway.
Let’s be clear, you’re not going to fit something like a D5500 in your pocket, but when you place it next to other similar DSLRs, there is some decent space saving to be made. Especially so when you collapse down the supplied 18-55mm kit lens.
The D5500’s display adds to this versatile aesthetic too, being a fully articulating touchscreen. Some people don’t see the need for touchscreens on DSLRs, and to them we say - get with the times - because there’s plenty of practical applications on offer here. If you still don’t want to use the D5500’s, you can just its buttons instead.
A swift tap of the “i” button on the back of the camera enables you to use the screen to make changes to certain settings, such as white balance, or ISO.
Taking a leaf out of Panasonic’s rather excellent book, you can also use the touchscreen while holding the camera up to your eye to set the focus point. While it’s a little more hit-and-miss than the Pana version (as seen in the likes of the GX7, GH4 and G7), it’s still pretty useful when you want to quickly shift the point.
You can also set the autofocus point using a finger tap when you’re shooting in Live View - which can be pretty handy when shooting still life and macro shots and you want to keep camera vibrations to a minimum. Don’t be tricked into shooting Live View for anything but still subjects though - it’s still painfully slow to focus when you’re not using the viewfinder.
What’s that coming over the hill?
You’ll often hear people banging on about how much better optical viewfinders are than electronic ones. However, one of the downsides of those optical viewfinders, which are found in cheaper models such as the D5500, is that they don’t offer a complete view of the scene in front of you.
In fact, you’ve only got 95% on offer here in what is a relatively cramped viewfinder space. That means that if something should appear at the edges of your composition, you may not see it until you look back at your images later. So bear that in mind when composing and get in the habit of double checking your images before it’s too late to retake another one.
Keep on snappin’
What DSLRs lack in miniaturisation when compared to their CSC brethren, they tend to make up for in battery life. The quoted battery life of the D5500 is an impressive 820 shots. By our reckoning that means you’ll be able to carry on shooting with this long after something like the Canon EOS M has bitten the dust… and way after your phone has conked out too.
What about a Canon?
Unless you’ve got a kit bag already full to the brim with Canon optics, then the D5500 should be firmly on your consideration list.
Image quality is good, you’ve got good scope to learn with a camera like this, and there’s enough extras - such as inbuilt Wi-Fi and a bunch of effects that you can apply to your images - to keep the Instagram crowd happy. Probably, are they ever truly #blessed?
The Canon EOS 750D also has got a 24 million pixel sensor, Wi-Fi, and a fully-articulating touchscreen. It costs roughly the same too, so it’s a tricky decision between the two - you might just have to pick a side (or see who has the best cashback offer on at the time) and go with it.
On the other hand, maybe you’re not so resolutely in favour of mirrors in your cameras… in which case, you might want to consider the Sony A6000, which also comes in at around £500, has that magic 24 million pixels, a tilting screen, an impressive electronic viewfinder and a bunch of manual controls. It’s also much smaller too.
Nikon D5500 verdict
For the most part, a few little changes can add up to a great camera with the Nikon D5500. It’s got the same sensor and processor as the D53300, but some improvements to the way it handles make it a more tempting proposition overall.
For those who are on the look out for their first DSLR camera, you can do way worse than to pick up a D5500, especially if you can find one offered at a good price, or with a great cashback offer available.
While Nikon hasn’t exactly revolutionised the beginner end of the market here, it keeps it steadily ticking along and that’s good enough for now.