27th Nov 2013 | 12:45
New 24MP sensor and EXPEED 4 processing engine give better images
Given that Nikon still leads the way for the SLR pixel count it is perhaps no surprise that it should stick with a 24-million pixel sensor for the D5300.
However, it hasn't used the same sensor as is in the D5200 (which still continues in the company line-up) or the Nikon D7100, as the D5300 uses a new 24.2-million pixel device without an optical low-pass filter.
We're increasingly seeing a move towards sensors without low-pass or anti-aliasing filters because they offer the potential to capture more detail - albeit at the risk of moiré patterning.
However, we haven't found moiré patterning to be a major issue in stills from other cameras such as the Nikon D7100, Nikon D800E and Ricoh GR that also don't have anti-aliasing filters over their sensors, so it seems likely that all should be well with the D5300 as well - especially bearing in mind that it has the same pixel count as the D7100.
The majority of the D5300's specification is the same as the D5200's, but there are a few key changes in addition to the new sensor.
Perhaps the most significant change from the D5200 is the switch to the new EXPEED 4 processing engine. This has given Nikon greater power to improve image quality and we are told that has most impact with noise control at the highest sensitivity settings.
Although it uses the same dedicated 2016-pixel RGB sensor to inform the Scene Recognition System for light metering and white balance assessment, according to Simon Iddon, Senior Product Manager at Nikon UK, the automatic white balance performance has been improved and colour processing is claimed to be better.
When we tested the D5200 we found that the automatic white balance system can make images shot in shade look a bit lifeless and under-saturated. We also found that the Landscape Picture Control mode over-enhances blues and greens so they look unnatural. It will be interesting to see if these points have been addressed by the changes.
While the D5200's native sensitivity range is ISO 100-6400, the D5300's has been pushed a stop further to ISO 100-12,800. This suggests that the EXPEED 4 engine enables a 1EV improvement in noise control. Interestingly, maximum expansion setting is the same at ISO 25,600.
Nikon is aiming the D5300 at photographers who want to be creative, and to support this it has added two new Creative Effect modes - HDR Painting and Toy Camera. This brings the total number of Effects modes to nine; there are also 16 scene modes and the usual collection of Picture Control options.
Nikon's Picture Control modes can be used whether you are shooting raw or JPEG images and the usual options of Standard, Neutral Vivia, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape are available. The contrast, sharpening, brightness, saturation and hue of the colour options can be adjusted for taste.
In addition, Nikon has encouraged shooting from creative angles by boosting the size of the vari-angle LCD screen to 3.2-inches and increasing its dot-count to 1,037,000.
Another key change for the D5300 is the addition of built-in Wi-Fi and GPS technology. The Wi-Fi connectivity allows the camera to transfer images wirelessly to a smartphone or tablet via Nikon's free Wireless Mobile Utility app (iOS and Android). From there, images can be shared on any of the usual social networking sites. The same app can also be used to trigger the shutter remotely.
Meanwhile the GPS system allows images to be tagged with the longitude, latitude and altitude of the shooting location. Nikon's ViewNX 2 software can be used to create travel maps which can be displayed on NIKON IMAGE SPACE, or any other social networking or photo-sharing website that supports GPS, such as Flickr.
The addition of Wi-Fi and GPS technology may have been the motivation for another change made with the D5300: a new battery, the EN-EL14a. Under CIPA testing conditions this battery has a 600-shot life, 100 more than the EN-EL14. Further good news is that the EN-EL14a is backwards compatible so it can be used in the D5200 and it will be phased in across Nikon cameras.
Nikon's dynamic range expanding D-Lighting mode has been around for a while now, but the D5300 debuts a new option in Retouch mode - Portrait Subject mode. When this is applied to a portrait image the skin tones are brightened but the background ambience is retained.
As usual, the D5300 is capable of shooting Full HD (1920x1080) movies, but the available frame rates has been expanded to include 60 and 50p as well as 30, 25 and 24p.
Build and handling
Although the D5300 looks almost identical to the D5200, there are a few changes.
It is the first Nikon SLR to be built using a monocoque construction, which means its shell is made from one single piece of material. This should make the camera stronger and because Nikon has used Teijin's Sereebo CFRTP (a type of polycarbonate) for its construction, it is also lighter than the D5200, at 480g.
Though it doesn't exactly have the tank-like feel of the Nikon D4, the D5300 certainly feels well-made and solid enough in your hand.
The navigation control, however, feels a little more lightweight and slightly cheaper than the D5200's, and considerably less robust than the Nikon D610's. It clicks at a slightly higher pitch than either camera, which is likely to be the result of the new materials.
Conversely, the control dial above the thumb rest on the back of the D5300 has a slightly more positive feel and is quieter in operation than the one on the D5200.
Apart from a few extra holes for the stereo mic above the viewfinder and the GPS and Wi-Fi icons, the top plate of the D5300 looks just the same as the D5200's. There's still a large mode dial with all the usual PASM options and automatic options along with the Scene Effects modes.
What camera should I buy? your options explained
It's worth noting that the top of the Mode dial now has a slightly glossy finish and this makes reading the options a little trickier in certain lights than it is with the D5200's dial.
On the back of the camera the screen is noticeably bigger on the D5300 than it is on the D5200, and there's a bigger rubberised area for the thumb rest. But that's it for changes, aside from the slight relocation of a couple of green dots and a change in font for the 'I' on the Information button.
In short, D5200 users will feel right at home with the D5300's control layout. The menu is also the same, with the obvious additions of options for new features such as the Wi-Fi and GPS technology.
There are relatively few buttons on the D5300 and most settings adjustments are made via on-screen controls. Some will find this attractive, but it has the disadvantage that few controls can be accessed directly, and setting adjustments are slowed as a result.
Pressing the 'I' button on the back of the camera brings up the Information screen, which displays all the key features for adjustment.
Settings changes are made simply by navigating to the desired feature, pressing the OK button and then selecting the desired option. It's a simple approach which is reasonably fast to use, but could be made faster still by making the screen touch-sensitive.
There are up to 14 features available for adjustment, and the majority are things that you are likely to want to access on a fairly frequent basis, such as Picture Control, Focus mode, AF-area mode and Metering mode. However, it would be nice if the list was customisable so that if you never use the HDR option, for example, and don't need to be able to switch off raw recording on a regular basis, you could swap it for Exposure delay mode, or something that you might use more frequently.
Unlike the D7100, D610 and Nikon D4 further up the SLR line-up, the D5300 doesn't have the button and switch arrangement for setting the focus mode and focus point selection mode. As mentioned earlier, this is done via the Information screen. It works well enough, but you can't use it while the camera is held to your eye.
As on the D5200, live view is activated on the D5300 by flicking the sprung switch under the mode dial on the top of the camera. As it has a variangle screen, the D5300 is far more likely to be used in live view mode than some other Nikon cameras.
The new 3.2-inch 1,037,000-dot screen provides a nice clear view with a little more detail being visible, which is especially useful when using the enlarged view to focus manually.
The screen also copes reasonably well with bright light and doesn't suffer excessively from reflections.
It's very easy to connect the D5300's Wi-Fi system to a smartphone via Nikon's Mobile Utility app (iOSand Android), but it's disappointing that it is still only possible to set the AF point by tapping on the image on the phone screen and tripping the shutter remotely. It would be nice if it were possible to change exposure settings remotely, and perhaps even the shooting mode.
As on the camera, the self timer needs to be activated every time it is used, but it's quicker and easier to do it on a phone rather than via the menu on the camera. It's frustrating that there's no option to set the camera to self-timer mode until you decide to deactivate it. It seems especially odd given that the timer can be set to take up to nine images in quick succession and the Exposure delay mode is an activate/deactivate feature.
Nevertheless, we found that images upload quickly to the phone so it's a great way of sharing images on the usual social networking sites.
As we would expect with a Nikon SLR that's aimed at aspiring photographers, the D5300 generally produces pleasant images that have lots of detail and nice, vibrant colours.
Our resolution chart images also confirm that the D5300 is capable of recording more detail than theD5200. We can attribute this improvement to the switch to a sensor without an optical low-pass filter and the new EXPEED 4 processing engine.
Interestingly, our lab tests also reveal that throughout the sensitivity range the D5300 generally produces raw files that, after conversion to TIFF, have a lower signal-to-noise ratio than the D5200's files. This is means that the images are likely to be a little noisier. It's something we have seen before when there is a desire to bring out more detail.
At the highest sensitivity settings, however, the D5300 tends to produce JPEG images with a higher signal-to-noise ratio, indicating that there is less noise visible.
Our tests of the D5200 revealed that images taken at ISO 3200 or higher sometimes suffered from banding in darker areas and this significantly limited the size at which they could be viewed or printed.
Naturally, we have explored this area with the D5300 and it doesn't appear to suffer from the same problem. Noise is generally controlled well and has a random distribution and fine texture.
When viewed at 100% on screen, some luminance noise is visible in images captured at comparatively low sensitivity settings such as ISO 400, but it isn't intrusive and it isn't apparent at normal viewing and printing sizes.
Pushing the sensitivity up to 12,800, the D5300's native maximum, naturally produces images with more noise and slightly softer details (at 100%), but images still look pretty decent. Even at the highest expansion value (ISO 25,600), images look fairly respectable although saturation is reduced a little and details are softened considerably so it's best to keep it for emergencies only.
In the past we have found Nikon's 39-point phase detection AF system (with nine cross-type points), which is employed when images are composed in the viewfinder, to be fast and accurate, and the D5300's system is no different. Even with the kit lens mounted it gets subjects in normal outdoor daylight sharp pretty quickly.
Moving into lower light conditions, however, slows things down and there is sometimes a little indecision. As is often the case, switching to a better quality lens with a larger maximum aperture speeds things up.
While the D5300's excellent screen encourages using live view, the contrast detection system that's available when composing images on the monitor does not.
It is accurate in decent light, but it is quite slow in comparison with the systems in the average modern compact system camera such as the Panasonic G6 or Olympus E-P5. And it's woeful in low light; in some occasions completely failing to get the target sharp.
Fortunately, the magnified view that is available when manually focusing has plenty of detail, which makes it a great option when shooting (stationary) macro and still life subjects.
While we have no complaints about the D5300's Matrix Metering system - in fact it copes remarkably well with situations that would fool some other systems - we found that using the Active D-Lighting system in its Normal or Automatic setting produces some images with mid-tones that are a little too bright. It's not a major issue, but it's something to keep an eye on.
That said, the Active D-Lighting can be very useful and effective when shooting high-contrast subjects. In some cases turning the Active D-Lighting up changes the exposure settings; for example, with one scene shot in aperture priority mode we found the shutter speed was increased by a whole stop (1Ev) when we changed from the Low to the Extra High setting. This meant that the brightest parts of the scene were retained by the exposure shift, while the darker parts were brightened by the automatic in-camera adjustment of the image curve.
We found that the D5300's automatic white balance system performed well in a range of lighting conditions, even managing to produce natural looking, atmospheric images in artificial light. It also produced decent results in shaded and overcast conditions.
On the whole, the D5300 produces images with very pleasant colours and, rather than avoiding the Landscape Picture Control mode, we found we used it quite often because it produced some nice, punchy results. It produced blues and greens with a bit of zing without going over the top or looking artificial.
Creative Effect modes are always a matter of personal taste, but it's hard to imagine that people will have many occasions when they want to use the D5300's HDR Painting mode. Toy Camera mode, however, with its heavy corner shading, may find favour more often.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Nikon D5300, we've shot our resolution chart.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG signal to noise ratio
The D5300's signal to noise ratio is very respectable throughout the sensitivity range, but it's beaten by the competition at the middle values. This is likely be because it is calibrated to reveal more detail at the expense of a little noise. It takes the lead at the highest settings, however.
TIFF signal to noise ratio
Apart from at ISO 100, the D5300's raw files after conversion to TIFF are runner's up to the Nikon D200, Sony Alpha 65 and Canon 700D's files, indicating that they are a little noisier. This is the result of the higher pixel count and/or change in the processing to reveal more detail.
JPEG dynamic range
The D5300's JPEGs have an impressive dynamic range, similar to the D5200's, indicating that they contain a wide range of tones.
TIFF dynamic range
A camera's raw dynamic range is a measure of its underlying ability to record different brightnesses in the same frame and it is usually higher than the camera's JPEG dynamic range - which is manipulated to give the manufacturer's preferred level of contrast. The D5300's raw (after conversion to TIFF) dynamic range competes well at the lower sensitivity settings, but drops off significantly at the upper values.
As this ISO 200 image shows, the D5300 is capable of capturing a high level of detail. Colours are also vibrant, yet natural. (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Despite the large expanse of sky in this shot, the Matrix Metering got the exposure right by itself. (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Noise is controlled well in this ISO 3200 image and, despite a little softening, there is still plenty of detail visible. (Click here to see the full resolution image)
The vari-angle screen is really useful for table-top still life images like this and the magnified view allows careful manual focusing. (Click here to see the full resolution image)
This shot was taken at ISO 25,600, but there's still lots of fine detail visible on these chestnuts, and noise is very well controlled even in the darker areas. (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Using the automatic white balance setting has produced a good result in this early evening light, although the daylight setting (below) has given a very slightly warmer image. (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Using the Daylight white balance setting has produced a warmer image than the automatic setting. (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Using the dynamic range-boosting Active D-Lighting system in its 'Normal' setting has lifted the shadows here, but the foreground is a bit too bright. (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Active D-Lighting system has been turned off for this shot. (Click here to see the full resolution image)
The results from using the HDR Painting effect. (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Toy Camera effect. (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Sensitivity and noise images
It would be easy to dismiss the changes made with the D5300 as minor, but there is much more to a camera than its pixel count. And a processing engine is just as important as a sensor when it comes to image quality.
The new sensor design and the removal of the low-pass filter enables the D5300 to record more sharp detail than the D5200, and although there is more noise in some images, it is controlled well, especially at the highest sensitivity settings.
Thankfully, the banding that troubled higher sensitivity images from the D5200 seems to be a thing of the past and although they are a little noisier the D5300's images can be used at larger sizes.
While Nikon has introduced some modern technology in the form of Wi-Fi connectivity and GPS, it hasn't really embraced the design of the D5300 by giving it a fast, live view AF system or making the variangle screen touch-sensitive.
The Nikon brand may be attractive to novice photographers, but many are likely to find the intuitive controls of a touch-screen-enabled compact system camera more attractive.
A pixel count of 24 million is more than enough for most photographers and we're happy that Nikon has stuck with this for the D5300, but taken steps to improve the quality of the sensor's output.
The addition of Wi-Fi connectivity is also good news because users are increasingly keen to share images quickly.
While GPS is a nice-to-have feature, it tends to be power-hungry and as a result few photographers tend to use it that often.
The D5300 is aimed at those upgrading from a compact camera or who want to be more creative with their images.
Nikon regards it as an 'upper-entry-level' camera.
Lots of buttons and dials can be intimidating to relative newcomers to photography and Nikon uses an attractive Graphic User Interface (GUI) and menu system for most setting selections and adjustments. While this may suit some, it's not as quick to use as direct controls. We'd like to see a few more on the D5300 to make it faster for enthusiasts to use.
It would also be nice if Nikon would allow users to opt to use the self-timer for more than just one shot (or sequence of shots) at a time.
And it's a shame that Nikon hasn't improved the Effects and HDR mode to allow raw file recording. This would make these creative modes more attractive to experienced photographers who want a 'clean' file to work with post-capture.
Although the upgrades made to the D5200 by the D5300 are solid, they are unlikely to attract D5200 users to upgrade.
They may make the camera more attractive to photographers without a brand commitment, but they aren't especially forward-looking or novel. The variangle screen and Effect modes encourage the user to shoot in live view mode (and compose the image on screen), but the live view AF system's performance lags behind that of many compact system cameras, and the screen isn't touch-sensitive.
However, a 24-million-pixel SLR with a 3.2-inch articulating screen, 39-point AF system and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity is still a good option for someone looking to take their photography more seriously. The control layout is relatively simple, too, so you can find the settings that you want and get to grips with the camera quickly.
Enthusiast photographers, however, may find themselves torn between the articulating screen of the D5300 and the greater number of direct controls of the Nikon D7100.