PROS / This camera has the best low-light performance of any APS-C camera.
CONS / It's more expensive than other entry-level options.
VERDICT / The Nikon D5500 may be among the most expensive entry-level DSLRs, but considering that it offers the best image quality and the most features, it's not really a surprise.
There's a lot to be said about a camera like Nikon's D5500. In many ways, it is the culmination of all advances in the entry-level DSLR category. It offers one of the most advanced APS-C sensors we've seen, as well as excellent performance, design and additional features. With the D5500, there are no major drawbacks; it's simply the best entry-level DSLR camera currently available. For this reason, the D5500 could be nothing less than our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner.
Entry-level DSLRs are different from their professional counterparts in many ways, but sensor size is perhaps the most important. In the past, full-frame sensors have far outperformed the smaller APS-C sensors found in entry-level cameras.
Thanks to advances in sensor technology, however, entry-level sensors like those found in the D5500 are now capable of producing colors and details that are just as accurate and intricate as those found in professional photographs. In fact, in DxOMark's sensor testing, the D5500 actually outstripped some full-frame cameras in the categories of color depth and dynamic range.
Though its low-light performance is still not quite up to par with full-frame cameras, at 1438 ISO, it's the best we've ever seen from an APS-C sensor. In other words, you can elevate the sensitivity of your sensor to ISO 1438 before you begin to sacrifice image quality. The average for this category is 1110 ISO. Elevating your sensor's sensitivity means you need less light to properly expose a photograph, and it therefore enables you to shoot at higher shutter speeds or with less ambient light that you could at base sensitivities.
To get the most out of its 24.2 megapixel sensor, the D5500 forgoes an anti-aliasing filter, opting instead for increased sharpness and detail. While this increases your chances of moiré, an unappealing artifact caused by intricate repeating patterns, the performance benefits are often worth it. If you do encounter moiré in your images, you can always remove it manually using a third-party photo editor.
In addition to its phenomenal still-image quality, the D5500 offers best-in-class video capabilities. It can shoot full 1080p HD video at up to 60 frames per second – the current gold standard for DSLR video work. In order to do much better, you'd need to move into a video-specific category.
It's important to consider battery life when looking at the performance of your camera. On average, cameras in this category offer about 552 shots per charge. The D5500's battery, however, can supply your camera with enough power to take about 820 shots per charge. No other camera in our lineup can boast such a capacity.
When it comes to continuous shooting, the D5500 performs as expected, but doesn't break any barriers. Rather than upping the ante, it provides an average of five frames per second. Most shooters won't likely require more, but if you do, check out the Sony Alpha a58.
The D5500 has many more focus points than most of its competitors, at 39. Aside from this and two other Nikon cameras, the average for the category is only 11. Having more focus points means your camera can focus more reliably on different locations within a frame.
The shutter-speed range, however, is typical for an entry-level camera, allowing you to open the shutter for as long as 30 seconds or as short as 1/4000 of a second. Although this isn't particularly fast, only two cameras in our lineup shoot faster at 1/6000 of a second. Faster shutter speeds simply give you more control when managing light.
Features & Design
In addition to its exceptional image quality and performance, the D5500 is also the most fully featured camera in our lineup. Its most outstanding features include an articulating rear display with a touchscreen and built-in Wi-Fi for remotely capturing and sharing images. Other cameras offer varying combinations of these, but never all three.
The articulation in the rear display is incredibly useful for shooting from positions where the camera is anywhere other than eye-level. Whether it's over your head or at your waist, once you realize the extra capability that this adds, you'll find yourself shooting easily from angles that you simply wouldn't be able to otherwise.
The addition of touchscreen capability to this display further bolsters its usefulness. Although all of its menus and control are accessible using the camera's physical controls, the touchscreen makes accessing settings and browsing through photos or menus that much more intuitive. You can also use the touchscreen during shooting to focus on specific areas, and even to capture photographs.
With the camera's built-in Wi-Fi, you can also capture images remotely using your mobile phone or tablet. To use this feature, you must activate Wi-Fi on your camera, connect with your phone and then access Nikon's photo utility application. From here you can adjust settings and focus, as well as capture and share images right from your phone.
Despite this camera's exceptional performance and overflowing features, it manages to remain fairly lightweight and compact. At just 14.9 ounces, it's significantly lighter than the category average of 17.2. There are exceptions, but lighter-weight cameras typically make for more comfortable shooting.
Help & Support
Help and support for the D5500 is standard. With this camera, Nikon offers a one-year warranty, as well as several support options. The one-year warranty serves to protect you against defects, and doesn't cover normal wear and tear. Support options include phone and email, as well as a knowledgebase site with FAQs, tutorials and more.
The Nikon D5500 provides best-in-class image quality, solid performance with a great battery life and excellent features that make shooting easy and fruitful. Being that it’s the best entry-level DSLR currently available, it's an excellent choice. Budget-conscious shooters may balk at its price, but for what you get, its pricing is actually very reasonable.