Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent image quality
  • High resolution sensor produces highly detailed images
  • Useful and sophisticated Auto ISO system
  • Solid feature set for first-time DSLR users
  • Good frame coverage of 39-point AF array
  • 1080/60p HD maximum video resolution
  • Customizable Fn button
  • Fully articulated LCD
  • Reliable built-in Wi-Fi and location tagging

Conclusion - Cons

  • Single Fn button is only means of direct access to key shooting settings like ISO and WB
  • Extreme lag in magnified live view
  • On-screen 'info' menu is dense and hard to operate quickly
  • No live preview of aperture changes in live view
  • Built-in flash lacks master function
  • Slow live view AF

Overall Conclusion

I didn't expect major suprises from the D5300 when I picked it up to review. In a (mostly) good way, that proved to be true. Where I expected it to excel - high resolution image creation, specifically - it did. It's important to overlook the iterative nature of the D5300 and remember how solid the D5200's feature set was - and hence how impressive its successor's is. It offers the highest resolution sensor in this consumer-grade class, and adds 1080/60p video and built-in connectivity features.

However, in some ways I couldn't help feeling it's lagging a little behind its contemporaries. Live view implementation and 'information' screen interfaces are a little clunky, and a few important settings like Auto ISO On/Off still require a trip to the menu.

So, while DSLR peers such as the Canon T5i/700D and Pentax K-50 offer 18MP and 16MP sensors, respectively, the Canon includes a rather good touchscreen interface while the Pentax offers twin control dials, weather sealing and the best optical viewfinder in its class. Neither can offer 1080/60p video or built-in Wi-Fi, but they're also cheaper, having been on the market longer.

Equally, we no longer live in a world where a photographer's only 'serious' choice is a DSLR. It's no fault of the D5300's that it's heavier than an Olympus E-M10 or Fujifilm X-M1, but I was constantly reminded of the difference as I carried it (and often a spare lens) on my bus commute for weeks. These cameras also both offer twin control dials and built-in Wi-Fi, as well as a more coherent live view experience, so don't give up much to the Nikon in terms of specifications.

Nikon has its boundaries defined pretty clearly within its APS-C lineup - timid beginners will feel comfortable with the D3X00 series, photographers with more demanding needs will like the D7X00 series' customizability and direct control, and those falling somewhere in between are presented with the D5300. Its specifications are impressive, and I'm more than happy with the quality of the images I was able to shoot with it, but there are a couple of nagging quirks that pause me from giving it our highest endorsement. In use it behaves a lot like the entry-level D3300, while most of its rivals offer more for the more demanding photographer and the user who wants a camera to grow into.

Handling

The D5300 is light and agile compared to its larger DSLR peers, but it's still a sizable step up in terms of bulk from a superzoom or mirrorless camera. However, it maintains a good sense of balance, even with a larger kit zoom like the 18-140mm. Its single command dial feels a touch limiting for the camera, and one more function button would have gone a long way, especially without a touch screen to facilitate quick setting changes.

The camera inheirits a very good 39-point AF system that we liked in the D5200 and continue to like in this generation. As with any AF system it tends to struggle more in low light, but restricting use to center AF points in these situations helped to better ensure accuracy.

While the quick 'info' menu is good to have, it becomes a little tiresome using the four-way controller to click through two rows of the menu tiles, and once you've selected a setting, clicking through to your desired option. Enabling the command dial for either or both of these tasks would be a much nicer alternative.

The D5300's articulated display is a great feature to have that still and video shooters alike appreciate, but those using auto focus in live view will be disappointed by its slow speed. The odd aperture behavior in live view mode on the D5300 also risks confusing or confounding both beginners and developing users. Mirrorless cameras continue to do laps around most DSLRs in terms of live view auto focus speed.

Image Quality

Put simply, the D5300 presents D7100-level image quality in a camera body that's somewhere around $400 cheaper. It produces good quality, highly detailed JPEGs and those who are so inclined will find lots of latitude for adjusting Raw files. Like its predecessor, the D5300's Raw files allow shadows to be opened up without introducing too much in the way of noise. Default JPEG rendering is also pleasant, without any over-sharpening halo artifacts.

The D5300's video quality is just as notable as its still image quality. It offers full 1080/60p resolution, available without the crop mode that the D7100 applies to its highest resolution videos. As a result the D5300's video is more detailed and motion is smooth. With the ability to output Raw video over HDMI and plug in an external microphone, the D5300 is well worth consideration as a beginning videographer's camera or a cheap secondary camera for a pro.

The bottom line is that you can't argue with 24 megapixels of AA-filter-less resolution. The D5300 delivers excellent image quality - slightly better than its various kit lenses are actually capable of rendering, it seems. In that regard, it's a great option for someone who wants to start with the kit and eventually add better glass.

The final word

If you're looking for a DSLR and want something approachable yet serious, but not quite as pro as the D7100, the D5300 is an excellent option. It won't let anyone in this category down in terms of image or video quality. Absolute beginners can happily shoot away in Auto, and those who are a little more hands-on will find all of their basic exposure controls relatively easy to access. It's not the fine-tuned, semi-pro instrument that the D7100 is, but its image quality could lead you to believe otherwise.

Despite a still-strong feature set, many of our complaints with the D5200 still stand. There are some interface quirks that keep us from feeling that warm and fuzzy connection with the camera we'd like to feel, and a few things are still missing that the competition has locked in, like a touch screen.

As far as updates over the previous model go, the most notable is likely its Wi-Fi connectivity. It certainly doesn't make for a big story, but in everyday shooting it's a valuable tool to have. If immediate photo sharing isn't essential and you're not big on video, the D5300 is probably overkill. Otherwise, it represents a very good cover-the-basics-plus-a-little-extra DSLR for a budding enthusiast.

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

Nikon D5300
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Connectivity
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The D5300 is a very good upper-entry-level DSLR with a high-resolution sensor and solid video features. It's bigger than mirrorless competitors and it's priced on the high end of its class, but it won't let down a budding photographer, especially those who plan to upgrade from the kit lens to higher-quality optics.
Good for
Those looking for high-resolution image quality, photographers likely to upgrade from kit lens, enthusiast videographers and those who place a priority on connectivity.
Not so good for
Sports and action photographers, those who want direct access to shooting settings, those who want to shoot stills in live view.
79%
Overall score

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