Operation and Controls

Top of camera controls

Controls on the D5300 are nearly identical to its predecessor's. However, many of its rivals, such as the Pentax K-50, Olympus E-M10 and Fujifilm X-M1 offer twin control dials at this level, making the D5300 a little less fun to take control of. Another thing it lacks that its peers are beginning to offer is a touch screen - not by any means a necessity for its target audience, but something that would offer another level of access to settings.

The mode dial uses a free-turning design without a locking function, accompanied by a spring-loaded lever that enables/disables live view. In manual shooting, the exposure compensation button behind the shutter selects aperture setting, which is changed by rotating the command wheel just above the thumb rest.

Most of the D5300's main shooting controls are arranged on the top plate. A mode dial provides access to PASM and automated scene and effects modes. The on/off switch is concentric with the shutter button, with the exposure compensation and red movie record buttons immediately behind. The latter is inactive unless live view is enabled, which is done via the lever next to the mode dial.

Rear controls

The back panel control cluster includes a directional switch along with 'OK', zoom, playback and delete buttons.

The menu button to the left of the viewfinder accesses main camera menus, while the '[i]' button to the right of the viewfinder 'activates' the info display on the rear screen, allowing you to change the two rows of onscreen settings below the virtual dials. The behavior of the autoexposure/autofocus lock button (AE-L/AF-L) beside the rear dial is configurable. It can be set to lock either focus or exposure, or both together. It can also be configured as 'AF-ON' to permit focus acquisition independently from a shutter button press, a feature often used by action and wildlife shooters.

The playback button is placed to the right of the monitor, and below it is the four-way controller that's used to navigate menus and settings, with a central 'OK' button to confirm changes. The controller also moves the autofocus point around the frame when in Single-point AF mode, with a press of the OK button resetting the focus point to the center of the frame.

Towards the bottom of the body are the magnification buttons, used to zoom in and out during live view and playback modes. The 'zoom out' button also doubles as a help ('?') key. Pressing it displays information about the currently-selected setting or menu item. Beneath the card indicator lamp is the camera's delete button.

Front controls

Close to the throat of the lens on the side of the mount you'll find the D5300's only function button, flash control and below the lens release a drive mode button (with access to remote shooting controls).

On the D5200 we found that without looking at them, the Fn and flash control buttons were like-sized and easy to confuse. The problem is somewhat mitigated in the D5300 - the flash button is slightly elongated and thus has a slightly different feel. Confusing the two buttons was much less of a problem than with the D5200.

Here are the customization options for the Fn button and the configuration options for the AE-L/AF-L button:

Fn Button  • Image quality/size 
 • ISO sensitivity
 • White Balance
 • Active D-Lighting
 • HDR mode
 • +NEF (RAW)
 • Auto Bracketing
 • AF area mode
 • Viewfinder grid display
 • Wi-Fi
AE-L
AF-L
 • AE/AF lock ¹
 • AE lock only
 • AE lock (Hold)
 • AF lock only
 • AF-ON

Info display interface

The 'info display,' or quick menu as we refer to it comes in two flavors: Classic or Graphic, and there are three color options for each. A display option can be assigned for PASM modes and another for scene modes.

These six variations on the info display theme are available in the setup menu. The 'Graphic' versions visually represent the aperture value as an aperture that opens and closes, which might be helpful to a beginner.

Exposure parameters are large and easy to read in the top portion of the screen, and the lower third is occupied by quick access to key controls like white balance, ISO and exposure compensation. The whole display can be toggled on and off by pressing the 'info' button on the top panel.

The D5300's 'quick' menu screen is a bit dense with two rows of seven items. It's accessed by way of the 'i' button on the camera's back panel, which highlights the last item that was accessed. Navigating between these items is done by pressing the directional buttons.
Pressing the 'OK' button brings up a dialog box, and in most cases a colorful graphic demonstrating the effects of the setting change.

Again there's more button pressing to be done, to specify the change you're trying to make. Compare this to rivals that let you simply spin the control dial to change a setting and the D5300 suddenly seems less photographer friendly.

Getting through the quick menu would be easier if the camera allowed use of the rear command dial to do it. Even after selecting a setting, directional buttons must be used to adjust things like exposure compensation and ISO. It feels natural to use the command dial and almost all its rivals allow it, which can make changing settings more of an ordeal than it should be. As mentioned previously, the exception is the Fn button on the side of the lens mount - the command dial changes whatever setting it's assigned.

Live view interface

There are five live view display options as shown here: image only, grid view, two information views and video shooting. The small white hash marks at the sides of the screen in certain views and the grayed-out bars in video view indicate the cropped 16:9 view that's used in video recording. Cycling through the screens is done by pressing the 'info' button on the top panel.
As with viewfinder shooting, pressing the [i] button activates the quick menu.

Sadly, the camera's live view mode is somewhat hobbled by Nikon's decision not to include an aperture actuator (as fitted in its more expensive cameras) - meaning that the camera can't move the lens aperture in live view mode. We'll discuss the implications of this in the Shooter's Experience section of the review, but it leaves the D5300 looking a little slapdash.

While we can accept the omission of high-end features from mid-level models, in the name of product differentiation, we don't feel that properly functioning live view can be considered a high-end feature. We believe entry-level users need live view every bit as much as high-end users, and offering such a confusing implementation to save a few dollars risks undermining the camera's 'accessible' credentials.

Auto ISO

The D5300 carries over the same Auto ISO configuration options as its predecessor, borrowed from high end DSLRs like Nikon's D4, D800 and D600 - making it the most sophisticated Auto ISO system on the market at present. The system can be set up in a number of ways, depending on whether it's camera shake or subject movement that you think is most likely to ruin your image.

You can either specify a minimum shutter speed, or allow the camera to select the value for you based on the lens in use. But, even with this 'Auto' option, you can fine-tune its behavior towards using faster or slower shutter speeds.

Minimum Shutter Speed

If you're more concerned with freezing subject movement, (when shooting sports for instance), then you can specify a fixed minimum shutter speed that the Auto ISO system will always attempt to maintain. You might also appreciate the control this direct setting gives if you're shooting with a fixed-focal-length lens.

Auto

The Auto setting varies the minimum shutter speed in relation to the current focal length, which makes it ideal for avoiding camera shake with a zoom lens (the effect of which is focal length dependent). If you find you're more or less able to keep the camera steady at the shutter speeds that 'Auto' uses, you can fine-tune its behavior to maintain faster or slower shutter speeds than its default.

Overall this gives plenty of control over the behavior of Auto ISO (you may find that just fine-tuning the Auto shutter speed setting gives you the results you're looking for). However, turning Auto ISO on and off, as well as adjusting any of the finer settings, is conducted by navigating to the menu item in the second tab of the main menu - rather than simply having 'Auto' as a selectable setting via the Fn button (when set to ISO) or through the interactive control panel.