Shooter's experience

The D5300 is an approachable camera. It provides sufficient tools for someone who already understands the ins and outs of manual exposure control, but won't put off a beginner with a lot of extra buttons and controls that would go unused. One command dial usually feels like enough here, though another customizable function button may have been useful.

The D5300 is sold in the US kitted with the 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX zoom or 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR II collapsible zoom, a considerably lighter and more compact option. The camera feels well balanced with either lens attached, though the whole kit is obviously a good deal bulkier and heavier with the bigger zoom. The handgrip is well sculpted and goes a long way to making the camera comfortable to hold for long periods of time.

Features

The D5300's sophisticated Auto ISO system is quite helpful, and it's easy to put your faith in and let it move ISO around while maintaining a minimum shutter speed you're comfortable using in relation to your lens' focal length. It's especially helpful moving between different lighting conditions. However, I find that when I do want to shoot at a specific ISO, going into the main menu to turn ISO Auto off (and then going back to re-enable it) is a real pain.

There's also the limitation we highlighted when using the D7100 that ISO setting isn't displayed by default in the viewfinder. It's possible to turn this on in the shooting menu, but when you half-press the shutter ISO disappears again and instead shows remaining frames. I have plenty of confidence in Auto ISO to use it most of the time, but I'd still like to know what ISO I'm shooting at the time of capture.

The articulated LCD was helpful on more than one occasion, and I found the D5300's implementation of Wi-Fi to be genuinely useful and reliable. The app is straightforward and doesn't require separate connections for remote shooting and image transfer. Marking images to transfer ahead of time makes it easy to complete transfers quickly. Like a few other items on this page it was a bit annoying to dive into the menu to enable it every time, but this was mitigated somewhat by the knowledge that once I made the Wi-Fi connection it would be smooth sailing.

Built-in Wi-Fi means you can share images like this instantly with your friends on the East Coast when they are in the icy grip of a polar vortex.

One feature not included that I would have appreciated is a digital level. It's something that's available in more and more cameras, many of which cost a great deal less than the D5300, and it saves me the trouble of bracketing a few shots to make sure I get a horizon dead-on level. There are cheap add-ons that will do the trick, but as a built-in feature I sorely missed it while shooting.

Interface

The D5300’s sole customizable function button is on the side of the lens mount. It’s easily reached when holding the camera in landscape orientation, and at default it’s set to control ISO. Holding the button down highlights the current ISO setting on the information display, and turning the command wheel changes settings - this operability extends to whatever setting you have saved to the Fn button, such as white balance. It’s very handy to have, especially for making adjustments with the camera at eye level.

I would have appreciated one more Function button, if only to assign to turn on Wi-Fi. The Fn button can be assigned as a shortcut to the Wi-Fi menu option, but you'll give up direct access to ISO or white balance if you go that route. However, it's easy to put your faith in the D5300's auto ISO and WB systems, so many users may find a single Fn button sufficient.

Navigating through the dense [i] 'quick' menu would be easier if the camera allowed use of the rear command dial to do it. Even after clicking your way through to the option you want to change, you need to press 'OK' to select the setting, then use the direction button again, to actually adjust settings such as white balance and ISO. It feels natural to use the command dial, so I had to fight the urge to go to it when trying to change settings. 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. This means you get quick access to one setting of your choice, but everything else is surprisingly arduous.

Annoyingly, if you do make the mistake of using the command dial in the quick menu, it will go about its business changing Program shift, aperture or whatever it's currently set to change.

Live view awkwardness

The D5300 also presents a strange behavior in adjusting aperture in live view - the camera allows you to change the number on the screen that represents your current aperture, but the aperture itself stays put at whatever the setting was when you entered live view. It's not until an image is captured that the aperture actually changes to the setting indicated. This makes it difficult to use manual focus in live view, since the depth of field you're seeing on the monitor may not be what you'll actually get - meaning live view may not provide shallow-enough depth-of-field to correctly assess focus. It also causes some trouble when manual exposure mode is used in combination with movie recording.

When manual exposure mode is used in live view, the D5300 does not give a live exposure preview. The screen will 'gain' depending on the subject brightness, but not as a reflection of the exposure settings in place. All other modes preview the effect of shutter and ISO changes, and with manual movie mode on, manual exposure mode also shows an exposure preview. This behavior makes sense for people working with strobes in the studio, but I can't imagine a lot of D5300 buyers will shooting that way, so it's disappointing to not even have the option to preview exposure.

Engaging the 'Shooting Menu/Movie Settings/Manual Movie Settings' option gives a limited preview of exposure settings for movie shooters, but aperture control is locked-out and the slowest shutter speed is limited to the movie frame-rate, so it doesn't offer a realistic work-around.

Live view provides a potentially useful magnified view by pressing the + magnifying glass button, offering 5 steps up to a roughly 1:1 view. The bad news is that at anything past the first magnification level, display lag becomes so bad it's virtually impossible to use. This behavior isn't dependent on light level, and it means there's no reliable way to use a manual focus lens. This difficulty in checking critical focus is a bit troubling in an age where most mirrorless cameras make it easy.