Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent image quality with wide dynamic range
  • Compact and light yet well-built body with perfectly designed grip
  • 3.2" fully articulating LCD ideal for video and tripod use
  • Touchscreen makes menu navigation and rack focusing easy
  • Impressive focus tracking despite low resolution metering sensor
  • Advanced Auto ISO controls
  • Spot metering linked to AF point
  • Good 1080/60p video quality with clean 4:2:2 output over HDMI
  • Flat Picture Control provides more latitude when post-processing video
  • Built-in intervalometer with exposure smoothing
  • Strong battery life
  • Built-in Wi-Fi

Conclusion - Cons

  • Fine detail in JPEGs can get smudged at higher ISOs
  • Lacks second control dial found on most of competition
  • Limited buffer memory affects continuous shooting and bracketing when using Raw
  • No aperture control or Auto ISO in movie mode
  • No exposure simulation in live view
  • Buttons are very small
  • Very basic, often unreliable smartphone app
  • Missing the GPS receiver of its predecessor

Overall Conclusion

The Nikon D5500 is a midrange APS-C camera that may not catch your glance at first, but it should. It sits in a crowded field of DSLRs from Canon and Pentax as well as mirrorless cameras from just about everyone else.

What makes the D5500 stand out from the crowd is not just the features borrowed from higher-end models, but the work that the company has put into making the camera pleasure to use. It will appeal to folks who are moving up from a compact camera and want to point-and-shoot for a while, or to more advanced users who want something easy to carry around. While there were certainly compromises made to separate the D5500 from the D7200, most users in the former's target audience should be able to 'get by' without them.

Lincoln Square skybridge, Bellevue, WA. ISO 3200, 1/40 sec, f/3.5, 27mm equiv.

Image Quality

Image quality on the D5500 is essentially unchanged from the D5300, which is a good thing. The 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor, which lacks an anti-aliasing filter, has exceptional resolution and low noise through a good portion of its ISO range. The sensor - most likely manufactured by Sony - captures a wide amount of dynamic range, which gives the photographer a lot of latitude when working with Raw images. Despite being a midrange camera, the D5500 has advanced control over Auto ISO that is normally reserved for more expensive products.

Stairs at Suzzallo Library, University of Washington. ISO 450, 1/30 sec, f/3.5, 27mm equiv. Raw adjustments: exposure -0.15, highlights -18, shadows +38, luminance NR 20, sharpening 25 (0.8 radius), lens profile correction on.

You won't find much in the line of 'grainy' noise in the D5500's JPEGs, which Nikon suppresses until you cross ISO 3200, at which points fine detail starts to get smudged. The top sensitivities (ISO 12800 and 25600) are pretty mushy, though they're usable when downsized for print or web. When using Raw noise becomes noticeable at ISO 3200, though it doesn't start eating away detail until ISO 12800.

Something that is easy to get around but worth mentioning (on the D5500 and many other Nikon DSLRs) is its tendency to slightly overexpose. Unlike, say, the D750, you cannot 'bias' the metering system, which would allow you to avoid taking exposure compensation down a notch. My solution was to reduce the exposure by 1/3-stop and then bracket. Speaking of bias (no pun intended), there's no way to 'micro-adjust' lenses on the D5500, so if you have a nice prime that's front or back-focusing, you're out of luck. Mirrorless cameras don't need such a feature, but DSLRs do, in our experience. Especially now that resolutions are hitting and exceeding 24MP. Credit to Ricoh for adding this feature to the Pentax K-S2.

While video pros may pass on the D5500 due to its lack of aperture control and Auto ISO, the D5500 still outputs pleasant-looking video that's low in noise and free of artifacts. It supports Full HD at both 24p and 60p, and now has the same 'Flat' Picture Control as other recently announced Nikon cameras that allows for easier color gradation in post. If you want to output video to an external recorder, the D5500 can do so over HDMI.

Handling

While compromises are inevitable on compact DSLRs, Nikon has done an excellent job making the D5500 easy to hold and operate. The D5500 is surprisingly light, but it doesn't have that feel cheap plasticky feel like some other cameras in its class. Perhaps the best part of the 5500's design is its grip, which gives it a really secure feeling in your hands. One bummer is that there is only a single dial on the camera, in a time where the majority of its competitors have two (the Canon SL1/100D and T6i/750D being notable exceptions). Another issue with the design are the buttons, which are tiny and definitely a compromise.

In addition to its average-sized optical viewfinder, you can also compose photos on a 3.2" fully articulating LCD. Rotating LCDs like this one come in handy for both overhead and low-level shooting as well as for video. The display is also touch-enabled, which means that you can tap to focus or take photos, as well as browse through photos. An added benefit is the ability to navigate through the D5500's shortcut menu, which is otherwise frustrating to use because it requires so much button-pressing.

Sunset at Ocean Shores, WA. ISO 100, 1/125 sec, f/5.6, 36mm equiv.

The D5500 is a responsive performer in nearly all respects. Its 39-point autofocus system works quickly and accurately (though live view AF, which uses contrast detection, isn't so hot). Something that impressed us was its subject tracking abilities, despite having a low resolution metering sensor. The D5500 can shoot continuously at 5 fps, which is nice. What's not-so-nice is the buffer size, which brings things to a stop after just 5-6 Raw images (JPEGs can keep going for a while). This also affects bracketing, as you can only take two sequences before you need to wait for the camera to catch up. On a more positive note, the battery life on the D5500 is exceptional - nearly twice that of its Canon and Pentax peers.

The Final Word

The Nikon D5500 may be a camera you'll find on the shelf at places like Target and Costco, but it's not to be taken lightly (no pun intended). The D5500 has a full feature set, many of which are borrowed from higher-end models, and puts them into a compact, well-built, and easy-to-hold body. The D5500's sensor produces excellent image quality with a lot of dynamic range, and its video output is comparable to other cameras in its class. And you'll be able to take photos and videos for a lot longer than other midrange interchangeable lens cameras, as the D5500 has battery life that's 2-3 times better.

Alas, the D5500 isn't perfect, with some compromises made to keep its size down, and some others to keep people buying the D7200. The camera lacks a secondary dial, its buttons are tiny, and the buffer fills quickly when using Raw. The video features aren't complete, as there's no aperture control, Auto ISO, zebra pattern, or headphone jack. If you've tried Wi-Fi on cameras from other manufacturers you'll see that Nikon has some catching up to do in the smartphone app department, especially when it comes to remote camera control (which is point-and-shoot here).

The Nikon D5500 is certainly one of the best entry-to-midrange DSLRs on the market. It offers a very good selection of features along with impressive image quality, with most of its negatives being things that would mainly affect pros. It does face some stiff competition from DSLRs and mirrorless cameras from other manufacturers, which fare as well or better for less money. That said, taken as a whole, the D5500 is a go-anywhere DSLR that is strongly worth considering.

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 D5500
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 D5500 is a compact, lightweight, and very competent DSLR. Its image quality and continuous AF is impressive, feature set is broad, and performance is strong. It's not great for continuous Raw shooting and the lack of a second control dial may put off some enthusiasts, but overall the D5500 is well worth considering.
Good for
Anyone seeking a lightweight, portable DSLR that can serve both point-and-shoot and advanced users. Videophiles who will appreciate a touch LCD and broad feature set.
Not so good for
Those who frequently shoot bursts of Raw images, want full control from their smartphone, or prefer twin dial operation.
79%
Overall score

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