Nikon D5600 Digital Camera Review
This easy-to-use Nikon DSLR leaves your smartphone in the dust
If you're shopping for a new DSLR, there's a good chance you have Nikon on the top of your list. The new Nikon D5600 (MSRP $796 with 18-55mm kit lens) is the company's latest consumer-grade camera, and it's one of the smallest and lightest DSLRs around. We spent a few days with it both in our labs and out in the real world and we're here to report that it's a great pick if you want a lightweight camera that plays well with your smartphone.
The biggest addition is a new WiFi technology Nikon calls SnapBridge. SnapBridge uses wireless (both normal WiFi and the Bluetooth varieties) to maintain a constant connection between the camera and your phone. That means that the camera automatically pushes new photos to your phone as you happily shoot away.
Even though it's not quite professional-grade in terms of image quality (there's no 4K video, for instance), Nikon's put together a reliable package that's fairly priced and easy to learn with. SnapBridge helps make it an even better pair for your smartphone. Sure, you'd get more features and technology from a Panasonic Lumix and more style from an Olympus OM-D or Fujifilm, Nikon's light and simple D5600 is perfect for anyone that wants a classic DSLR.
What We Like
It's so small we almost lost it in the sofa
While the term "DSLR" still sounds like something only a pro would need, this is one Nikon that won't make amateurs turn tail and run away. Its tight, lightweight body makes it as easy to handle as you'd want. It looks the part of a "real" camera, but without the extra pounds that might intimidate your dad or aunt. It's almost as easy to tote around as its mirrorless competition. It's still bigger than something like the Panasonic Lumix GX85, but it's nowhere near as bulky as a Nikon D7200.
Even though the D5600 is as light as can be, it still offers up a deep grip that I thought was inviting to use. The controls are a little more limited when compared with some cameras in its class, but that keeps things simple. Between an intuitive touchscreen interface and a finely honed button and dial interface, the D5600 offers just enough for enthusiasts, while not overwhelming beginners.
More about that touchscreen: it's really nice! Rather than sticking with a fixed screen like some of its competition, Nikon mounted the D5600's screen onto the camera with a handy-dandy vari-angle hinge. That makes the D5600 ready for video or stills shooting at just about any angle.
SnapBridge is a step-up for social media mavens
If I'm being completely honest, I've never really liked any camera company's built-in WiFi solution. While some apps were clearly a cut above the rest, the fact that you had to dig your phone out of your pocket, initiate the connection, then wait for your pics to transfer was just a buzzkill. Nikon's latest WiFi tech, called SnapBridge, goes a long way to fix my tetchy relationship with WiFi-enabled cameras—even if it's still not perfect.
What SnapBridge does is use Bluetooth low-energy to transfer your photos over automatically. What helps a lot is the SnapBridge app's default setting to transfer only a 2 megapixel version of the image, which is plenty big for most social media services.
Now, SnapBridge wasn't 100% reliable during my time with the Nikon D5600. I had occasional pairing weirdness with my iPhone, where I had to turn the camera off and on to get it to start transferring a photo. It's also worth noting that the even though SnapBridge is pretty fast, it's not instantaneous by any means. It is, however, incredibly cool that whenever you take a break from a photo outing, your images will already be on your phone.
It might go without saying, but this will kick your phone's butt
If you've never used a modern DSLR before, get ready for it to impress you. Nikon isn't delivering the best-ever performance with the D5600, but that doesn't mean it can't trounce your phone in most ways. Whether it's taking photos in dim settings or trying to get an antsy toddler in focus, this Nikon will blow you away.
What We Don't Like
Very similar in most ways to the cheaper, older D5500
I feel a little bad dinging the D5600 for this, but it's a little more than a [warmed-over version of the older Nikon D5500. Performance is almost identical, including low-light noise and resolution. While video is better-than-average from a DSLR of this price, you're not getting 4K or any advanced videography features.
It's not bad news, since we really liked the D5500, but when you can snag cameras like the weathersealed, 4K-capable Panasonic Lumix G85 for around the same money, Nikon better watch its back. From a design standpoint, the D5600 is also rather dull; it looks just like every other DSLR. Looks aren't everything, but Fujifilm's latest X-A3 is clearly a step-up with its unique retro aesthetic.
The D5600 is still a capable DSLR, but it no longer has a clear edge over its mirrorless competition.
The optical viewfinder is small, not competitive
If there's one thing you miss out on with a consumer DSLR like this, it's when you put your face up to the optical viewfinder. To cut down on weight and cost, Nikon went with a simple pentamirror configuration inside the D5600. The result is that you get a small picture that's not as bright as slightly more expensive DSLRs. Cameras like the Pentax K-S2 offer up a real pentaprism with a bigger frame to peep for around the same money, making the full DSLR experience really come to life.
On the mirrorless side, you can easily snag a camera with a vivid, sharp electronic viewfinder for less than what Nikon charges for the D5600. Take, for instance, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II—this compact mirrorless camera offers up a high-resolution OLED electronic viewfinder built-in, which I think is better for beginners. It gives you a pixel-perfect idea of what the final image will look like, without having to look at the rear display.
Nikon delivers (almost) the ideal novice DSLR
Taken on its own, the Nikon D5600 is a fine camera, with imaging tech that still outclasses what even the best smartphone can manage by a huge margin. That's an important point to note for people looking for their first "real" camera—the D5600 is a great jumping-off point that only gets better once you ditch the kit zoom lens for one of Nikon's excellent, affordable prime lenses.
What's not so great about the D5600 is that image quality has only marginally improved since the D5500 that preceded it. Other than the SnapBridge WiFi element, the D5600 is a warmed-over D5500. If you don't think you'll use SnapBridge, you'll be just as happy picking up a D5500 new or used for a substantial discount.
The D5600 is otherwise competitively priced, but it's up against stiffer-than-ever competition. There are more advanced, sleeker cameras from Olympus, Fujifilm, and Panasonic that I'd also recommend in a pinch. Nikon's still constrained by the mirror inside the D5600, and so cameras like the Panasonic Lumix GX85 are almost point-and-shoot-sized by comparison.
But, Nikon has a leg-up on those cameras due to its easy-to-understand, touch-friendly interface. Its faster, cheaper rivals still manage to confuse me with their software from time-to-time. I'd also wager that this Nikon surfaces more useful information and visualizes it better than rival cameras, even those from Canon. Between its user interface and SnapBridge, the D5600 is well-positioned to please the Instagrammer who wants a "real" camera, as well as buyers who just want a great, easy-to-use DSLR.
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