Saturday, 29 March 2014

Nikon"s latest mainstream DSLR hits the sweet spot

Brands as big as Nikon have sometimes been known to rest on name recognition, pumping out new cameras that do little to improve on those that came before. But in the case of the new D5300 DSLR (MSRP $799.95), that hasn’t happened.

Under the hood, this camera boasts a few key changes that make all the difference. With on-board GPS, Wi-Fi, and some of the best DSLR video we’ve seen, this is a great choice for first-time system camera owners or those looking to upgrade from an aging Nikon body.

Overall, the D5300 is a pleasure to use. It sports the same familiar design cues, lightweight chassis, and control scheme as last year’s D5200, while offering a slightly improved grip. The combination is a winning formula, particularly if you’re accustomed to older, heavier DSLRs.

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The redesigned grip provides more surface area to latch onto, and the flip-out LCD helps you compose shots at odd angles. That said, we still preferred the optical viewfinder for its faster and more accurate shooting experience. While Nikon’s DSLR live view shooting has come a long way, it still can’t hold a candle to the experience offered by mirrorless brands such as Olympus, Panasonic, Sony and Fujifilm.

An interchangeable lens camera’s image quality is largely dependent on the glass you attach. Sadly, kit lenses are rarely better than adequate. Our tests with the included 18-140mm lens showcased the great sharpness of the D5300′s sensor, but telltale softening around the edges of our shots served as a reminder that better lenses are a worthwhile investment.

As far as video is concerned, it’s hard to ask for more in this price bracket. The Nikon D5300 produced sharp, smooth clips in bright and low light alike. Videographers will enjoy the microphone jack and manual audio level control.

The camera’s automatic white balance performance raised the only real red flag in our testing. Especially when shooting indoors in artificial light, the D5300 has a hard time producing accurate whites — they tend to skew toward yellow and green. It’s a relatively minor quibble, but owners who are serious about color accuracy should probably take the time to learn how to set a manual white balance.

THE SCIENCE: Read all about this camera’s lab testing performance

Despite its general similarity to last year’s model, the Nikon D5300 is a solid step forward, combining excellent performance and a surprisingly robust feature set. But that should be no surprise: Mirrorless cameras are improving at a rapid pace, and it’s clear Nikon is feeling the heat.

The D5300 may look like the same old boring Nikon DSLR, but with WiFi, GPS, a big 24-megapixel sensor, stellar video quality, and the reassuring comfort of an optical viewfinder, it’s every bit as capable. It also puts all of Canon’s sub-$1,000 offerings to shame.

This is a camera that users can grow with. The guts of the device are great, and Nikon’s lens system is incredibly deep, with options for everyone from beginners to pros. Though a DSLR isn’t necessarily the best option for everyone, the D5300 is one of the best choices in its price bracket — especially if you’re looking to shoot video.

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