Nikon’s entry-level DSLRs can be split into two groups: the D3xxx series, epitomised by the excellent D3300, offering a very affordable way into DSLR photography; and the D5xxx range of DSLRs designed for those looking for a few more features and greater creative control.
The D5600 is the latest camera in this latter series, replacing the 18-month-old D5500, which is now getting hard to track down.
As we saw with the recent D3400 upgrade to the D3300, rather than usher in a host of sweeping changes Nikon has opted for a more modest update, with the most notable new feature being the inclusion of Nikon’s SnapBridge technology, which facilitates easy and automatic transfer of images directly from camera to smart device.
- APS-C CMOS sensor, 24.2MP
- 3.2-inch, vari-angle touchscreen, 1,037,000 dots
- 1080p video capture
As far as features go, the specs for the D5600 are pretty much identical to those of the D5500. Resolution remains the same at a decent 24.2MP, with the APS-C-sized CMOS sensor again shunning an optical low pass filter in the quest to pull out even more detail from the data recorded.
The D5600 also uses the same EXPEED 4 image processor, with a native sensitivity range running from ISO100 to 25,600 meaning it should be quite comfortable shooting in a range of lighting conditions.
The optical viewfinder provides coverage of 95% of the frame, so for some key shots you may want to double-check the composition on the rear display to ensure that nothing unwanted has crept into the extreme edges of the frame.
Speaking of the display, there’s the same 3.2-inch vari-angle touchscreen display with a 1,037,000-dot resolution, although its operation has been improved. It now offers the frame-advance bar we’ve seen on both the D5 and D500 to speed up toggling through images, as well as a crop function for use during playback.
Another addition to the D5600 over the D5500 is Nikon’s timelapse movie function, as featured on models higher up the Nikon range. This allows for timelapse movies to be captured and put together entirely in-camera, with an exposure smoothing function helping to even-out variations in lighting as your sequence is captured.
While other manufacturers are starting to offer 4K video capture as standard, Nikon has, a little bit disappointingly, decided to stick with 1080p capture here, with a choice of 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p and 24p frame rates. The D5600 features a small stereo microphone positioned just in front of the hotshoe; if you want to use a dedicated microphone, there’s a 2.5mm port on the side of the camera.
As we’ve touched on, the most pronounced difference between the D5500 and D5600 is the inclusion of Nikon’s SnapBridge connectivity. While the D5500 featured Wi-Fi and NFC for image transfer, SnapBridge creates a constant connection between the camera and your smart device, once you’ve downloaded the free SnapBridge app and the initial setup’s been completed.
Using a low-energy Bluetooth connection, batches of images – or rather 2MP JPEG versions to be precise – can be automatically transferred from the D5600 to your device, or you can select individual images to transfer at full size, though again this is JPEG-only.
SnapBridge can also be used to transfer movies wirelessly, and for the remote capture of still images – in these cases Wi-Fi is used rather than Bluetooth.
The D5600 can be purchased body-only, but will more than likely be bought with the bundled AF-P DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens (there’s a non-VR version as well, but for a few dollars or pounds more it’s worth the extra outlay for a lens with anti-shake technology).
The lens is nice and compact, as well as offering Nikon's new silent AF and up to four stops of image stabilisation. It's more than up to the job of getting you started, and fine for general photography, although to make the most of the camera you'll want to think about investing in extra lenses down the line.
Build and handling
- Polycarbonate construction
- Design virtually identical to D5500
- Weighs 420g
Nikon has used a monocoque construction for the D5600, as seen in both the D5300 and D5500, with the shell of the camera forged from a single piece of material – in this case, a strong polycarbonate.
This has enabled Nikon to reduce the number of parts used and keep the weight down – the D5600 tips the scales at 420g, body-only) exactly the same as the D5500. And it's not only the weight that's the same, as the body appears to be pretty much identical to its predecessor – even the dimensions are the same, at 124 x 97 x 70mm.
This means the body retains its narrow portion between the lens mount and grip – if it wasn’t for the need for a reflex mirror, the depth of the D5600 would surely put some mirrorless rivals in the shade. The D5600 also keeps the well-proportioned handgrip, which makes the camera fit nicely in the hand and provides a very comfy grip.
The top of the D5600 isn’t overly cluttered with buttons, with a mode dial on the top of the camera that features the switch to activate Live View around its collar – it's quick and easy to flick on and off whenever you need to use the rear screen to shoot.
Next to this is the fully-exposed command dial (pretty much every other Nikon DSLR barring the D5500 has only a small portion exposed from the body) that allows you to make adjustments to the aperture/shutter speed depending on the shooting mode you’re using, while the exposure compensation button just in front makes it easy to quickly fine-tune the exposure. If you’re shooting in full manual mode, you can hold down the exposure comp button to adjust aperture with the command dial.
Round the back of the D5600 the streamlined control theme continues. There’s a multi-directional D-pad for navigating the camera’s menus and settings, which also doubles as an AF point selector, while hitting the ‘I’ button brings up a range of core settings on the rear display.
You can navigate these options using the D-pad, hitting the OK button at the centre of pad to select the setting you want to change before toggling through the settings for that setting. This process could perhaps be refined by allowing you to simply navigate to the desired feature with the D-pad before using the command dial to flick through to the required setting.
That said, you can of course make use of the D5600's touchscreen functionality to change settings – you simply tap the ‘I’ icon on the display, then tap through to the required setting and adjust it with another tap of the screen.
The D5600 isn't overly-reliant on the rear screen if you prefer more tactile controls. There’s a programmable function button on the front of the camera that your left thumb can easily press when your left hand is cupping the lens, which when used in conjunction with the command dial can be used to quickly set ISO as the default option, although other functions can be assigned to the button if you prefer.
There’s also a dedicated drive mode button just under the lens release which can toggle between the camera’s single and continuous shooting modes, as well as the self-timer.
- 39-point AF, nine cross-type AF points
- 39 or 11 AF points can be selected
- 3D-tracking AF
The D5600 sticks with Nikon’s proven 39-point Multi-CAM 4800DX AF system. It may be starting to show its age against mirrorless rivals offering ever-more AF points, but it’s still a very solid and accurate system when shooting with the viewfinder.
Both single and continuous AF modes are fast and accurate, locking on with ease to static subjects, while the AF tracking modes on offer work well for moving subjects, although you don’t get the more advanced custom settings found higher up the Nikon range.
We did find that the bundled 18-55mm kit lens struggled a little when light levels dropped; this issue isn't unique to the D5600, but put some better (and faster) glass on the front – even the dirt-cheap 35mm f/1.8G DX prime – and you’ll be rewarded with snappier autofocus.
As we’ve found on the D5500, the D5600’s large vari-angle touchscreen display encourages the use of Live View, but is left a little wanting when it comes to AF performance. With well-lit subjects the D5600 delivers accurate and quiet (if slightly sedate) focusing, especially compared to mirrorless cameras, but in darker conditions there can be a fair bit of hunting as the AF struggles to acquire focus, and you’ll soon find yourself flicking the Live View switch so that you can shoot with the viewfinder.
- 5fps burst shooting
- 820-shot battery life
- SnapBridge needs work
The D5600’s Matrix metering system copes well with a range of lighting situations, although you might need to dial in some negative exposure compensation in high-contrast scenes to retain highlight detail, and recover shadow detail in post-processing if necessary.
Alternatively, the D5600’s Active D-Lighting system can be useful in such situations, retaining more detail in both the highlights and shadows when shooting JPEG files.
The D5600’s auto white balance system performed well in a range of lighting conditions, rendering natural-looking results, although under some artificial lighting images can look at touch yellowish, so you may want to opt for one of the dedicated white balance presets.
The burst shooting speed of 5fps hasn’t increased over the D5500, and while it’s a solid number, some mirrorless cameras of comparable price and spec are offering considerably more speed in this area, so if action’s your thing this may give you pause for thought.
What a mirrorless camera will struggle to keep up with, however, is the D5600’s battery life. Good for 820 shots, it towers over most mirrorless options, with potential rivals like the Panasonic Lumix G80/G85 capable of just 330 shots before you’ll need to recharge or swap batteries.
SnapBridge on the D5600 still needs refining – we had issues partnering the camera with our iPhone at first, and it still feels a bit clunky in use. We love the idea, but it needs improving on.
- Creative Effect modes
- No low-pass filter
With the same sensor as the D5500 (and pretty much the same one as the D5300), the results from the 24.2MP chip didn’t throw up any nasty surprises.
As you’d expect, with all of those pixels packed onto the sensor, resolution is very good, with the absence of a low-pass filter allowing for intricate details to be recorded (for the best results, though, you’ll need something better than the 18-55mm kit lens), while there’s plenty of scope for decent enlargements too.
Images captured at lower sensitivities appear to be very clean, with little or no noise present. At ISO800 there’s a hint of luminance noise starting to appear in shadow areas, but this doesn’t have a detrimental impact on images, and it’s only at ISO6400 and above that the D5600’s processing starts to really encroach on image quality.
It’s at ISO6400 that detail begins to suffer, while both luminance and chroma noise become quite pronounced. Beyond that setting, while images remain usable, detail continues to decline, with saturation visibly reduced at the highest sensitivity.
Finally, dynamic range is impressive, with the potential to recover plenty of shadow detail in raw images shot at lower ISOs. This latitude does decrease as you ramp up the camera’s sensitivity, though, with ISO1600 about the limit at which you can expect recovered shadows to stand up to close scrutiny.
As an upgrade to the D5500, the D5600 is a touch underwhelming - just like the D3400 update to the D3300, the changes are modest at best, while the SnapBridge technology featured still needs to be refined and become more stable.
Forgetting the D5500 for a moment, and viewed against its rivals, and the D5600 is a very good mid-range DSLR.
While it does feel very much a sum of its parts rather than having one single standout feature that shines through, it's still a well-spec'd DSLR that should satisfy the appetite of both new or more experienced users.
It's a shame that there's not 4K video capture, but the high-resolution 24.2MP sensor produces very detailed images that won't disappoint - you'll have to get a full-frame camera to get better results. The articulating touchscreen adds refinement, while a decent 39-point AF system and polished handling make the D5600 one of the most well-rounded entry-level DSLRs available.
The D7200 is the next step up in the Nikon range. Packed with features, a decent performance and a excellent AF system, the D7200 is topped off with a cracking sensor to make it an ideal camera for enthusiasts – especially if you already own some Nikon lenses. It might be getting on a bit, but this makes it an ever better buy.
Read the full review: Nikon D7200
Canon EOS Rebel T6i / EOS 750D
Perhaps the closest rival to the D5600, the EOS Rebel T6i (EOS 750D outside the US) might be getting a little old now (it's just been replaced by the T7i / 800D), but its still one of the best entry-level DSLRs going, with a decent 24MP sensor, touchscreen interface and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Panasonic Lumix G80 / G85
Panasonic's Lumix G85 (or G80 if you're outside the US) is a cracking mid-price mirrorless camera with a vast range of compatible lenses. Its 16MP Micro Four Thirds sensor might not be quite a match for the D5600's, but it's not far off thanks to the absence of an optical low-pass filter. Handling and AF are great, there's a touchscreen and the build is that bit nicer than the D5600 thanks to a aluminium front plate. Throw in advanced 4K video capture, and you have a very nice camera.