Monday, January 6, 2014

Nikon D5300 Review: Comparison with D5200

Nikon D5200 and D5300

Even though the D7000 and D7100 earn the most DX attention on internet forums, its the D5200 and D3200 that sell in larger numbers for Nikon, and for good reason. For all of the benefits of having the higher end bodies, the D5xxx series just plain offers more value for the money. Consequently, the lower-tier models are refreshed more frequently than the serious-enthusiast cameras, as the competition in this part of the DSLR market is fierce between Canon and Nikon. This doesn't mean that Nikon expects D5200 owners to go out en masse  and upgrade to the newer model. Rather, what this means is that anybody stepping into this level of camera can expect to benefit from the constant (if incremental) tinkering that goes on. As such, the most obvious differences between the D5300 and the D5200 are:

  • New Sony 24mp sensor, no anti-aliasing filter
  • Video recording to 1080p at 60fps
  • New 3.2" LCD (3:2 aspect ratio)
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and GPS
  • Improved battery life.

"Boring" is likely to be the word over used to describe the transition to the D5300, but many small improvements make for a better camera. You might wonder why the D5xxx series seems to be on a one year refresh cycle whereas the D7xxx series gets refreshed every 2. That's because the consumer end of the market is more spec-driven, where as the serious-enthusiast market is more capability-driven. Said another way, the D5300 is marketed on specs, but the D7100 tends to trade on reputation. However, the D5300 is not a simple upgrade of the D5200. Launched during the 2013 Christmas season, Nikon focused their sales efforts on the D5200 as the value proposition in their lineup. The D5300, though announced and available on store shelves, was set aside by Nikon during the holiday season in the traditional push for the value DSLR shopper. This was not unlike the launch of the D5200, with was announced in late 2012 but didn't ship in North America until January 2013. If a value-oriented customer came into a camera shop to look at the D5300 but bought a discounted D5200 instead, then the D5300 would have done its job. In such a situation, the store would not need a large stock of the newer camera, just enough to lure people into drawing down their old stock while meeting the needs of anybody would insist on having the D5300 because it was newer. If present trends hold true (and there's no guarantee of that in a contracting global camera market) then the the D5300 will be an economically important camera for Nikon for the 2014 holiday season.

Body and Design

The D5300 is almost immediately recognizable as a D5xxx Nikon; in fact, you would probably mistake it for the D5200 without a second thought. Design-wise, there are subtle differences, mostly to do with some sharper edges and detailing here and there. In your hand, the most immediate difference is that the thumb rest is larger, making the D5300 feel more secure in your hands than the D5200. Usually, the smaller Nikon and Canon cameras are not as comfortable to hold as the larger cameras in each lineup, but the D5300's combination of a deep finger hook on the front of the grip and the larger thumb-rest on the back make for one of the nicer-to-hold cameras of this size. Additionally, though the difference is almost imperceptible with casual use, the D5300 is actually smaller and lighter than the D5200.

Left: D5200       Right: D5300
The screen size is now in line with most of the other Nikon bodies at 3.2 inches diagonal. Lagging behind the times, it's still not a touch screen. Compared to the Canon T5i (EOS 700D), the D5300 is missing some useful operations in this regards, such as touch-to-focus during video operation. The lack of touch controls in a camera aimed at this segment of the market is an oversight; "pinch-zoom" and swipe-gestures are common place controls on phones and tablets... even automotive entertainment/navigation systems. The lack of touch control is a barrier to entry to this class of camera, and to honest, touch control is such a large part of our lives now that the practical benefits should be apparent, even for camera use.

The drive-mode button has migrated to just under the the lens-mount release button; it's in the same place that the AF-area mode button would be on the D7000 and the D7100. Rear button placement is a little more close-knit than before, but in practical usage, there isn't much of a penalty in terms of user-comfort.  The spec sheets says that the D5300 viewfinder is larger than the D5200's (0.82x vs. 0.78x, both at 95% coverage). It's not something that immediately jumps out at you, and is still nowhere near as comfortable to use as the one on the D7100, but it is a nice improvement if you've used the D3200 or the D5200.

There's been some confusion regarding the video capabilities of the D5300. Despite what has been reported or guess at, the D5300 cannot change the aperture in Live View or during video recording; the aperture is locked at the value of when you enter live-view mode. However, there is a manual video mode that does allow the user to set the shutter speed and ISO during video recording. There is now an option to record at 1080p at 60fps for NTSC output. Auto-focusing speed and accuracy during video has improved, though the more pressing issue is that Nikon does not have anything to Canon's smooth-acting stepper motors (STM) for video usage. As such, video autofocusing tends to move in abrupt step-wise motions.

Wi-Fi is built in on the D5300, though it basically amounts to having the WU-1a Wi-Fi circuitry on-board the camera. The positive aspect of this is that is represents a savings of $60 USD over buying the part separately. The downside is that nothing much has changed on the app side of the equation...  The phone/tablet app lets you shoot remotely and transfer images (but not video). Connecting with social media like Facebook and Twitter are not really Nikon's thing... Also, bear in mind that if you are transferring a large amount of images (after a long vacation, for example), you will be able to do the job faster and more reliably by simply using a decent card reader rather than by Wi-Fi. Making up for the lack of connectivity (somewhat) is the additional ability to log GPS data. To do so, the camera needs line-of-sight to a GPS satellite.

Not depicted: Aside from black and red, the D5300 comes in a rather attractive gunmetal-grey option that manages to be both cutting-edge masculine and stylish feminine at the same time. Pictures don't seem to do the grey version justice; you have to see it in person to get an accurate sense of its colour.

Left: D5200         Right: D5300

One surprising thing about the D5300 is that the body is made with carbon fiber, an advanced material that isn't currently being used in Nikon's higher-end cameras. In Nikon USA's own words:  

"The D5300 employs a newly developed monocoque structure with carbon fiber reinforced plastic material for its camera body. By eliminating the conventional metal chassis and adopting a monocoque structure for the outer frame, a compact and durable body is realized." 

In practical terms, the D5300 looks and feels like the D5200, but theoretically, it is simpler on the inside because there isn't a separate shell sitting on top of a frame. It's similar to the difference between an old body-on-frame truck and today's modern single-shell uni-body cars. This isn't the fancy multi-layer carbon fiber construction that's used in Formula One cars; that sort of production is very time intensive and can only be applied to short-run prototypes. The material in the D5300 was sourced from Teijin and is sold to the industry under the Sereebo(TM) brand name. Previously, similar composites used short fibers embedded into injectable thermoplastic; this allows for a composite material that is suitable for mass production but which does not realize the strength potential of other carbon composites because the fibers are short and randomly arranged. Teijin offers several different materials, including short-fiber construction and a long-fiber thermoplastic pellet method which promises better strength characteristics. However, there is no mention of which material is used in the D5300. Regardless, you can not tell by looking at the D5300 that it incorporates carbon fiber because the surface texture does not have the stereotypical woven texture associated with the traditionally manufactured material.

Left: D5200        Right: D5300

Nikon D5300 with AF-S DX 18–140mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED VR

The D5300 comes with two kit options, the first being with the traditional 18-55VR kit lens and the second, curiously, with the 18-140mm lens offered on the D7100. This makes for a versatile all-in-one combination that also loses something in the way of size and portability. The cost of the 18-140mm option also pushes the total price of the D5300 further up the range, taking it somewhat out of the "value" portion of the price spectrum. 

D5200 Image Quality

In terms of image quality, the D5200 and D5300 are similar, but one (small) generation apart. The D5200 uses a Toshiba-sourced 24mp sensor with an anti-aliasing filter, while the D5300 uses a filter-less chip obtained through Sony. Here again is the ad hoc refrigerator ISO/dynamic range  out-of-camera JPEG test, first for the D5200. This (and the D5300) was shot with the same Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S VR DX lens.

D5200 ISO 100
D5200 ISO 800
D5200 ISO 1600
D5200 ISO 3200
D5200 ISO 6400

Like the D7100, ISO 3200 is roughly the limit for comfortable shooting, and even that is a bit of stretch, as the texture of the noise grain  is very palpable at ISO 3200, both in pattern noise and in chroma noise.It's arguable whether or not the typical D5200 user is this discerning, but for all practical purposes, the D5200 is a definite improvement over the D5100 by the simple fact that it offers more resolution but at little image quality cost when you compare images at equivalent sizes.

D5300 Image Quality

White balance (not depicted) with the D5300 is fairly similar to the D5200. Like the other consumer-oriented Nikon's, the exposure coming out of the D5300 appears "bright" because of strong mid-tone output.

D5300 ISO 100
D5300 ISO 800 (Apologies for the motion blur)
D5300 ISO 1600
D5300 ISO 3200
D5300 ISO 6400

At ISO 3200, the pattern and chroma noise on the D5300 are more controlled tan on the D5200, though noise suppression is most definitely in effect. The D5300 images appear to hold onto edge acuity better than the D5200 at higher ISO's. Just as a reminder, these are JPEG samples; whether or not they manifest in the NEF files is a another story, but its arguable whether or not the D5300 consumer is interested in processing RAW files.

Image Quality: D5200 vs D5300 

Comparing ISO 1600 and 3200 images from both cameras side-by-side, the D5300 appears to have less image noise and better edge acuity. Dynamic range appears to be a tad bit better judging by the differences of the highlights on the bottles, though this could be partly down to differences in JPEG processing rather than fundamental sensor differences.

ISO 1600
ISO 3200

Despite the influences of the JPEG processing engine, there does appear to be an innate difference in how the fixed-noise patterns of these cameras appear. For a comparison of pattern noise (aka "banding) with the Pentax K-3 and Canon EOS 70D, refer to this post. This is what the pattern noise looks like from the D7100 and D5300 when black (cap-on) JPEG ISO 12,800 samples are pushed 5 stops. Here are the original cap-on black patches from the two cameras:

D7100 ISO 12,800
D5300 ISO 12,800

Neither of these two cameras produce truly black images at ISO 12,800. Mind you, these are JPEG files and not the actual RAW data, but you can make out the subject texture of the noise from these two cameras. Already, you can see some banding in the D7100, and this is without pushing the exposure. The D5200 uses a similar sensor manufactured by Toshiba, but without the anti-aliasing filter. When you compare the samples above with the pushed black patches, you can see that a significant degree of the qualitative texture of the noise of the D7100 (and D5200) is coming from the pattern noise characteristics of the sensor itself.

D7100 black patch , ISO 12,800 pushed 5 EV (Similar sensor to D5200)
D5300 black patch, ISO 12,800 pushed 5 EV

As you can see, the D5300 is not less noisy than the D5200 at extremely high ISO, but the quality of the noise is more random. The orderliness of the image noise in the D5200 is what is perceived as banding in deep shadows. In practice, this means that the D5300 is somewhat more forgiving for shadow recovery in post processing, and produces somewhat more natural looking noise patterns in the deep shadows of high ISO images.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The D5300  is a capable camera, but in the early months after its launch, its value to Nikon seems to be as a halo product for the D5200. It makes more sense as an upgrade for D3000 and D5000 owners than it does for more recent Nikon cameras. As Nikon draws down stock of the D5200, the D5300 will gain more importance in the lineup.

There's a curiosity with the choice of kit lenses mentioned in the promotional material. American MSRP is roughly $899 for the 18-55 kit lens, or $1,399 with the new 18-140mm. See what just happened there? No more 18-105mm kit option. Nikon is quietly shifting their average selling prices upward by moving consumers up to the new higher-spec but more expensive lens. Of course, you can buy any combination of lens and body that you wish, including the D5300 with an 18-105mm, but it's exclusion from the promotional material is a good indicator of what Nikon would like you to buy. The MSRP for the D5300 and 18-140mm is $400 more than the street price of the D5200 and 18-105mm. Affordable and capable body, but they get you in the lens, so to speak.

D5300 Versus D7100

Traditionally, the D5xxx series has been the value leader in Nikon's lineup. If you only look at the spec sheet, the camera seems fairly close to its bigger brother. In practice, these are two different cameras for two different types of photographers. Bigger, faster, stronger is a fairly good way to describe the D7100. "Bigger," as in bigger and heavier. "Faster," as in faster camera operation and faster camera performance. Stronger as in having a sturdier build. If you don't need all of those things, aren't an action photographer and don't have AF-D lenses in your collection, then the D5300 is as always good value for the money.

D5300 Versus D7000

Compared to the D7000, the D5300 is a superior camera on paper, but the D7000 is a better camera in real-world usage. For nearly the same price (or possibly less for body-only), the D7000 allows for faster overall operation, a better viewfinder and compatibility with AF-D lenses. Even though the D5300 will produce better images by virtue of its newer sensor, the D7000 lets you get to a decent image a greater percentage of the time because of its superior ergonomics. However, there is size and weight difference between these two cameras, so its always best to compare in person in order to grasp the differences on an intuitive sense.

D5300 Versus Canon T5i

Canon's lower-end EOS units virtually define the term "affordable DSLR," and as such, the T5i is a naturally competitor to the D5300. The Nikon is smaller and more svelte, whereas the Canon could be described as "small-average" in size. The differences are strengths are fairly distinct between these two cameras. For outright still image quality, the D5300 is the better camera, but for video, the T5i's touch screen controls and Canon's STM lenses make for a more compelling choice.

With thanks to Broadway Camera.


  1. Great info, thank you. How refined is the shutter sound? I've read reports that the 5100 was quieter than the 5200. Although I prefer Nikon cameras, the Panasonic gx7 is attractive with it's dead silent operations. Thanks again for your informative reviews. Taps Taporco

    1. I can't tell if the shutter is any different from the D5200, but that camera seems to have a softer sound than the D7000/D7100, so both the D5200 and D5300 seem "quiet" to me. There is also a "quiet mode" that softens the shutter operation, but no DSLR (using the view finder) is as quiet as a mirrorless camera using an electronic shutter mode.

  2. Thank you. Looking forward to your next review. Taps Taporco

  3. Hi,
    I am planning to buy a new DSLR (first of my life) and quite confused between D5200 and D5300. I am a casual photographer who takes pictures of landscapes and family friends.

    I want to know the effect of Expeed 4 processor in image and video processing because I do not really care about the other extras being offered by D5300 like WiFi. Could you please help me out?


  4. If that is the case, the D5200 is probably the camera for you. The main improvements are: slightly sharper image (no AA filter), Wifi, longer battery life and better video (60fps in 1080p vs 1080i). Though it's subtle, video focusing is also improved on the D5300.

    However, I'm a big proponent of trying cameras before you buy them: even though they look similar, most people will find the re-profiled D5300 more comfortable to hold.

    Basically any DSLR that you pick up will give you a quantum leap in image quality from a compact camera. The D5300 is evolutionary rather than evolutionary, so finding the D5200 on discount gives you the best value. By all means, if you do choose the older camera, you will not be missing much over the new one.

  5. Dear Admin,
    I read your post. I appreciate this because it gives us nice and interesting info. About on this topic.
    Thank you for your informative and wonderful post.
    Nikon D5300

  6. I am confused between Nikon D5200 and D5300 which one is best for me. If we look at TRD Electronics we will find lots of cameras here in low price but i look for D5200, D5300. Please suggest me which one is better for me.