Just a few years ago, if you wanted to buy an entry-level or midrange interchangeable lens camera, an SLR was the clear way to go. Now, mirrorless models like the Sony Alpha 6000 are more appealing options, especially if you value video recording. But there’s a case to be made for the old-fashioned SLR, and Nikon’s D5600 ($699.95, body only) is a strong traditional model with an optical viewfinder and an attractive price, especially if you already have some Nikkor lenses on hand. It has a solid autofocus system, offers seamless wireless transfer, and excellent image quality. It falls shy of our Editors’ Choice, which remains the Canon EOS Rebel T6s, but won’t disappoint photographers on the Nikon side of the fence.
The D5600’s body is slimmed down a bit compared with the D5500. The overall dimensions are about the same—3.8 by 4.9 by 2.8 inches (HWD)—but the body is slimmer in between the lens mount and hand grip, making it a bit more comfortable to hold. The camera weighs about a pound without a lens, putting it in the same ballpark as the slightly larger T6s, which comes in at 4 by 5.2 by 3.1 inches and 1.2 pounds. The D5600 is available only in black.
We’re reviewing the camera as a body only. Nikon has cut the cost of that configuration versus the D5500, which debuted at $900. Nikon also sells the D5600 bundled with the AF-P DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR for $799.95, with the 18-55mm and AF-P DX Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED for $1,149.95, or with the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR for $1,199.95.
The svelte body does mean that controls are a bit cramped. The left side features three buttons: Drive, Fn, and a dual-function button that raises the in-body flash and also adjusts its power above. Fn is programmable, and adjusts ISO by default. Putting the Drive control toward the bottom of the side is a bit awkward—I would have preferred to see it in a more accessible location. The placement is especially a pain if you frequently utilize the self-timer—it turns off after every shot, and there’s no way to leave it enabled for a sequence of exposures.
There’s no room to the left of the hot shoe for controls or buttons. To its right, on the top plate, you get a standard Mode dial with an integrated Live View toggle, movie Record and EV compensation buttons, the camera’s lone control dial, and the shutter release, which is surrounded by the power switch. The switch has on and off positions only—it doesn’t include a third position to activate depth of field preview, a feature the D5600 omits entirely. DoF preview stops down a lens to the shooting aperture, darkening the viewfinder but also showing you how much of your scene is in focus.
If you want this traditional feature you’ll need to move up to the D7200. The D7200 also features a screw-drive focus system, absent from the D5600, which will focus with older Nikkor AF lenses that lack an internal focus motor. The D5600 can only autofocus with lenses that bear the AF-S designation.
The Menu button is on the rear, above the LCD and to the left of the eyecup. Nikon has placed Info and AF-L/AE-L buttons in the same row, to the right of the viewfinder. The remaining controls—Play, i, Plus, Minus, Delete, and a four-way joypad with center OK button—are squeezed into the small space to the right of the rear LCD.
The i button launches an on-screen menu of additional shooting settings. These include image quality and file type, bracketing and HDR, Active D Lighting—which Nikon uses to better capture highlight and shadow detail when shooting JPGs—white balance, ISO, focus and metering settings, and flash and exposure compensation.
The optical viewfinder is a pentamirror type, which is a little bit smaller and dimmer than solid glass pentaprisms found in competing models like the Pentax K-70. You’ll see the outline of the active focus area in the finder, and you can toggle a framing grid overlay. A green LCD information panel runs along the bottom of the finder, displaying aperture, shutter speed, EV compensation, ISO, and shots remaining. It’s not as crisp as the blue LEDs you get with the D7200 and D500, but it gets the job done.
The rear LCD is big, at 3.2 inches, and crisp at 1,037k dots. It’s a touch screen—you can tap to set focus when working in Live View, navigate through menus, and swipe through images during review via touch. The display itself is mounted on a hinge, so it can swing out from the body and face all the way forward, up, or down. When you’re not using Live View it displays current exposure settings, and automatically goes dark when you bring the camera to your eye thanks to an eye sensor. When you have the camera up to your eye, you can drag your finger across the display to move the active focus point. Only the right half of the screen is active, so if you shoot with your left eye you may find the function to be limited—the D5600’s svelte design makes it tough to squeeze your finger in between your face and the LCD. The directional pad works to move the focus point too, and is more easily accessible if you prefer to use your left eye for photography.
Wired and Wireless Connectivity
The D5600 has a few physical connection ports—a hot shoe to mount a flash, a 3.5mm microphone input, a micro USB port for data, a wired remote port, and a mini HDMI port. A single memory card slot, supporting SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, has its own compartment on the right side. The battery is accessible via a door on the bottom plate. It’s rated for 820 shots, and an external charger is included. In-camera charging is not supported.
Nikon is using its SnapBridge system for wireless connectivity. It combines Bluetooth for seamless background file transfers to an Android or iOS device, and Wi-Fi for remote control and Live View. iOS owners will need to install a firmware update to make the D5600 work with an iPhone. We first saw SnapBridge implemented in an SLR with the D500, and while it isn’t different here, it is better suited for a consumer-grade camera like the D5600 than for the enthusiast and pro-oriented D500.
That’s because Bluetooth is a slow process. The D500 is designed for blisteringly fast image capture, and you don’t want hundreds of shots to automatically show up in your phone’s camera roll. D5600 customers are more likely to take fewer images, and having them copy over at a social media-friendly 2MP resolution isn’t a big deal. You can happily shoot away at a family event and know that the photos will be in your phone ready for sharing to Facebook or Instagram in short order. What’s more, the SnapBridge app can add GPS location data to images and ensure that the D5600’s clock is set to the correct time. If you prefer, you can disable automatic image transfer and only send photos you choose—if you opt for that method, you can transfer images at full resolution.
The D5600 uses Wi-Fi as a method for remote control only. Unfortunately the SnapBridge app only allows for very basic operation. You can tap on the screen to set a focus point and fire the shutter, but you can’t make manual adjustments to shutter speed, aperture, or ISO. It’s a no-frills experience that’s bettered by other remote control apps, including the one for the Canon T6s, which support full manual exposure control.
The D5600 is a speedy performer. It turns on, focuses, and fires in about 0.7-second. Its autofocus system locks on in about 0.1-second in bright light and 0.5-second in very dim conditions. Live View focus is slower than competing mirrorless models like the Sony Alpha 6000, however, requiring about 1 second to lock focus and fire, in both dim and bright light.
The burst rate when shooting JPGs is 5fps, a pace which is kept for 23 shots when using a SanDisk 280MBps memory card. Raw+JPG or Raw shooting slows the capture rate down, to 4.1fps, and it can only keep that pace up for five shots. The Canon T6s is also limited to five images at 5fps when shooting in Raw, but can fire JPGs continuously, making it a slightly better choice for action photographers.
If you’re interested in shooting sports or wildlife, it’s worth it to consider stepping up to the D7200, which has a more advanced 51-point focus system, or waiting to see if the Canon T7i is as good in reality as it is on paper—it boasts a 45-point focus system, made up entirely of cross-type sensors, the same that Canon uses in its current 80D and upcoming 77D.
That’s not to say the 39-point focus system used by the D5600 isn’t a strong one—it is. It covers a wide strip in the center of the frame, similar to the width of a letterboxed movie presentation, and gets fairly close to the edges. It’s not the same level of coverage offered by the premium D500, but is solid for a camera at this price point. Nikon’s 3D tracking system is supported, which allows you to identify a subject by placing the focus point over it. The autofocus system will continue to follow the subject as it moves through the frame, assuming you’re using the AF-C setting. It works quite well.
Image and Video Quality
I used Imatest to evaluate the quality of images captured by the D5600’s image sensor. As expected, performance is in line with what we saw with the previous generation D5500—the two models share the same 24MP image sensor and image processor. To maximize detail, Nikon doesn’t include an optical low-pass filter (OLPF) in the sensor design.
The camera keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 6400 and shows about 1.6 percent at ISO 12800. Image quality isn’t perfect when pushing the camera to the limits of its noise control, however. When shooting JPGs at default settings the D5600 captures images that are crisp with little evidence of degradation through ISO 1600. There is some slight smudging of details visible at ISO 3200 and 6400. Images start to appear blurred at ISO 12800, and detail is all but gone at ISO 25600.
You can get more detail out of images at higher ISO settings by shooting in Raw format. Noise reduction isn’t applied in-camera, so images show more grain than JPGs. In Raw format detail is strong, even at ISO 12800. Pushing to ISO 25600 is still a bit much, as grain overtakes detail. Raw image quality is up there with the best APS-C SLRs we’ve tested, delivering results that are nearly indistinguishable from the Rebel T6s.
Video is available in 1080p quality at up to 60fps. The footage is as strong and crisp as you can expect from HD, but not on the same level as 4K. The D5600 supports aperture, shutter, and EV adjustment when recording footage, and you can set its autofocus system to automatically change focus as the scene changes (AF-F), or to only focus on demand (AF-S). Like other cameras that rely on contrast detection for video focus, the system hunts back and forth before locking focus. The D5600 is quite quick, but it’s a distracting effect. If you want smoother focus when shooting video, consider an SLR like the Canon T7i or 77D, both of which use on-sensor phase detection for smooth video focus, or a mirrorless camera like the Sony Alpha 6000.
Audio is handled by an integrated stereo microphone, which picks up voices clearly, but doesn’t filter out background noise. If you’re recording an interview or similar clip where audio is key, use an external microphone—the D5600 has a standard input, on-screen monitors, and level adjustment.
The Nikon D5600 is a relatively minor update to the D5500, which was already an excellent SLR. The big addition is SnapBridge, which uses Bluetooth to make file transfers seamless, as well as adding GPS data to images. The same strong autofocus system and image sensor carry over, both of which deliver excellent results. There are some turn-offs for serious photographers, notably a small body that makes controls feel a bit cramped, but if you’re looking for an SLR to capture family memories and document your travels with quality that puts a smartphone to shame, the D5600 is right up your alley.
Our favorite consumer SLR is still the Canon Rebel T6s. Its image quality is on par with the D5600, and its video focus capabilities are stronger. You may also want to consider an entry-level mirrorless camera, which cuts size and weight by utilizing an electronic viewfinder instead of an optical one. Our favorite in this price range is the Sony Alpha 6000. But if you value a smaller body size and don’t put a strong emphasis on video, the D5600 is a good way to go.