In order for the smallest DSLR cameras not to be comparatively larger in relation to the MILC category, manufacturers have begun with miniaturization. Up to this moment, Canon went furthest with its EOS 100D, but we must admit that Nikon’s route is probably more interesting – they packed a body of superb performances into small dimensions, at the same time not sacrificing functionality, ergonomics, and in particular – grip comfort. What is more, we can say that the Nikon D5500 is perhaps the most comfortable small DSLR – the very antithesis of everything that Nikon has accomplished so far concerning this design aspect.
When we compare the specifications, we are in for a real surprise. The dimensions of this model are 124 x 97 x 70 mm. According to this, it turns out that the new camera is smaller than the older one only by one and a half millimeters in width and height, and some 6 mm when it comes to the depth. However, in practice the situation is such that the new camera, despite its shallower depth, features much more comfortable grip. That is achieved by a greater depth of the grip, that is to say by a much smaller profile of the camera at the area separating the grip from the mount. In this way, Nikon quite elegantly solved a long-term problem with very poor ergonomics of its small cameras. How epic this improvement is is indicated by the impression that the D5500 is undoubtedly more comfortable than much more expensive models, such as D7200, or even D610! The smaller dimensions also brought a direct reduction in the overall weight, so it is 470 grams with batteries, while the old model weighed as much as 530. The difference is almost unreal for that size!
For several times, we have highlighted comfort as one of the most marked changes regarding design, and we will also add that the rubber lining is now molded a little bit better, which particularly refers to the part on the grip, which now fills up the area to the mount. It is a pity that the right side of the camera is not covered with rubber, which does not contribute to better holding, but that’s the way it is. The construction has kept the same organization, which means that it is metal, covered with plastic sheeting. The firmness achieved in this way is not at the level of what more expensive cameras boast, but at the same time it is not anything that would make the owner dissatisfied, unless he/she does not prefer some extreme use.
Just like the majority of similar cameras, the Nikon D5500 is not sealed either, while the other aspects of robustness are average. This means that the curtain is estimated at about 100,000 actuations on average. The mount is the standard Nikon F, while we have to stress that the D5500 does not feature its own AF motor and the accompanying ‘screwdriver’, so autofocus is available solely with lenses featuring their own motor. In the original manual (attached in the summary of this review), you can find detailed specifications concerning the camera’s compatibility with certain classes of lenses, and the following table presents that information in brief:
SENSOR, PROCESSOR, AND A FEW MORE THINGS
We are already familiar with the sensor, from the D5300 – it is in the identical form, without the AA/LP (Anti-Aliasing/Low-Pass) filter. Let’s recall: it is a Sony CMOS sensor with the 3:2 aspect ratio and dimensions 23.5 x 15.6 mm, whose resolution is precisely 24MP (6000 x 4000 pixels). The APS-C (Advanced Photo System type-C) format in this case stands for the 1.5x crop factor (DX, in Nikon’s terminology), which has to do with the field of view (FOV), i.e. the multiplying factor in relation to the full-frame sensor (i.e. 35mm Leica format). By multiplying the focal length indicated on the lens and the 1.5 multiplicator, we get the equivalent focal length of a lens on the FF sensor. In other words, when the focal length of the kit lens, the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II, is multiplied by the 1.5 crop factor, we get the situation in which that lens on the Nikon D5500 offers the field of view equivalent to a lens whose focal length is 27-82mm on the full-frame sensor (36 x 24 mm). In the case of the longer of the two offered standard kit lenses, the focal length of 18-140mm becomes equivalent to that of a 27-210mm lens on the 35mm sensor, while the equivalent focal length of the only telephoto lens is 82-300mm.
24MP Sony CMOS sensor without the AA filter*
The overall ISO range has remained the same as in the case of the predecessor, whereby the overall range is now equal to the native one. This means that the Nikon D5500 offers ISO 100-25600, without values obtained through software. This points to certain changes concerning the process of reading and strengthening the signal, and it may even turn out that its low-light performances are better in comparison to the predecessor. The ISO can be set in 1/3 stops, while the AutoISO option remains one of the most flexible options we have encountered so far. Aside from the forced predefined exposure duration of maximum 1/2000s, there is also an auto mode, which strives to follow the rule 1/f (f stands for the focal length of a lens), also taking into account the crop factor, so, for instance, for the focal length of 100mm, the auto mode will select approximately 1/160s. The flexibility of the AutoISO function does not stop here, so this rule, too, can be adjusted to one’s own needs – it can be forced to operate two steps slower or faster. This means that in practice you will hardly find yourself in a situation that this Nikon DSLR cannot cope with, so you will not have to worry about the ISO sensitivity.
We are also familiar with the processor – Expeed 4 – and it is responsible for coordinating the work of all the subsystems inside the camera. Despite the fact that both the sensor and the processor are the same as in the case of the D5300, Nikon decided to let the Expeed processor take the lead, so the buffer can now offer much greater operating speed.
Nikon Expeed 4 processor*
As in the case of other Nikon DSLRs, the D5500 is also equipped with a system of automatic dust cleaning from the sensor. The technology labeled Integrated Dust Reduction System operates in a similar way as corresponding systems of other manufacturers, and it includes a combination of oppositely charged surfaces and a low-pass filter, from which dust is shaken off by means of piezoelectric vibrations. Nikon’s performance vibrates at four different frequencies, by which it effectively influences dust particles of different shapes and sizes. Unless set differently, cleaning is activated whenever the camera is turned on/off. Moreover, it can be activated additionally at will while the camera is being used. The long-time presence of the self-cleaning system, in more or less all contemporary DSLRs, indicates that this system helps in keeping the sensor clean, and not only the sensor, while it can also be combined with the option of removing dust by means of software, labeled Image Dust-off, which, with the help of the Nikon Capture NX2 application (available separately), maps the remaining dust particles and removes them from photographs.
Nikon Integrated Dust Reduction System – for effective fight against dust on the sensor*
The light metering sensor has been unaltered for a couple of generations, which should not strike a negative note. The 2016-pixel RGB sensor belongs to a class of modern and very effective ones. The most frequently used one is Matrix, and it is offered in two versions, which will be selected automatically depending on the lens that is mounted on the camera. The primary version – 3D Color Matrix Metering II – performs metering by means of all the three color channels, by sampling input light from the entire sensor, after which it works out the average, taking into account tonality and presence of colors, while in combination with D and G lenses, the distance at which the light is metered as well, by which the desired part of the frame is placed in charge of determining correct exposure. In case of using electronic D and G lenses, the Color Matrix Metering II is used (without the 3D prefix and the possibility to determine distance). The Center-weighted metering also meters the entire scene, but dedicates 75% of its attention to the central part of the frame, because of which it is favorite when it comes to capturing portraits. The last metering mode is the Spot. This mode lays stress on a very small circle, the diameter of which is only 3.5mm (2.5% of the frame surface), with the center in a currently selected focus point, which is why it is used in situations when it is necessary to determine a specific exposure length of the focused subject, regardless of the exposure of the rest of the frame. Of course, the light meter is also in charge of metering the needed flash power in the i-TTL mode.
2016-pixel TTL RGB light metering sensor *
The well-known autofocus system is now standard in this Nikon’s class, and since it is one of the best currently on the market, it is no wonder that Nikon decided to carry on with its use. Its name is Multi-CAM4800DX, and it is characterized by a set of 39 AF points, 9 of which are cross-type, which means twice as great sensitivity, as well as accuracy.
Multi-CAM4800 TTL, AF module with 39 points, 9 of which is cross-type*
The 39 AF points cover quite a great part of the frame, and if needed, their number can be limited to only 11. The arrangement of all the points, including the cross-type ones (depending on the maximum aperture), can be seen in the illustration below:
Arrangement of the AF points: 39 or 11 AF points, as well as 9 cross-type
There are three modes of focus and they are standard for Nikon cameras: the AF-S (Single-Servo AF) is the most used mode, by which focusing is conducted in a one-shot manner, with one point or a set of points assigned in advance; the AF-C (Continuous-Servo AF) is a mode by which focus is permanently corrected in relation to the subject, i.e. its distance and position in relation to the selected AF point or group of points, and as such – it is used for tracking a moving subject; the AF-A (Auto-Servo AF) is a hybrid of the previous two modes, and after initial one-shot focusing, it automatically switches to the continuous focus mode, in case it registers a change in the distance of the selected subject. Aside from these autofocus modes, manual focus is also available (of course), aided by the integrated rangefinder, whose services result in more accurate manual focusing; it is active at stops from f/5.6 and larger, of course – at any of the 39 AF points that can be selected.
There are four autofocus methods, which are used in combination with the said AF modes. They have to do with a number of AF points and the way they are selected. The Single-point AF is the most basic version of focus, but traditionally the most reliable one, since the photographer keeps the complete control over the moment of focus and the selected point. It is available in all the focus modes:
Single-point AF, focusing with one selected point
The second method, Dynamic-area AF, is a form of focusing that is primarily aimed at tracking a moving subject, when the center of focus is maintained on the previously selected point, and the surrounding ones help in recognizing and maintaining the focus on the chosen subject. It should be used in the Continuous-Servo focus mode (AF-C) or Auto-Servo mode (AF-A), while in the Single-Servo mode (AF-S) it is not available. Depending on the conditions, that is to say on the complexity of the subject’s movement, three subvariants are at one’s disposal. They include the option of selecting automatic focus by using all the points (39), by reducing their number to 21 points, or to only 9, respectively. The group of 9 points should be used when it is harder to maintain one focus point (with the Single-point method) on, usually, a small subject, which moves relatively fast, yet whose movement can be predicted:
Dynamic-area AF, focus area with 9 AF points
The 21 points will be more convenient for tracking the movement of a subject that is less predictable, yet with poorer accuracy, since the AF system will not always be able to estimate accurately the needed distance:
Dynamic-area AF, focus area with 21 AF points
The 39-point variant is intended for situations in which it is necessary to track remarkably fast subjects, which are difficult to keep in the same part of the frame:
Dynamic-area AF, focus area with 39 AF points
The 3D-Tracking is systemically the most complex of all forms of autofocus since it includes the maximum ‘concentration’ of two key systems in the camera - the autofocus system and the metering system. This is a focus mode by which, after initially determining the subject, that subject is tracked dynamically (along all the three axes) within the frame, with an automatic change of the active AF point, as long as the subject is kept within the marked focus area. The coordination is permanently conducted between the AF sensor and the light metering sensor, which analyzes the tonality, color and illumination of the selected subject, so based on the obtained data, it informs the AF system about the subject position and predicts its movement. If the subject, owing to an untimely reaction on the photographer’s part, temporarily ‘leaves’ the focus area, all that needs to be done is to choose a subject once again. As expected, the 3D-Tracking is available only in the Continuous-Servo mode (AF-C) and the Auto-Servo mode (AF-A):
3D-Tracking, automatic tracking of the subject in space by dynamically changing the points
In some situations, the 3D-Tracking manages to maintain focus on the chosen subject quite successfully, which in certain cases can mean significantly greater compositional freedom, which is usually rather limited when it comes to action photography – particularly because its way of functioning requires a minimum need for tracking the subject by moving the camera, as long as it is in ‘sight’ of the focus area. The main difference between this method and the one with a 39-point dynamic zone mentioned earlier is that the 3D-Tracking mode does not have the ‘primary’ point. The subject is chosen at the beginning, and after that, all the AF points are completely equal and they give priority to each other, in accordance with the movement of the subject inside the frame. In other words, classical point-selection methods mean that the selection of points is performed by the photographer, while the 3D-Tracking features automatic point selection in reference to the position of the chosen subject. In the Dynamic-area mode with 39 points, one point is given absolute priority, while the others are there only to assist it. Anyway, the 3D-Tracking mode is not omnipotent and should be avoided in almost all situations where the subject does not clearly stand out from the background, i.e. when the background is either too close, or too confusing, so the light meter may have some problems recognizing the subject that is being tracked.
The last focus method is in fact the first, if we disregard the fact that all manufacturers without exception set it as the default one. The Auto-area AF is a prime example what happens when the camera tries to ‘think’ and select a subject on its own. Most often this ends with choosing the closest object, i.e. subject, inside the frame, if the light meter registers the skin tone. It is available in all the focus modes. In the Auto-servo (AF-A) mode, it first sets focus in relation to the subject selected on its own, while after a potential change in distance, it transforms into a certain form of 3D-Tracking; however, the tracking often does not have anything to do with the desires of the photographer:
Auto-area AF, completely automatic selection by using all the AF points
In real conditions, the Auto-servo (AF-A) mode will turn out as both good and bad, depending on the situation. The very fact that it is not to be trusted disqualifies it for everyday use, and to tell the truth, as far as this aspect is concerned, the Nikon D5500 does not differ from other cameras at all. Fortunately, DSLRs are what they are because of their adaptability, so any unpredictable behavior can be prevented by reasonably using manual selection of single points or groups of points.
The usual companion of the AF system on Nikon cameras is a solid AF-Assist lamp, whose additional lighting improves sharpening in low-light conditions. Its intensity and output cannot be compared to the AF-Assist lamp of a flashgun, yet it will be enough for the majority of situations that the camera can cover without additional lighting – at least until you stick to the AF-S focus mode of the central AF point, since the AF-Assist lamp covers only the said point, owing to a very narrow beam of light that it sends.
The viewfinder is optical, based on pentamirror, which is why it is a little darker than the ones found on more expensive (and bigger) cameras. It covers 95% of the frame, and the magnification is 0.78x, according to which it is identical to the previous two models from this category. The eye-point, i.e. the farthest point from which one can see the entire frame through the viewfinder, is 17mm, which is slightly weaker in relation to the predecessor, but in most cases, it enables use without taking one’s glasses off. Additionally, by means of a small control dial, one can perform diopter correction in the range of -1.7 to +0.7.
The focal plane is unchangeable, and it carries an archaic name – Type B BrightView Clear Matte II. It is combined with a special transparent LCD film, which is positioned between the focal plane and the pentamirror, and by means of which the most important parameters, AF points, and the framing grid are dynamically emitted in front of the user’s eyes. The AF points are surrounded with visible borders, and they are presented at the same time only when selecting an AF mode. The framing grid, as Nikon labels the 4x4 grid, helps when composing the frame, and it can be toggled off if needed. How all this looks like in practice you can see in the following illustration:
Optical viewfinder of the Nikon D5500
The scope of information that D5500 boasts is comparable to what we had a chance to see with larger and more expensive cameras, and it is identical to what the D5300 offered. From left to right, there are: a focus confirmation indicator; a locked metering indicator (AE-Lock); a Flexible-program indicator (in the Programmed Auto mode); exposure duration (i.e. an AF mode); aperture; a light meter scale with the range of ±2EV (with an option of changing the +/- orientation) and a rangefinder scale in the manual focus mode; a low battery indicator; a flash compensation indicator; an active bracketing indicator; an exposure compensation indicator; an Auto-ISO indicator; the number of remaining shots (depending on the settings or the current mode – ISO value, a flash readiness indicator, etc.).
In the bottom left corner of the visor, it is possible to switch on warnings, and they include the warning that there is no memory card in the memory card slot, that the battery is running out, or when the C/B style is activated. In order for it to be more noticeable, this information is displayed on the same level with the framing grid and AF points.
CONTROLS AND OTHER DETAILS
Our impressions from the beginning of the review that have to do with a drastically improved shape of the grip can hardly be noticed when looking at the camera from the front. The new camera differs only slightly when it comes to the arrangement of other elements. The Nikon F-mount occupies the central position, the grip is to the left, and on its bottom part is the front IR receiver for remote shooting. The area separating the mount from the grip is now covered with rubber more efficiently, and on its top is the AF-assist lamp, which helps when focusing in low-light conditions, or signals postponed releasing. On the right side, the situation is also already familiar. All the way up, next to the built-in flash, is a control for activating the flash and setting the flash compensation, while a little lower is a programmable Fn control, which is originially used to control the ISO sensitivity, and can be remapped to perform some other function from the list of predefined ones.
Next to the mount is a button used for unlocking the mount in order to remove the lens, and a little below it is another button, used for changing shooting modes.
A look from above reveals some subtle changes when it comes to the choice of controls, and somewhat greater ones when it comes to the design. The central part is still reserved for a pentamirror housing, which is in charge of the optical viewfinder, while on top of it are the built-in flash and an ISO-518 hot shoe. A little to the front is a built-in stereo microphone, aimed at recording audio components of videos. To the left of this set is only a built-in mono speaker, whereas on the right side, the situation is far more vivid. Right next to the flash is a mode selector, whose list of positions is far shorter than in the case of the predecessor, so apart from the four basic creative modes – Manual (M), Aperture Priority (A), Shutter Priority (S), and Programmed Auto (P) – the camera offers a completely automatic mode (Full-auto) and an automatic mode without flash. There are only two more positions on the selector. One is Effects, by means of which the camera is switched to the mode that provides laymen with interesting graphic exhibitions in real time, while the other (Scene) is in fact a group position for a whole range of predefined modes, which are intended to make work easier in various situations.
As in the case of the previous model, the basis of the mode selector also features a lever for activating the Live View mode (hereafter, LV), and to the right from it we notice something new – a control dial! It is not just any additional dial, but a regular rear control dial, which is used to control basic parameters, such as the aperture, exposure duration, and things like that, directly or in combination with some other buttons. The new design did not bring any special improvements, so we consider it just an esthetic expression. However, this phenomenon points to one unpopular change – the D5500 does not feature a GPS receiver, which occupied precisely this position on the predecessor! This ‘acrobatics’ is becoming too intrusive, regardless of the camera category, and it is especially characteristic of Nikon and Canon products.
This perspective is perfect to notice what makes the Nikon D5500 so much more comfortable in comparison to the majority of other DSLRs in this class, and even beyond it. The shape of the grip is completely different, and the two-level shutter button with the switch has been moved backwards and towards the center of the body. Its profile has also been changed, so the slit between the grip and the mount is significantly deeper, which automatically results in much more room for fingers! Behind the two-level shutter button are now two buttons (instead of three, as it used to be on the predecessor). The Record button, marked with a red spot, is primarily used for starting and ending video recording, and if needed, it can be reprogrammed to perform some other function. Although the Fn control is quite handy for the ISO function, we liked it very much when the ISO control was positioned behind the Record button. So, in a very short period of time, we got into a situation in which we simply could not decide where the ISO control suited us better! Believe it or not! To the right from the Record control is a button used for setting the exposure compensation or the aperture, depending on the currently selected mode. What is more, the same button activates the DOF preview function, used for checking the depth of field.
The changes on the rear side of the camera are the consequences of the changes on the top side. The central position is occupied by a large tilting screen, and the controls are positioned on its right, as well as above it. Above it is also the optical viewfinder, and again there is a sensor for the automatic screen deactivation when we bring the camera close to our face. To the left from the viewfinder is the rear IR receiver, and right next to it is the Menu control, used for entering the menu system. Right next to the viewfinder, to the right, is a control dial for regulating the diopter (for those who need it), and to its right is the Info control, which is used for activating the screen and cyclically changing the displayed parameters in the LV mode. Its role is dual, which is indicated by its green mark, and in combination with the previously mentioned Menu button (which is also marked by a green dot) it enables setting all the parameters to default. It is hard to perform this accidentally, since it is necessary to hold the two buttons at the same time for at least 5 seconds – something that is very difficult to achieve by chance. To the right from the Info control is the AE-Lock/AF-Lock control, which is used for locking the metered exposure or flash power. Moreover, it is used for protecting single images from accidental deletion. All the way to the right is the rear control dial, which can be seen even from this angle.
To the right from the screen are a couple of controls. The most important one is in the center, and it represents an eight-way circular button that is used for navigating through the menu, selecting the active AF point, controlling the parameters in almost all the modes, etc. In its center is an OK button, which (as its name says) is used to confirm the selected. Above it are a button for switching to the preview mode and the button marked with an i, which is used for activating the interactive parameter control by means of the view on the screen. Below the eight-way control is a sequence of 3 buttons. Two are used for zooming in in the preview mode and the LV mode, while the bottom one has an additional function, which is activating the interactive help system. To the right from the said controls is a somewhat smaller button for deleting images, and not far from it is a small LE diode, which signals the business of the memory controller, no matter if the camera is reading or writing on a memory card.
The memory card slot has been placed in its standard place, on the right side of the camera, within the grip. The design is quite solid, and the lid seems firm enough to resist damage even with frequent use. It supports all versions and revisions of the Secure Digital (SD) standard, which include SD, SDHC, and SDXC, but also the increasingly popular Eye-Fi cards, which enable wireless transfer of images to compatible Wi-Fi devices. Of course, the UHS-I subversion is also supported.
SD memory slot
The requirements concerning the capacity of cards are very similar to previous ones, so in practice the card with the capacity of 8GB can store on average: 330 RAW, 700 JPEG or 220 RAW+JPEG images, in the maximum quality (14-bit NEF + JPEG Large/Fine). Taking up memory depends on the amount of noise (as well as the noise reduction), and the content, too (images with mostly uniform areas take up less space).
The video segment is much more demanding, so a card of the same capacity will be enough for about an hour of material in the Full HD quality (1080p at 30 fps, or 1080i at 60 fps). As always, the space requirements of the video material greatly depend on the content and the conditions in which videos are produced. Low light and increased noise make the compression harder, so in this way an amount of data per second increases. When filming in some average conditions, we determined by testing that an average SDHC Class 6 card manages to handle the speed requirements of the video mode on the Nikon D5500, but to be on the safe side (fragmentation and better memory buffer control), it is recommended that you have at least a Class 10 card.
The battery was taken from the previous model, and it is labeled EN-EL14a. It is an Li-Ion battery with 7.2V voltage and 1230 mAh capacity. According to the CIPA (Camera & Imaging Products Association) standards, the Nikon D5500 can take as many as 820 shots without recharging, which is much more than all the other cameras of this category. Nikon’s decision to base the screen on the RGBW matrix has its repercussions in almost all classes!
Nikon EN-EL14a battery and MH-24 charger
Regardless of the greater battery autonomy, the rules of economization in order to achieve better results as far as the battery duration is concerned apply to the D5500, too. So, if you economize on using the built-in flash and screen, you can pull off almost 1000 shots!
Video recording (just as in the case of the memory card) is much more demanding, both because of the forced use of the screen, as well as the sensor, so the battery can completely run out during 45 minutes of continuous video recording. By means of testing, we found out that the battery will endure even more than an hour of video recording, especially in favorable ambient conditions (clear light and room temperature, which suit batteries best).
In contrast to most other cameras whose connectors are located under one or several rubber lids, on the left side of the camera as a rule, the D5500 features a slightly unusual arrangement. Three out of four of its connectors are located on that place familiar to everyone, while one is singled out and is positioned on the right side of the camera. On the left side of the camera are: the accessory terminal, i.e. a connector for plugging in additional equipment such as remote controls or GPS receivers, a 3.5mm stereo microphone input, and a combined USB2.0/AV input. On the right side of the camera, just above the memory card compartment, is a lid under which a mini HDMI video output is located. Despite the fact that this output will be used mostly when the camera is on a tripod or dedicated equipment for video recording, we consider this move highly archaic and impractical – if for no other reason than because any changes of the parameters are usually carried out with the right hand, and the cable attached to the HDMI connector will be of no help at that moment. An unnecessary design exhibition, if you ask us!
Provided that this position of the HDMI output does not cause too much of a mix-up, it can be used to send the view to compatible HDMI devices, no matter if you need image preview or to control the camera by means of the LV mode.
Connectors: on the left – remote control, 3.5mm stereo microphone input, and combined USB/AV output;
on the right – mini HDMI
The tilting screen can move by 180̊ degrees horizontally and 360̊ vertically, and, fortunately, it continues to cherish the 3:2 aspect ratio of Nikon’s DSLR family, despite the fact that the manufacturer so far has not made up its mind to offer the same feature on its other models as well. Let’s remind: we consider the 3:2 aspect ratio an important characteristic because in that way the surface of the screen is used to the max, since the sensor itself features the same aspect ratio. The resolution is still 1.036.000 dots, which translates as 720 x 480 pixels. The angle of view has remained high, and it is 170̊ along both axes, while the intensity of contrast is high enough so that even in intense light the view will be usable.
The absence of the status display on cameras of this class turned the main display into an adequate substitute. Since the resolution and available room are much greater, and its position on the body is more favorable (especially when the camera is at eye level), the main display does an excellent job as a status one, yet with certain drawbacks that have to do with evidently weaker visibility in strong-light conditions. Once, such a use resulted in greater amounts of available energy being consumed, which is why small cameras (with their evidently smaller battery capacity) are not recognized as champions of battery autonomy.
Another innovation brought by the Nikon D5500 slips through others’ fingers and is relativized without reason, and that is a touch screen! The Nikon D5500 is the first Nikon DSLR with such a screen, and how useful this function is is hard to describe without testing it! The majority of the parameters can be controlled through direct interaction on the screen itself, while involuntary changes of certain parameters and functions are prevented by insisting that it is necessary to press the button i in order to activate them.
The view, which encompasses the Information Display (as Nikon calls it), is offered in two versions – graphical (left) and classical (right), with three color themes for either of them. Their organizations of the basic parameters slightly differ, but their number is virtually equal:
View of the basic parameters on the Information Display
The displayed information includes the current work mode, the basic parameters such as the aperture, exposure, ISO values, and light meter scale with the range of ±2 stops (whose polarity can inverted, like inside the viewfinder). In addition, the Information Display also offers the following: a flash compensation indicator, as well as manual work with it; an Auto-ISO indicator; multiple exposure and HDR indicators; a battery indicator; a bracketing indicator and parameters having to do with it; beeper, GPS, and Eye-Fi connection indicators; a current AF mode, method, and selected AF point. In the bottom right corner is a number of remaining shots that can be stored on the memory card with the currently selected quality, and the whole bottom part of the screen features options that are directly accessed by pressing the Information Edit control, marked with the letter i, so in this way they can be controlled interactively, without need to move through the menu system. The available options are: shooting quality; White Balance (WB); ISO sensitivity; a shooting mode; a focus mode and method; Active D-Lighting; Bracketing; a flash mode and its compensation; exposure compensation; and the current color style.
The popularity of the Live View mode (hereafter, LV) rapidly grew after video recording had ‘entered’ the DSLR category. Today the LV represents a quite usual function on modern DSLRs, but when it comes to shooting stills, it has never reached the level set by compact cameras. There are two reasons for that. The first is the fact that the boons of the optical viewfinder are hard to replace with digital view, and the second is of purely ergonomic nature – because of a clear difference in weight, using DSLRs is almost impossible to model on the way that compacts are used – framing at eye level, with one’s arms raised, arbitrary focus, etc. – not only because of insufficient stability, but also due to insufficiently fast autofocus. Finally, work in the LV mode is slow, too, shooting takes place with a certain lag, so that should also be taken into account. Nonetheless, the usability of this function on DSLRs does not come into question, and it is important to stress that this is a matter of a completely different way of work. That is why the LV on DSLRs is mostly used with the help of a tripod, and nowadays when recording videos, where it has become a key bond between the user and what the camera ‘sees’.
The specificity of the LV mode is also the Contrast Detection Autofocus (hereafter, CDAF). It is a focus mode where focusing is not performed by means of the phase AF sensor, yet focus is determined by measuring contrast among neighboring, differently colored areas inside the frame, by moving the focal plane forwards/backwards until the sharpest transitions in the selected area are achieved. That is where its name comes from. This type of focus, aside from having some obvious advantages, such as high accuracy, features some flaws, too, the most critical of which is poor performance in low light, but reduced speed as well, because of which it is not suitable to use with dynamic scenes. Moreover, the CDAF has always been a bad choice when tracking subjects. Nikon tried several times to deal with this problem – by implementing the Full-time Servo AF (AF-F) focus mode in the LV, which is aimed at continuous focus, so that video recording would be made easier for less experienced users. Unfortunately, this solution did not prove good enough in practice, and even actions by rivals indicate that it is necessary to find some ‘hybrid’ solution, which will reconcile the two ways of focusing and make a third one, more reliable and versatile. Thanks to its new Expeed 4 processor, the Nikon D5500 did bring somewhat better CDAF performances in comparison to the D5300, but that is still not at the level offered by the MILC class, nor by the direct rival, Canon, which has changed its approach to this problem.
In addition to the CDAF, the LV mode is equipped with an AF-S (Single-servo AF) focus mode, and both of them can be used with four methods: the Normal-Area AF is a classic CDAF mode, whose focus area has very narrow dimensions, and it can move along the frame by using the eight-way joystick (‘teeter-totter’); the Wide-Area AF is similar to the previous mode regarding its way of operating, yet the dimensions of its focus area are considerably wider, so, as such, it is suitable for the frames that do not abound in subjects at a short distance; the Face-Priority AF, like the focus mode of the same name found on compact cameras, concentrates on giving priority to faces inside the frame, based on the form and color; the last method is the Subject-Tracking AF, which is an LV version of the quasi-continuous focus, and it operates in such a way that a subject that has once been initiated is tracked continuously along the frame, in the similar way as the 3D-Tracking focus, while the focusing is carried out only when the shutter button is pressed to the first level.
Manual focus brings by far the most accurate control of the depth of field, and additional help is magnification. It is available in a couple of steps:
Magnification in the LV mode
Magnifying the view is carried out with the marked buttons, and the magnification reaches almost 1:1, which gives an entirely new dimension when working with a tripod. Especially when it comes to macro photography, for instance. In this way it is possible to make up for the absence of the AF motor on older lenses, and at the same time, users will have a much broader range of optics at their disposal. The LV mode is supplied with a number of useful information and parameters that have to do with shooting stills and videos, so that work would be more intuitive:
View of parameters and electronic level in the LV mode
There is also a framing grid, which helps when composing the frame or aligning it in accordance with the desired geometrical references:
Framing grid in three versions
The innovation brought by the Nikon D5500 is the result of implementing a touch screen. This screen drastically speeds up work since parameters can be controlled interactively, and the same goes for positioning the focus area, as well as focusing itself.
The list of criticisms is somewhat shorter, so the fluidity of the view is slightly better now, even when the view is magnified. This is still not comparable to what we see on rival models, but there is probably no other way – if a camera excels at one segment, it has become perfectly natural that it lags in some other. Even though the magnified view is quite clear and sharp, too, as if out of some odd reason Nikon was not able to make the magnified view smooth, so with its 15-20 fps it will look more like a slide projection than the live view. Although this way of work is being repeated from one model to another, we have never been 100% sure what all this is about – whether it is a technical limitation or planned ‘crippling’ of cameras. In any case, there are more inexplicable features. One of them is almost tradition – exposure simulation – i.e. the demonstration of influence of the current parameters in real time, which still operates in the way that makes the LV barely different from the view through the optical viewfinder, so the view will have very little to do with the final image. Besides, a change of parameters is unavailable, even though the screen says otherwise, and in order to activate them, one must switch off the LV mode and switch it on once again. Bearing in mind everything listed, another absence of the histogram in real time looks like hair-splitting.
The Nikon D5500 has completely taken over the video segment from the previous generation, so we will use this opportunity to repeat what its capabilities are. Full HD (1920 x 1080) with the 16:9 aspect ratio is available at 24/25/30/50 and 60 fps, and it is progressive. HD video (1280 x 720) is available only at 50/60fps, while the lowest VGA (640 x 424) is recorded at 25/30fps. Each resolution can be written in two quality levels: high and normal.
The video encoding still takes place in the MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) format and is placed in the MOV container, while the video duration is limited to 20 minutes per video, regardless of the selected resolution and frame rate. The audio recording is 16-bit, at 24 KHz, in the Linear PCM format. The audio recording can be switched off or entrusted to the built-in stereo microphone, whose input signal (sensitivity) is continuously calibrated and adjusted to the external conditions. Like with all other DSLRs, the microphone is situated in the camera housing, in which and around which a whole series of mechanical processes takes place, so this can result in plenty undesirable sounds. Fortunately, the 3.5mm connector for the stereo microphone is still present, so for more serious actions it will be possible to find a way around all the problems with the audio component.
Unfortunately, just as in the case of all other low-class models, and even some from the higher category, the Nikon D5500, too, is not exempt from the necessary ‘juggling’ with controls, any time you want to adjust a parameter in the video mode. The exposure and ISO value will be automatically set in the Aperture Priority mode, while in the Manual mode it will be possible to make all needed adjustments, as long as doing ‘gymnastics’ with the LV mode does not drive you crazy. Setting the aperture is an operation that, probably more on purpose than by accident, is sabotaged by the project team, as it is impossible to adjust it while working in the LV mode. Instead, if you want to change the aperture value, it is necessary to perform a certain ritual by quitting the LV mode and activating it once again in order for the previous setting to become active. If you capture an image after changing the settings (!), however, only then will the new aperture become active! Despite the fact that we have been staring in wonder at this arrangement with every new generation, Nikon obviously does not lack perseverance to make it stay that way. All this is becoming even more irritating as the camera seemingly registers a change of parameters while video recording (i.e. in the LV mode) and displays them on the screen, but they are not updated in real time, so it is necessary to carry out the said procedure so that the new settings would become active.
The flash has not changed in relation to the previous one. The guide number of the built-in flash is 12 at the ISO 100, and it can be used in the completely automatic, i-TTL, and manual mode. The i-TTL, Nikon’s well-known algorithm for calculating the needed flash power, is assisted by the noted 2016-pixel RGB light meter, which is in charge of all important parameters. The flash compensation in the i-TTL mode is -3 to +1 EV in 1/3EV steps, while the synchronization speed is 1/200s. The manual mode provides entirely manual control of the flash in the range of 1/1 to 1/32, while at that point the guide number is slightly greater (GN 13/ISO100), since with the absence of the pre-flash (which is necessary for determining the needed power in the i-TTL mode) it saves some energy. The built-in flash can operate on the first or on the second curtain (in order to collect as much ambient light as possible), and it also features an option of reducing the red-eye effect.
The i-TTL support for flashguns is provided for all compatible i-TTL models, and as for Nikon, all its current models belong to this group: SB-400, SB-600, SB-700, SB-800, SB-900, and SB-910. Aside from this mode, flashguns can be controlled in the manual, Auto-aperture (AA), Non-TTL Auto, and Distance Priority mode. The Auto-aperture mode is limited only to some Nikon flashes (SB-800 and SB-900), and it enables the flash to set the needed flash power on its own, at the same time exchanging information about the aperture with the camera. The Non-TTL Auto mode provides support even for some quite old flashes, and it has to do with the way of firing, which is set by the flash itself, by metering the reflection from the targeted object, regardless of the settings inside the camera. The Distance Priority mode is available only with the SB-800 and SB-900, and the flash power is set manually, by giving priority to the subject distance, in relation to the set aperture.
Wireless flash control has been left out this time as well, so in order to do this, you will still need to use appropriate external support (SB-700, SB-800, SB-900, SB-910, or SU-800). Nikon’s CLS (Creative Lighting System), a system of wireless flash control, is thus provided in combination with compatible flashes, while the Master flash, mounted on the hot shoe, can control one or more groups of Slave flashes, by using all the available modes.
Once again, we have a chance to hang out with a Nikon camera that features the wireless communication function implemented into its body. In this way, there is no need for external devices, such as the WU-1a adapter. Unfortunately, once again Nikon failed to bring this function to a usable level.
Since we had a chance some time ago to try out a similar solution in Canon cameras, we had had some idea what was waiting for us in this case. However, Nikon approached the new function with some reserve, so it does not provide anything else but what was offered by the external Wi-Fi adapter. The comparison with the capabilities featured by Wi-Fi-equipped cameras of the main rival Canon is more than pointless.
The main idea has to do with exchanging images with compatible devices and remotely controlling the camera. After activating the Wi-Fi function inside the camera, all the additional settings are adjusted by means of the application on a smart device, which is a little unusual. First, it is necessary to install the free Wireless Mobile Utility app for Android (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.nikon.wu.wmau&hl=en) or Apple iOS (https://itunes.apple.com/en/app/id554157010); next, after connecting it to the Wi-Fi emitted by the camera with generic parameters, it is possible to access parameters of network protection, encryption, etc. via a smartphone or tablet. Inside the camera, it is not possible to change neither the SSID, nor the access parameters, which we consider pretty odd.
The connection with smartphones is primarily used for exchanging captured images with connected smart devices, or using such devices as remote controls. Unfortunately, this is not where the story ends – at least as far as the original Nikon app is concerned. Images from the camera can be viewed on Android/iOS devices, can be transferred to the smart device itself, or sent to some web service. The primary functionality has to do with the Nikon Image Space (http://nikonimagespace.com/). This is a web service that provides each registered Nikon user with 20GB of free space for storing images, organizing and cataloging them, sharing them with friends and acquaintances, etc. Since in order to use this web service you do not need anything but to own (and register) one of qualified Nikon products, we believe that many users will find this free space for storing the most precious images very useful. Since this option is not limited solely to Nikon’s service, it is available to send your files to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
When it comes to remote controlling, we are still taken aback by its rudimentariness. Although the Wireless Mobile Utility application can provide live view on the screen of smart devices, controlling boils down to positioning the focus area, focusing, and shooting. Despite the fact that the most basic parameters (aperture and exposure duration) can be seen in the preview, they cannot be changed, so the wireless interaction will remain mostly unusable without reaching for the camera.
We have also expected an option of remotely controlling the camera by means of a computer, yet that was left out. The commercial solution offered by Nikon for quite some time is not offered in some simpler version that is free, so for all more advanced forms of wireless control of images, users will have to deal with independent sources. We have been waiting optimistically for Nikon’s move towards drastic improvement of this function, but this move has not been made so far. Unfortunately, it seems that this situation is going to take some time, which is a real pity.