Nikon D5600 in 2020: still worth it?

Short answer: yes. You should get it.

Slightly less short answer: it’s good enough in enough situations that the main thing holding it back is the glass you plant on the front and, to a lesser extent, the technique and experience of the person on the other end. Given what I’ve done with its more advanced 39 point autofocus, it’s for the best that I never got that D3400.

I could not find a use for the included 18-55 kit lens. It’s a fine lens. It takes good pictures, focuses fast enough, and would probably cover most of the needs of most photographers. But next to the refurbished vibration-reduced non-kit 70-300 lens I bought with it, the kit 18-55 is completely useless. Absolutely pointless. I could have saved $50 and put it toward another lens.

The D5600 with a normal-person lens in the sub-pro category performs best with plenty of light. That’s true of any camera, but especially true of a camera with a crop sensor where most people will use it with lenses with apertures that, at best, open to f3.5. Lenses in the same price range that open wider are also generally 100mm and wider primes, so you lose versatility in exchange for more light.

But it also shoots in 14 bit raw. That’s trillions of colors, and gives you a lot of wiggle room on an underexposed photo. Here’s a photo of a sunset I took when the Sahara desert belched some dust across the ocean in June 2020.

With this, I pushed the limits of raw, then pushed a little more. It still looks okay because they’re clouds. Clouds are soft no matter what you do, because they’re clouds. Anything else and you’ll wish you had a long zoom with, at worst, f/4 across the range. What I’ve had to accept is it’s not going to shoot birds on a cloudy day. That’s fine, for me. I got this lens with birds in mind, but quickly found it was better for bugs and plants and textures. Some day I’ll have $1200 to burn on a 200-500 with a fixed f/4 across the range. Some day.

But you get enough light, and you won’t be able to tell the difference. Aside from very, very tiny things.

It’s fine. Not great. Not bad. But it’s also not quite as big as I would like. I had to crop it way down, and none of the details on the insects are clear. I have a 58mm close-up filter set on backorder and have no idea when they’ll arrive. I’ll review the 70-300 lens after I have some time to experiment with magnification.

This is more a product of insufficient reach than anything about the quality of the lens. All zoom lenses perform worst at either extreme, so a 300mm lens (450mm @ 35mm) at 300mm will struggle and a 500mm lens (750mm @ 35mm) at 500mm will struggle, and both will do worse when the subject occupies a smaller portion of the frame. A better auto-focus will help here, but only so much.

You can see what I mean with a bigger subject at the same extreme in even worse light. The D5600 had an easier time nailing the focus with more subject to think about. The tiny bug was barely bigger in the viewfinder than the square that indicated the autofocus point.

I won’t try to tell you it’s fine and good enough for all purposes like some reviewers, but what you can do with it is good enough that most people are better off spending the premium on a better body on a D5600 and better glass instead. You can rent that better camera and an above-average lens for much less than the premium you would spend on a D5600 and a better lens to know for sure, but I can guess how that would turn out.

There are some nice-to-haves it lacks that I’ll look for in the future when I move on to mirrorless. After I get all I can out of the D5600.

  • Presets: Most higher level bodies have two or more presets on the mode dial. You select it, set it, and everything returns there when you select it. I use manual mode a lot, and would like to have a preset for taking pictures of birds in the sky and for taking pictures of birds and bugs on plants. The ideal shutter speeds are at opposite extremes, and the automatic modes make some questionable decisions. A more expensive focusing and metering system on a more expensive camera would probably help with that.
  • More wheels: I can access all the settings like ISO, aperture, and shutter speed from any semi-automatic mode or manual mode by pressing a button and turning the dial. This is slow enough that I often miss shots.
  • More cross-type autofocus points: The D5600 has 11 out of the 39 total. The difference in precision stands out when I move to one of the old-fashioned contrast focus points at the outer edges. I avoid them when I can because they struggle on too many things.

Quarantine Rabbit

This bunny stopped just short of the minimum focusing distance on my 70-300 lens, but well outside social distancing guideline minimum.

HD wallpapers:



Japanese Beetle Breakfast

I couldn’t get the light right to show off the shiny greens and reds Japanese beetles are famous for. So I got rid of the color entirely. I took these in the same day as my squirrel story experiment.

These bugs are technically pests, but they’re so cool to look at.


Eastern Gray Squirrels At Play

I’ve learned a lot about photography since my lucky shot. Technique, lighting, editing. But more importantly, I learned about storytelling!

A still photo can be nice. A still photo can tell a story. But it’s a lot harder. This is an experiment with storytelling using a series of pictures.

It’s a start! They’re very active this time of year, so maybe I’ll get another chance. It seems like the local wildlife gets closer the more it sees me out with my camera.


Night In The Woods: I expected way more crime

A screenshot from Night In The Woods. The gang is at band practice. Mae says to Gregg: "Oooh! Crimes!!!"

You’ve seen it. Probably. Crimes! Cups on ears!

It sounds like a dig to say the game didn’t live up to expectations, but it’s actually a good thing in this case. I had no idea it was this deep. I have not cried or felt much since splitting with someone I thought was a friend about a year ago, but I did a lot of the latter and a little of the former over the course of this game.

Night In The Woods isn’t just memes and Gregg being adorable. It shows that all the weird, hard stuff in life is normal. All the weird brain stuff. All the weird life stuff. They made a whole game about it!

It feels good. It feels bad. It feels normal. I feel normal. Space cat is a jerk, but they’re right. Atoms. Just atoms. And that’s okay, because we make our own purpose, us little creatures. Thanks space cat.

You should grab Night In The Woods from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality while it’s still $5 with 700+ other games and see how it makes you feel.


Can I offer you a moon in this trying time?

I used to have a cheap telescope that could get close to this level of reach, but the moon being the moon, it would move out of view almost as quick as I could find it. When I could.

That was not a good telescope. It couldn’t do much with stars, and it couldn’t do much with large stuff in the solar system. And it had no camera attached!


The thing that gets you to the thing

Music as I treated it the last several years was a series of stepping stones to what I really wanted to do: photography. An album sale here, a patron there, and recently members here.

There’s a quote in one of my favorite TV shows, Halt and Catch Fire:

“Computers aren’t the thing. They’re the thing that gets us to the thing.”

Joe MacMillan (played by Lee Pace), Halt and Catch Fire

Music was the thing that got me to the thing: photography. I had a lot of hobbies and interests, but picked music to carry that weight because:

  • I’m good at it.
  • I’m fast.
  • I don’t burn out on it easily.
  • Selling it doesn’t bother me the way it does for other hobbies.

And that worked out…mostly. Even after all that, it finally took a lot of gifted money to finally get there. I was burned out, ready to give up. But you know what? Had I paced myself and paid attention to my physical and emotional state, it would feel less like a Pyrrhic victory. I got the camera, but now I can’t look at my music tools without wanting to curl up into a little ball.

I mainly got the MIDI keyboard for the Lite license. Once I seriously burned out, I just couldn’t touch it. Opening Live filled me with dread. Even going back to the roots to play with LMMS or Reaper with some cheesy free software synthesizers just made me sad.

The burnout will pass. I hope. I miss making music right up until I try. Right now I’m focused on learning to use this camera while using this blog to turn my experiences and perspective into something useful for others.

If you ever decide to follow my path and turn one of your easy to sell hobbies into money to get you somewhere else, be prepared for the possibility that it’ll take longer than you expected. I had to bust my butt at it for years releasing hundreds of hours of music just to have enough saved from it to even think about buying a camera. Now I’m absolutely fried emotionally on the subject of music.

Don’t do it the way I did it. Don’t get desperate. Don’t pump out 30 things a week for a month every few months hoping something clicks enough to make it all worth it. Pace yourself. You don’t want to be ruined for that hobby on the other side.


Squirrel Surprise

This squirrel ran out in front of me, quickly realized its mistake, then ran off. But not before I got a few photos. I saw some of its friends playing nearby, but they were too far away and in too much shade.


Pretty on Pink (photo)

I’m not a nature photographer as a rule, but there isn’t much else to shoot on account of the pandemic. I am exploring macro photography, but it would be easier with an actual macro lens. I set up a subscription page for people who want to support the site. You can also subscribe on Patreon, but I plan to phase it out.


Normal wasn’t okay.

The commentor class keeps talking about going “back to normal” once the covid-19 pandemic is over. They come with checkmarks on Twitter and tickers in the lower third. To them, this is nothing but an exception, and everything was fine before.

This new precarity they see is only sudden in its reach and scale. Most people I know were still not stable after the post-2008 recession was officially over, if they ever were. If this is your first time worrying about the future, your best bet is to find someone talking about what’s actually changed.

So the question is: who should you listen to?

You could find some market opinion person, but they’re the same people who fixate on single digit percentage movements in the stock market while tens of millions of people are one paycheck from losing it all. I saw a screenshot of CNBC with Jim Cramer going wild over a rising Dow while the ticker mentioned millions of people freshly unemployed. I don’t think anyone making six figures (or more) can understand this situation enough to have a useful opinion on it.

I don’t have anyone specific to recommend, but I can offer some heuristics for identifying credible people:

  • People who talked about the need to decouple healthcare from employment before this crisis brought the health insurance and health care system’s failings into stark contrast.
  • People who talked about the need to address systemic injustice before now. There is a reason groups deemed “essential” during this crisis, like retail workers, are chronically underpaid.
  • People who advocate for justice reform. Prisoners are being forced to make PPE and hand sanitizer while underpaid and unable to afford it. Prisons charge them for most things. Look into the 13th amendment and the so-called reforms of the ‘80s and ’90s, then look at the demographics of prisons. The injustice doesn’t start with prison labor.
  • Just about any queer person. This one is unreliable since, as always, class tends to beat identities. Caitlyn Jenner endorsed Donald Trump in 2016 because she’s a rich Republican, and that’s what rich Republicans did at the time. No amount of “I didn’t know!” after the fact can undo the damage.

Generally, anyone who understands why “back to normal” is so absurd to so many people is a better source than any so-called market expert in the media. The severity and precarity of this pandemic is a symptom of long-broken systems, often intentionally so. You can eventually go back to a normal that worked for you, but you’ll be back here in 10 years if you ignore the sinkhole forming under the house.