Nikon D5600 in 2021: still worth it?

2021 update: still yes

Short answer: yes. You should get it.

Note: the images in this post went missing in a media cleanup! I posted more in my review of the 70-300 lens.

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 invest 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.


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