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.

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!


That time I got two defective refurbished Nikon D3400s from Adorama

I have long wanted to get serious about photography. I used a Canon PowerShot SX100 IS until it died on me, and quit photography. I just didn’t have the money for another camera, and phone cameras were inadequate. You can see some of my limited good results with both here.

One day, I finally saved enough to get a proper DSLR in the form of a Nikon D3400 with the kit 18-55 lens, plus the vibration reduced DX 70-300 lens. Adorama had a great deal on a refurbished camera and refurbished lens. Everyone said refurbs were as good as or better than new because they had special attention from a tech at Nikon. That turned out to be false. I don’t doubt that every blog post and comment stating this was from someone who had a good experience and believed it to be true, but either I got a bad run or something changed.

The first camera had a big line up and down every image. Bad pixels. Hot pixels. Dead pixels. I don’t know. Adorama sent me a return label, and I shipped it off for a replacement. I had to spring for about $5 in packaging since I was only sending the camera back and the box was sized for it and the big zoom lens.

A replacement arrived around midday. I took a lot of great shots, and then I saw it. The faster the shutter got, the more obvious it was I got another defective camera. The picture was unusable by 1/1000 and almost completely black by the maximum shutter speed. Obviously, it’s not Adorama’s fault the camera was defective, but their support person said someone would check it before sending. They obviously didn’t do a thorough enough check. I was out about $10 for packaging this time since I already sent the big box back with the first camera.

I sent it and the lens back, and decided not to try again until I could buy new. By then, I was already pushing the return window on the 70-300 lens, and I couldn’t risk getting another bad camera to go with a lens I couldn’t send back anymore. To Adorama’s credit, they processed the returns and refund without fuss. The only problem was with the first camera where they processed it as a refund instead of a replacement, added a new order for the same camera, and I had to ask them to suspend it for a few days so the money could get back in my bank.

Who failed here? I don’t know. I do know Adorama no longer has Nikon D3400s, refurbished or otherwise, in stock as of this writing. The lesson not to put too much weight on what people say online cost me $15 and some time at the UPS store, and I consider it worthwhile.

If you like those photos I linked earlier and want to see more in the future, check out what I make now and help me get another camera. A better one. When it wasn’t obviously broken, I got enough use out of it to realize I would probably be happier with a mirrorless camera.