Nikon D5600: First impressions

I have wanted a DSLR camera of my own since high school. That dream recently came true.

Despite both of my parents never being much into taking pictures (after all, the camera they used was a simple Polaroid instant camera), I still managed to get the “photographer” gene from my grandmother. She loved taking plenty of pictures at family events and when I (or others) would visit.

As a kid, my parents would occasionally buy me cheap, disposable film cameras to play around with. I could take 12 pictures and they would take the film to the local Walmart to be developed. (While film photography is nice as a hobby, I don’t miss having to wait for the film to be developed, being limited to the amount of photos you could take or not being able to delete a bad photo.)

Young me holding a toy camera.

It wasn’t until one Christmas — after much begging and pleading — when I got my first digital camera. It was a rather simple (in a professional sense, anyways) point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix DMC-LS80 digital camera. I remember being excited to finally be able to upload my pictures to the internet.

One of the earliest digital photos I took I still have. The photo, of our former feline friend, Molly, was taken when I was 10 years old.

However, it wasn’t until eighth grade when I got to play with the “big guns” — DSLR cameras. I joined our middle school’s yearbook club, which required us to get photos using a DSLR camera. I remember it being such a new concept to me that a teacher had to explain how to zoom in and out using the lens, as I was used to having a toggle for zooming on the point-and-shoots.

In high school and college, I continued to use DSLR cameras. In high school, I shot pictures using the three Nikon D3100 cameras we had available to us. We shot everything in auto, which would change once I got to college.

At college, I got to experience Canon products with the Canon T5i cameras our department loved. I had to take a photography class that taught everything from how to properly compose a shot to proper exposure and other basic techniques. It was at this time I would learn how to manually focus a camera and get proper exposure.

However, since I’ve graduated college, I haven’t had access to DSLR cameras. At work I borrowed a DSLR (a Nikon D750) from a coworker to get photos for a couple projects I worked on. Outside of those projects, all of my photography has been limited to what I can get with the rear-facing camera on my 2nd-generation iPhone SE.

As a note to the previous paragraph: you can still capture great images with your phone, depending on what type of phone you have and many other variables. I captured images with my iPhone 6s’ rear-facing camera that were so good that people couldn’t tell they were taken with a cell phone. However, DSLR and even point-and-shoot cameras have greater features and functionality compared to what most phones can do. For instance, DSLR and point-and-shoot “dedicated cameras” (usually) feature optical zoom of some kind (at least that exceeds the one found on most phones), better flash and more. Furthermore, DSLRs feature full manual modes that allow you to tailor the exposure, focus, and other aspects of the image to your wants and needs. Dedicated cameras usually function much better in low-light situations and in most situations because they have better sensors. But, in the phone’s favor, there’s an old saying I picked up at one point: “The best camera is the one you have on you.”

Nikon D5600: Buying and setting up

Now that I’ve talked about my experience as a “photographer” and some of the cameras I’ve used over the years, let me talk about the camera I bought — which is the first DSLR I can call my own.

When purchasing, I was originally stuck between two models: a Canon T7 and a Nikon D3500. Both were kits featuring, in addition to the camera body itself, simple 18-55mm lenses and things to get up and going (battery, charger, strap, etc.)

Despite it being a somewhat difficult decision because Canon and Nikon cameras have pretty much the same quality (and I don’t have a preference since I’ve used and had good luck with both manufacturer’s products), I ultimately wanted to go with the Nikon as reviews said it was just slightly better than the Canon.

Unfortunately, the kits for both cameras were sold out. And thanks to the supply chain issues, they may not get more until who knows when.

Note: Before publishing this post, I got word from B&H saying they no longer carry the D3500.

One night, I came across the Nikon D5600 kit and immediately purchased it. The D5600 is slightly more expensive than the D3500 I originally wanted, but the D5600 is also a slightly better camera. And it was in stock, with the 18-55mm lens kit.

I purchased a Ruggard Journey 34 bag, 32 GB SD card, and a Bolt external flash module alongside the D5600.

Accessories I purchased alongside the Nikon D5600 camera. From left to right: Ruggard Journey 34 camera bag, Bolt VD-410 external manual flash module, 32 GB SanDisk SD memory card, and the D5600 itself.

It took less than five minutes to get the camera up and ready to shoot some pictures.

Using the D5600

Both Canon and Nikon have user-friendly user interfaces on their cameras, and the D5600 is no different. Reviewing images (or footage) and settings are easy to navigate through.

A look at the Nikon D5600 with the included 18-55mm lens attached.

Changing exposure settings is fairly straight forward once you get the hang of it. The shutter speed is controlled by rotating a dial. The aperture is also adjusted by rotating this dial in conjunction with holding a button down. ISO, however, is adjusted through a setting menu. (Which isn’t bad since ISO isn’t adjusted as much as the other two settings.)

A look at the rear of the Nikon D5600, with the touch-screen display and a variety of buttons. Additional controls are on top (such as mode selector and a dial for adjusting shutter speed and other settings) and front.

Because I’m still getting the hang of the camera and its settings, there are still things I need to learn. However, if I can use the camera — anybody can.

Unlike most other cameras I’ve used, switching between focus modes (auto-focus modes and full manual focus) is accomplished through a menu. Most cameras I’ve used have a switch on the lens itself.

Performance with still photography

As you’d expect, shooting indoors requires a much higher gain to get decent exposure. I found an ISO of at least 5000 worked well in my somewhat dimly-lit room. For photos in even darker rooms, a higher ISO (>10000) is required.

A close-up photo of a bobblehead demonstrating a shallow depth of field. ISO was set at 6400, taken in a well-lit room with artificial (warm white LED) lighting.

For darker rooms, the D5600’s internal flash works fine. I also purchased a Bolt VD-410 external flash module which sits in the D5600’s boot, but I haven’t needed to use it (yet.) The external flash allows you to adjust the flash and includes built-in diffusers for more even, diffused lighting.

A photo taken in a dimly-lit room with the D5600 internal flash. ISO was set at 5000.

No surprise, this camera has no problem outdoors.

An outdoor photo demonstrating the full manual focus mode.
A photo of some fall foliage. The timing of purchasing this camera and testing it was almost perfect, as the leaves had just changed colors.

Outdoor photography at night, with minimal lighting, isn’t a possibility with the standard kit lenses. With the ISO cranked to the highest it will go (25600) and the aperture wide open (at ƒ/5.6 — the lowest/widest value for images zoomed in), there’s no chance at all to get a decent photo. The photo, as to be expected, turned out extremely grainy and very poor quality. Furthermore, I had to slow the shutter speed to 1/15s to get a “properly exposed” image.

For photography in low-light or nighttime situations without any assisted lighting, you will need to upgrade to a lens that can offer wider apertures (lower f-numbers.)

This poor photo was taken at night with the ISO cranked to the max (25,600), aperture wide open (ƒ/5.6), and the shutter speed inappropriately slow at 1/15s. For shooting in low-light situations or at night (without any lighting), you will need to upgrade to a lens with a wider aperture.

Video performance

As with most (if not all) DSLRs, the D5600 offers a video mode.

The D5600 features a built-in stereo microphone for basic audio capture. This microphone seems to do a decent job at picking up audio without too much distortion or internal mechanism sounds coming through.

However, as you will likely learn on the first (or second) day of any videography/media production course, you want to only rely on the internal mic as a last resort. Thankfully, unlike cheaper models, the D5600 has a line-in jack for use with external audio devices such as an external microphone or lavalier pack. The camera uses a simple 3.5mm connector for line-in inputs, so anything using XLR cables will need to be routed through a mixer, such as this one.

Video is shot thru “Live Mode,” where the camera displays what it “sees” through the display (and disables the standard viewfinder.)

I have yet to play with the video mode more in depth, but I took advantage of some nice weather to shoot some very basic clips in manual focus, experimenting with rack focus.

There are many other features and settings I have yet to discover (or play with) on this camera. However, the Nikon D5600 seems to be a quality performer for those (like me) wanting to get into advanced photography without breaking the bank.

As with other DSLRs, you can expand your photography abilities by purchasing additional lenses, flash kits, and other accessories and tools to enhance your photos and videos. However, those accessories often come with steep prices. For most situations, however, the basic D5600 kit will serve you well.