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Nikon D5300 vs. D5200: What’s the difference?

We take a closer look at the differences of the Nikon D5300 and D5200

Customers are constantly asking us, “what’s the difference”? There are a lot of great products out there, and product features often overlap. Is one brand better than the other? Is one product better than another? The answer is not often an easy, definitive “this one’s better”. There are many aspects and features of a product that will require taking a closer look. In addition, each individual person has different requirements, so not all products are the same to each person.

The issue gets especially blurred when new products are made. And beyond that, camera makers now have the tendency of keeping older products around for longer. When a new product comes out, the old product is discounted, and kept in the line-up. The tendency used to be to completely discontinue a product, and take it off the shelves, so there was less confusion when making a choice. Newer was better, and that was all you could get. Now, newer may be better, but the older model may be good enough, and the lower price tag is always attractive.

The new Nikon D5300 and the now older D5200 are perfect examples of this problem at large. We know the D5200 is going to be cheaper, and the D5300 should be better, but “what’s the difference”? It’s not until we take a closer look at the main differences that we can make an informed decision. So let’s take a closer look.

Image Sensor

24.2 Megapixels (D5300) vs. 24.1 Megapixels (D5200)

For a digital camera, the image sensor is a huge part of the equation when making a purchasing decision. Unlike a roll of Kodak Gold 200 film that would be the same from camera to camera, image sensors and the quality of the picture produced by that sensor differ in almost every incarnation of a model line. The easiest difference to spot is megapixel count. In the case of the Nikon D5300 and D5200 they’re essentially the same. Unfortunately, that information alone is not helpful, but let’s take a closer look.

The D5300 is missing the Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF) that is typically placed in front of the image sensor. The D5200 still has the OLPF in tact. We first saw Nikon removing the OLPF from the D800E. The Nikon D800 actually has the OLPF, but the D800E does not. This is true with the D5300 and the D5200 too. What is an OLPF, and what is the big deal anyway?

The OLPF is used to slightly soften an image. You would think that with a high-resolution image sensor you’d want to keep things sharp. To avoid issues with moire, however, camera makers place a filter in front of the image sensor to ever so slightly blur the image. Moire is an effect caused when the pattern in a subject is overlapped with the pattern of an image sensor’s pixels, and you get a strange, additional patterned effect. Well, with high-resolution image sensors, you certainly would like to keep things sharp, so Nikon has started to remove the OLPF. There are really not many situations where moire will be an issue, and with modern software, this issue can often be resolved post-processing. The benefit is ever-so-sharper images.

If you take pictures of intricate textiles or patterns of colors and shapes, the absence of an OLPF will be a definite downside. For most other situations, the D5300 is going to be a sharper choice.

OLPF Moire Effect Comparison This image was taken directly from Nikon's website. Here you can see how intricate patterns can create a moire effect when with the absence of an OLPF.

Processing Engine

EXPEED 4 (D5300) vs. EXPEED 3 (D5200)

Along with the image sensor is the image-processing engine. Image processors are small, specialized computers that take all of the information recorded by the camera’s image sensor and turn that into a (hopefully) beautiful picture. Each incarnation of a model line typically has an improved processor. This usually translates into a faster camera, better video, increased low-light (better ISO) performance, etc.. Nikon’s EXPEED 4 is an improvement over the EXPEED 3. One of the biggest benefits includes 1080 60p HD video. The D5200 has 1080 60i HD vdieo.

Video

1080 60p HD (D5300) vs. 1080 60i HD (D5200)

Although the Nikon D5200 is capable of shooting progressive 1080 HD video at lower frame rates, the D5300 expands the video shooting capability of the product line by featuring progressive HD video at 60 frames per second. The D5200 is capable of 60 frames per second too, but the video is interlaced.

Interlaced video is essentially video with half the resolution, but shown twice to get full resolution. One frame of video is essentially split in two. One frame will feature even lines of a picture, while another frame will feature odds. When the frames are flashed quickly on a screen, one after the other, the human eye perceives the image as having full resolution, not separate frames of alternating lines of resolution. This usually works out fine, until there’s action. When watching fast moving objects you can observe “artifacts” with interlaced video. It will look like the moving object is slightly blurred at the edges and has horizontal lines through it. Progressive video displays every line with each frame, so there is no potential for artifacting. The overall quality will look much better, especially when viewed on bigger TVs or screens.

Interlaced Video Example of Fast Moving Object This photo is courtesy of Wikipedia. It shows the artifacts of interlaced video, especially for moving objects.

Wi-Fi

Built-in (D5300) vs. WU-1a Adapter (D5200)

The Nikon D5300 and D5200 are both capable of connecting to Wi-Fi, but the D5300 has it built-in. The D5200 requires an adapter, the Nikon WU-1a, which is an additional $60 purchase.

Wi-Fi in these cameras is really cool, and for at least two reasons. The first is for being able to share images quickly and easily. The smartphone camera has become wildly popular for several reasons, but a big part of it is being able to easily and instantly share images on social networks. The only problem with smartphone cameras is that the quality of the images is still lacking overall. The Wi-Fi capability of the D5300 and D5200 with the optional WU-1a, allows you to connect to your smartphone to share your images instantly like you would with pictures taken by your smartphone. This is a win-win. Instant sharing, plus exceptional image quality.

Another benefit of Wi-Fi is being able to control these cameras remotely. Although this benefit is used less often, it is pretty cool that you can control the cameras from your smartphone. I know of a customer who set their camera on a tripod near a hummingbird feeder and went around the corner of his house. He was able to capture some amazing pictures of the birds by snapping away from his smartphone, and didn’t have to worry about scaring the birds away.

In addition to Wi-Fi being built in, the D5300 also features built-in GPS. Again, the D5200 is capable of GPS, but requires a Nikon GP-1A adapter, which is an optional accessory that costs over $200. GPS can be really cool. Each image capture can record and save the GPS coordinates of the location where the image was taken. You’ll never forget where you took a picture again. Using Google Maps or Nikon’s software you can view on a map the locations of each of your recorded shots.

Build/Construction

Monocoque design (D5300) vs. More traditional structure (D5200)

The Nikon D5300 is even smaller and lighter than the already light and compact D5200. This is due to the monocoque design of the D5300. What exactly does this mean? Think of a monocoque structure as like an exoskeleton. Instead of the insides supporting the structure of the outside, the outsides help to give the overall structure support and durability. The D5300 uses some specialized materials and design in its outer coverings to reduce joints and increase the support and durability of the camera, all the while reducing its overall weight and size. The D5200 weighs approximately 555g to the D5300 at 530g.

Final Thoughts

Overall there’s no doubt that the D5300 is an improvement over the D5200. In addition to the differences noted above, the D5300 has a bigger, higher resolution LCD screen. It is 3.2” and a 1037k dot resolution screen over the D5200’s 3” and 921k dot resolution screen. The D5300 also added a couple more picture (art) modes, which include Toy Camera Effect and HDR Painting.

The biggest features to stand out are the removal of the OLPF and the built-in Wi-Fi. Right now there isn’t really a big difference in price. Actually, the starting prices are the same. The D5200 has been on sale for $100 off, however, and we assume this will only increase. Are these features worth $100 or more? It depends on what you are using the camera for and how these features meet your needs. If you are going to use it, the built-in Wi-Fi saves you $60 for that feature, and the GPS will save you more. If you want the best resolution possible, and are not afraid of some moire at times, the D5300 will be tack sharp. Whatever you decide, both cameras will overall take great pictures.

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