As we would expect with a Nikon SLR that's aimed at aspiring photographers, the D5300 generally produces pleasant images that have lots of detail and nice, vibrant colours.
Our resolution chart images also confirm that the D5300 is capable of recording more detail than theD5200. We can attribute this improvement to the switch to a sensor without an optical low-pass filter and the new EXPEED 4 processing engine.
Interestingly, our lab tests also reveal that throughout the sensitivity range the D5300 generally produces raw files that, after conversion to TIFF, have a lower signal-to-noise ratio than the D5200's files. This is means that the images are likely to be a little noisier. It's something we have seen before when there is a desire to bring out more detail.
At the highest sensitivity settings, however, the D5300 tends to produce JPEG images with a higher signal-to-noise ratio, indicating that there is less noise visible.
Our tests of the D5200 revealed that images taken at ISO 3200 or higher sometimes suffered from banding in darker areas and this significantly limited the size at which they could be viewed or printed.
Naturally, we have explored this area with the D5300 and it doesn't appear to suffer from the same problem. Noise is generally controlled well and has a random distribution and fine texture.
When viewed at 100% on screen, some luminance noise is visible in images captured at comparatively low sensitivity settings such as ISO 400, but it isn't intrusive and it isn't apparent at normal viewing and printing sizes.
Pushing the sensitivity up to 12,800, the D5300's native maximum, naturally produces images with more noise and slightly softer details (at 100%), but images still look pretty decent. Even at the highest expansion value (ISO 25,600), images look fairly respectable although saturation is reduced a little and details are softened considerably so it's best to keep it for emergencies only.
In the past we have found Nikon's 39-point phase detection AF system (with nine cross-type points), which is employed when images are composed in the viewfinder, to be fast and accurate, and the D5300's system is no different. Even with the kit lens mounted it gets subjects in normal outdoor daylight sharp pretty quickly.
Moving into lower light conditions, however, slows things down and there is sometimes a little indecision. As is often the case, switching to a better quality lens with a larger maximum aperture speeds things up.
While the D5300's excellent screen encourages using live view, the contrast detection system that's available when composing images on the monitor does not.
It is accurate in decent light, but it is quite slow in comparison with the systems in the average modern compact system camera such as the Panasonic G6 or Olympus E-P5. And it's woeful in low light; in some occasions completely failing to get the target sharp.
Fortunately, the magnified view that is available when manually focusing has plenty of detail, which makes it a great option when shooting (stationary) macro and still life subjects.
While we have no complaints about the D5300's Matrix Metering system - in fact it copes remarkably well with situations that would fool some other systems - we found that using the Active D-Lighting system in its Normal or Automatic setting produces some images with mid-tones that are a little too bright. It's not a major issue, but it's something to keep an eye on.
That said, the Active D-Lighting can be very useful and effective when shooting high-contrast subjects. In some cases turning the Active D-Lighting up changes the exposure settings; for example, with one scene shot in aperture priority mode we found the shutter speed was increased by a whole stop (1Ev) when we changed from the Low to the Extra High setting. This meant that the brightest parts of the scene were retained by the exposure shift, while the darker parts were brightened by the automatic in-camera adjustment of the image curve.
We found that the D5300's automatic white balance system performed well in a range of lighting conditions, even managing to produce natural looking, atmospheric images in artificial light. It also produced decent results in shaded and overcast conditions.
On the whole, the D5300 produces images with very pleasant colours and, rather than avoiding the Landscape Picture Control mode, we found we used it quite often because it produced some nice, punchy results. It produced blues and greens with a bit of zing without going over the top or looking artificial.
Creative Effect modes are always a matter of personal taste, but it's hard to imagine that people will have many occasions when they want to use the D5300's HDR Painting mode. Toy Camera mode, however, with its heavy corner shading, may find favour more often.