The Nikon Z50 is a 20.9MP mirrorless camera: the first time the company has put an (unstabilized) APS-C sensor behind its new, larger ‘Z’ lens mount. The company says the camera is designed to attract a generation of users who don’t consider themselves to be photographers.
The Nikon Z50 is compatible with the FTZ mount adapter, allowing it to use F-mount DSLR lenses.
What’s new, how it compares
The most noticeable differences compared to the Nikon D5600 are that the Nikon Z50 is smaller (especially if you factor-in the collapsible kit lens), it has two command dials and, perhaps most significantly, it has a more coherent shooting experience across viewfinder and rear screen operation, and across stills and video shooting.
The Nikon Z50 is based around a 20.9MP sensor that’s closely related to the one first used in the D500. It’s an APS-C-sized sensor, which Nikon refers to as ‘DX’ format.
The version of the sensor included in the Nikon Z50 has a series of masks over the top of the sensor, meaning that some pixels only receive light from one or the other side of the lens. The data from these masked pixels allows the differences between the image entering the left and right-hand-side of the lens to be compared, which is then used to assess depth in the scene, underpinning the ‘phase-detection’ autofocus system.
Beyond this, much of the rest of the camera is familiar. Unlike the Nikon D500 and Nikon D7500, which use a heavily-cropped 3840 x 2160 region of the sensor to deliver their video, the Nikon Z50 uses the full width. The results appear to be pixel-binned (rather than oversampled), but this should give better noise performance than its predecessors and make it easier to shoot wide-angle shots.
Effects modes / Creative Picture Control
In keeping with its Instagram-friendly intent, the Nikon Z50 can shoot images with a series of significant processing effects applied. These are handled in two ways, depending on whether they just affect the color and contrast or if they manipulate the underlying image.
The first set are the Creative Picture Controls, which come in addition to the more conventional Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape and Flat color modes. The Creative Picture Control options can be used in any shooting mode, including video shooting.
The Creative Picture Control options can also be applied retrospectively to Raw files using the in-camera Raw conversion interface.
Body, handling and controls
The Z50 looks a lot like a slightly scaled-down Z6 or Z7, with a prominent viewfinder hump protruding from the middle of the camera and a fairly substantial handgrip extending forward from the body, without it ever looking like it’s masquerading as a DSLR.
- Generally excellent grip and ergonomics
- Twin control dials make it easy to take control of your photography
- Claims of weather-sealing are a standout in this class
- Built-in flash is a nice touch, but won’t control Nikon’s add-on flash units
- Includes microphone port, but no headphone socket
- Decent battery life
The Z-mount, which is oversized, even for the full-frame format, means the camera isn’t much smaller than its big sensor brothers, but the lack of top-plate LCD immediately sets them apart visually. The build quality feels broadly similar, though, and Nikon describes the camera as weather-sealed (though not quite to the same degree as the Z6 and Z7, thanks in part to its pop-up flash).
Although the Z50’s name, pricing and Nikon’s briefing suggest D5600-level ambitions (or, perhaps, memories of the stripped-down but effective D50), it gives more direct control than the company usually provides at that level.
Twin control dials immediately stand out, making it much easier to control key exposure settings than on the single-dial D5x00 DSLRs. Nikon’s ‘Easy Exposure Comp.’ option means you can access exposure compensation in Shutter- or Aperture-Priority modes, without the need to press any other buttons. Magnesium alloy construction also hints at higher-end ambitions.
A small switch next to the mode dial jumps between stills and video modes. Separate exposure settings are maintained for the two modes (and other settings can be set separately, if you wish).
Like the Z6 and Z7, the Z50 has a pair of custom function buttons in fingertip reach, to the right of the lens mount. These can be set to a series of toggle, hold or hold-and-scroll functions, as can a number of other buttons on the body. The options include direct control to whichever menu option you’ve placed at the top of the camera’s ‘My Menu’ tab, which provides an excellent degree of customization for a camera like this.
The Z50 uses a 2.36M-dot OLED viewfinder. There are, of course, much higher resolution viewfinder panels now available, but this is pretty much standard for a camera of this price.
Nikon is keen to stress that the optics between the panel and your eye are designed in-house, as a way of emphasizing its optical know-how. And, sure enough, they offer a good view of the screen with little apparent distortion and a reasonable 1.02x magnification ratio (0.68x full-frame equivalent). At 20mm, the eye-point is a little short, which may make it difficult for some glasses wearers to see the extreme corners of the screen, but it’s significantly bigger than the one in the D5600, which only managed 0.82x magnification and 95% coverage.
The Z50 has a 3.2″ touch-sensitive rear screen that folds out and up by 90 degrees, extending outwards so that a downwards view to it isn’t obscured by the viewfinder’s rearward projection.
The screen also tilts downwards, again extending outwards a fraction from the body in order to let it flip down a full 180 degrees, to point forward, below the camera. This opens up some possibility of selfies and vlogging.
The touchscreen is used for a number of things: the first is to move the AF point or initiate tap-to-track autofocus. It can also be used to select options in the ‘i’ function menu, and to navigate playback mode. What it can’t be used for, disappointingly, is touchpad operation: moving the AF point while the camera is being held up to your eye.
To keep the body size down, three functions (DISP, Mag + and Mag –) are operated by tapping the edge of the touchscreen, rather than by physical buttons. These options are printed on, rather than being part of the LCD display, and hence can’t be reconfigured. They take a bit of getting used-to, but are responsive and work pretty well.
The Z50’s user interface is essentially the same as that of the existing Z models, which is to say: essentially the same as those of Nikon’s DSLRs. This means a menu system beginning to creak under the weight of its many, many options, but with one of the best-arranged Custom Settings menus in the business. It’s a system with clearly marked sub-sections and consistent color-coding, which makes it easy to navigate and doesn’t demand that you memorize it.
The Z50 uses a new EN-EL25 battery. It’s a small 8.5Wh unit but one that can be charged over the camera’s USB connector.
The battery is rated at 320 shots per charge when using the rear screen and 280 through the viewfinder, according to CIPA standard tests. As always with these figures, it’s quite normal to get many more shots than this, depending on your shooting style. We regularly find ourselves getting around double the rated figure.
However, the numbers are broadly comparable between cameras, and we find a rating of 300 shots per charge is ok for a weekend of occasional snapping, but only enough for one period of photography-focused shooting. Using the flash or making extensive use of the Wi-Fi will, of course, dent this figure significantly.
The Z50 is a well-specified video camera that produces good-looking footage. It can shoot 4K UHD footage at up to 30p or 1080 video at up to 120p. There’s a choice of color modes, including a Flat profile, but no Log option.
- Good, detailed 4K footage with well-controlled rolling shutter
- Strong array of video tools and effective autofocus performance
- Extensive ability to set stills and video mode up separately, allowing rapid switching between stills and video mode
The Z50 offers a series of video tools including focus peaking and zebra warnings to help assess exposure. There’s also a lot of control over the mic behavior, with the recording volume being adjustable, an optional wind-cut filter, attenuator and option to narrow the frequency response range to optimize for human speech.
Perhaps the biggest bonus, though, is that most of the camera’s settings can be defined separately for stills and video shooting and that you can jump from one to the other at the flick of a switch. The camera can shoot video in Program, Aperture Priority or Manual exposure mode. Only Manual mode lets you directly control the shutter speed and ISO setting, so is our preferred way of working.
When you engage video mode with the mode dial set to A or M, the camera maintains separate exposure values for video mode, meaning you don’t have to scramble to and from more video-appropriate shutter speeds every time you engage video mode. By default, most other settings, such as white balance, color mode and i menu setup simply mimic what you’ve set up for stills shooting but can be configured separately for movie mode.
The camera’s video AF interface is pleasantly consistent with the way things work in stills mode. You have the choice of Single point, Wide (S), Wide (L) and Auto area, with Face or Tracking mode accessible in the Auto area mode. Unlike stills mode, there are menu options: Custom Settings Menu | g3 and g4 that let you specify how quickly the camera will try to drive focus and how sensitive it is to monitoring changes in distance.
As in stills shooting, the AF tracking will occasionally lose its subject, but generally the video AF works pretty well, making it pretty easy to shoot clips with confidence.
The Z50 is a really impressive addition to the mid-price camera sector. It brings a lot of Nikon D7500-level capability to a camera priced more like a D5600, immediately making it a credible contender in one of the most hotly-contested parts of the market.
There’s a lot to like about the Z50: the ergonomics and user interface are generally very good, making it an engaging and enjoyable camera to shoot with. Its video capability is also very good, with the option to have video settings that match or diverge from your stills settings, depending on how you want to shoot.
Get you Nikon Z50 here