“Nikon’s first APS-C mirrorless camera will be a hit release that tests Sony’s ongoing dominance.”
Nikon made a real impact in the mirrorless market with the release of their Z6 and Z7 full-frame cameras. And straight away, people began discussing that perhaps a crop sensor camera may follow to accompany their release. And from that point, long have rumored and awaited the release of Nikon’s first APS-C mirrorless camera.
We have that now with the announcement of Nikon Z50. Designed to sit roughly between the D5600 and D7500 lines, the Z50 is a mid-range enthusiast aimed camera with a 20.9-megapixel CMOS sensor with EXPEED 6 image processor. It’s a camera aimed squarely towards vloggers, content creators, and marketed as the ideal travel companion for those looking for a light yet capable platform.
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It’s Nikon’s first real APS-C mirrorless camera. Initially release fall 2019, its release expands upon their new Z lineup of mirrorless cameras, now to both full-frame and APS-C domains. Nikon aims this as a competitor the Sony a6400, Fujifilm X-T30, and Canon EOS M6 Mark II. Though, this is not Nikon’s first attempt at mirrorless. Instead, that came with the release of the Nikon 1 in 2011, which proved to be a flop.
But, considering this is their first “real” attempt at making a mirrorless camera directly comparable to their top DX SLRs, did they succeed this round? The decision to release this camera represents a significant step to make their new Z mount platform both full-frame and APS-C. But was that the right choice? Should Nikon have just stuck with a full-frame mirrorless ecosystem instead? Let’s find out.
What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Nikon Z50?
It has a 20.9-megapixel CMOS sensor paired with Nikon’s latest EXPEED 6 image processor. These come to create sharp images with accurate color rendition and excellent dynamic range.
While not particularly exciting in this area, it is surprisingly capable considering its incredibly form factor. It shoots uncropped 4K UHD video up to 30 fps and 1080p Full HD video up to 120 fps. Interestingly, when shooting in 1080p 120p, it also records audio, which admits this camera to an exclusive club of cameras offering this addition. Overall, image quality in both 4K and 1080p 120p is excellent.
Low Light Performance
It has a native ISO from ISO 100-51,200 in photos and ISO 100-25,600 in videos. Compared to rivals, it delivers a 1 stop advantage in its native range, providing greater flexibility during low light high ISO shooting. Overall, the camera offers usable images up to ISO 6,400 with only a minor noise in the shadows, which is easily recoverable with post-production noise reduction.
It touts a similar hybrid setup with 209 on-sensor phase-detect points covering 90% of the imaging area, in both horizontal and vertical planes, like the Z6. However, unlike its full-frame counterparts, which deliver Face and Eye-Detect AF as a later firmware update, it comes with these features standard. Overall, the autofocusing system on this camera is quite strong. Autofocus lock-on is both fast and accurate, even in incredibly low light.
This camera is among the first in its class to focus down to an industry-leading -4 EV. Continuous autofocus and tracking are also excellent, even in video, which was historically a weak point in Nikon’s cameras. Though, both the Face and Eye-Detect AF are not yet as good as the competition, it is more than sufficient for casual use. Overall, this is surprisingly a stronger system than anticipated.
Display & Viewfinder
It features a larger than average 3.2-inch articulating touchscreen, which angles upwards just over 90° and downwards 180° for front-facing selfies or vlogging applications. Interestingly, this is the same vari-angle flip-down design used in Canon’s M5 mirrorless cameras, which, while useful, is quite odd.
Nonetheless, when flipped down, the camera automatically inverts the image for proper composition but maintains the correct sensor capture orientation, basically functioning as a mirror. Its articulation is undoubtedly helpful for low-angle shooting. Outside of this, it provides a resolution of 1.04M dots, on par with expectations for this class of camera.
It features an electronic viewfinder with a resolution of 2.36M dots and 0.68x magnification. While smaller than it’s full-frame counterparts, it delivers excellent lag-free viewing with sharp images and accurate colors.
It features the same customizable iMenu as the Z6 and Z7, which offers quick and immediate access to 12 programmable user defines parameters. Interestingly, this menu also translates to photos and videos separately, allowing users to customize the menu for each mode individually. Nice.
It inherits the My Menu from the Z6 and Z7 as well, which allows users to create a custom page with all of their most-used menu functions.
It offers extensive customization in the form of in-camera editing, which applies to both stills and videos. When combined with the creative filters, users can thoroughly edit solely using the camera, removing much of the work typically necessary with a computer.
The addition of a touchscreen functions well as it delivers intuitive control and navigation over both settings and menus.
Physical Layout & Ergonomics
Considering the camera’s small size, it surprisingly maintains adequate controls for manual control. It has dual adjustment dials, to control exposure, two customizable function buttons, FN1 and FN2, and even custom shooting modes on the Mode Dial, U1 and U2. Practically all of these controls fall on the right side of the camera surrounding the grip, which delivers excellent one-handed operation for all critical parameters.
It has a similar physical design and layout as the Z6, albeit smaller. And while it weighs only 395g body only, it’s small size doesn’t preclude quality. It maintains an excellent build quality with its sturdy magnesium alloy chassis and premium feel. It surely doesn’t feel cheap whatsoever in hand. With the magnesium alloy chassis, the camera features some degree of weather sealing, though not to the same extent as the Z6 due to the pop-up flash.
Considering its size, it even surprisingly offers a luxurious grip. Overall, the camera is quite comfortable to hold during prolonged use and makes using longer lenses a realistic possibility here. This is surprising, as this is Nikon’s lightest camera to date, even lighter than their lightest SLR, the D7500. Nonetheless, the build quality is excellent, and there are no unnecessary comprises.
Unlike the competition, Nikon has made good use of its touchscreen implementation and offers unique functionality. Outside of just providing standard touch menu navigation, they’ve also designed dedicated buttons into the LCD, directly on the surface of the glass. These buttons function to zoom and recycle between display options, removing the need for physical buttons to perform these functions. Overall, these innovations mark a first for any camera and work well to streamline the user interface.
It offers an impressive continuous shooting speed of 11 fps with an electronic shutter or 5 fps with the mechanical shutter. However, it does have a slight viewfinder blackout when shooting in this mode, which is not present when using the electronic shutter. Nonetheless, both modes provide continuous autofocus and auto exposure, which makes it quite a capable camera for sports or wildlife applications. It also provides quite a deep buffer as well, delivering 97 RAW plus fine JPEGs in a row.
As mentioned previously, the camera does feature some degree of weather sealing. However, the inclusion of a built-in pop-up flash means it isn’t 100% weather-sealed and quite as robust as the higher-end Z6 or Z7.
- It has built-in 4K Timelapse and standard timelapse at a full sensor resolution.
- It has a microphone input.
- The camera supports charging via USB.
It has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for remote shooting or wireless image transfer to the connected smartphone. Nikon SnapBridge application now supports the transfer of RAW images as well as JPEG, a very welcomed addition.
It’s sensor size, and resolution is less than the competition and the standard expected at this price point. Nikon claims the decision to maintain the 20.9-megapixel sensor size as the D500 delivers better performance and improved low light capabilities, an interesting trade-off. Nonetheless, it does mean that the camera provides reduced fine detail quality during large format printing or post-production cropping.
Nikon limits maximum video recording time in both 4K UHD 30p and 1080p 120p limit at the industry-standard 29 minutes and 59 seconds. Sadly, there’s no unlimited video recording here.
With the redesigned EN-EL25 battery, overall longevity weakened. Nikon now rates the battery to deliver 300 shots per charge, which makes the camera far below the industry-standard expected for cameras of this size. The redesigned battery also means users cannot seamlessly switch batteries between this camera and the full-frame Z cameras.
Display & Viewfinder
Many users revolted at Nikon’s decision to opt with a flip-down screen, as opposed to a side hinged or even an upward tilting screen. The primary reason for this upset is that this type of articulation becomes thoroughly blocked when the camera’s mounted on a gimbal or tripod, rendering the screen completely useless. The reality, however, is that each articulation has its pros and cons.
This articulation means that both the hot shoe and viewfinder are unobstructed, which is helpful. But, it equally rules out tripod or gimbal mounting. So pros and cons here. The added articulation at least shows that Nikon is acknowledging the popularity of vlogging and online content creation. However, it’s not the ideal configuration and a slightly odd compromise.
While the rear display works well in menu navigation, it doesn’t act as an AF touchpad when composing through the viewfinder. Strange. Without this function, it means you must first disengage from the viewfinder, then tap the screen to change focus, which is incredibly cumbersome during use.
Like the Z6 and Z7, existing Nikon users will need the FTZ adapter to convert Nikon F mount into the new Z mount. Thankfully, doing so doesn’t incur any drops in focus accuracy, capabilities, or any other compromises in existing performance. While it may seem like an obvious decision to use the same lens mount, considering Canon, for example, has two different mounts for their mirrorless lineup, it’s not. Nikon choosing to maintain a single mount between both full-frame and APS-C systems joins them alongside Sony, now the only two manufacturers offering a single unified mount.
This does, however, provide a significant advantage as it allows for a direct upgrade path for those who choose to purchase this camera but want to upgrade to full-frame later. Overall, as this is a relatively new system, it lacks enough dedicated lenses at launch. So, the adapter is the saving grace for those seriously considering this camera until Nikon has more time to flush out the lens ecosystem.
Due to size, the camera lacks both a headphone input and AF joystick.
Unfortunately, Nikon opts with the slower UHS-I compatible SD card, not the faster and more modern UHS-II.
It lacks in-camera image stabilization, unlike its full-frame counterparts. However, not a deal-breaker, as most of the competition at this price point, also lacks this feature. Not only that, the lenses available for the camera have optical stabilization, which delivers upwards of 5.0 stops of stabilization when paired with the camera’s electronic stabilization. Overall, the results the system provides are more than adequate for most user’s needs.
Is the Nikon Z50 a good starting camera?
Yes, it is an excellent beginning camera and one we believe will be incredibly popular on the market as well. Nikon aims this camera to be the ideal choice for traveling photographers who want a lightweight yet capable solution, and that is undoubtedly an area the camera excels. Overall, it’s a likable camera at an extraordinarily attractive price and is one that removes much of the barriers of entry to creating high-quality content. Sure it’s price may suggest a simple camera. However, the reality is that the performance offered here easily rivals that of the competition.
It inherits plenty of sophisticated features from its larger full-frame counterparts, making it a very appealing and budget-friendly option.
Is the Nikon Z50 a good camera for you?
Yes. Overall it is an excellent lightweight camera at an attractive price that delivers the performance needed to meet the demands of a wide array of different applications. It inherits a good number of features and functionality as the higher-end Z6. However, at a price-point, that’s more suitable as an ideal choice for the beginning photographer.
For users new to Nikon, this camera makes an excellent option in their mirrorless Z mount system. Compared to much of the competition, it offers the distinct advantage of giving users confidence knowing they can invest in an ecosystem that allows for a smooth transition to full-frame. This is not something most of the competition offers here.
For existing Nikon DSLR users, here’s yet another, and now more affordable, opportunity to go mirrorless. Nikon themselves states this camera is comparable to both the D500 and D7500, and this could finally be the camera you’ve long-awaited to throw in the towel. It’s an excellent capable mirrorless option, which is the most compact camera they’ve released to date. This could be your chance.
For multimedia shooters looking to shoot both stills and videos, while not exceptional, this camera does an admirable job in both regards and is surely capable. Overall, it is an excellent choice for those who want to shoot high-quality images and videos.
With its flip-down screen, strong Face-detect AF performance, and microphone input, it makes for an attractive and functional option for vloggers or YouTubers. And since the camera is only slightly larger than its lens mount, it makes for an interesting travel option for those looking to travel light without compromising performance.
Considering the compact form factor and performance, it makes an excellent option of a B camera for existing Nikon shooters, especially Z6 or Z7 owners.
Lastly, it makes for an excellent sport or wildlife camera, as it offers much-needed improvements to the highly popular D500. It also makes for a better option than, say, shooting with the Z cameras in their DX crop mode, as it offers a higher pixel density at a lower price. Shooting those cameras in their DX crop mode makes the two equivalent in resolution, which makes this an exciting option for those wanting a smaller camera package for these purposes.
In the end, the release of this camera was an excellent choice on Nikon’s behalf, as it now unifies their entire Z mount ecosystem across both FX and DX formats. And it functions perfectly to fill out their existing lineup. Sony, and to a lesser extent, Fujifilm, has dominated the APS-C realm for quite some time now. But, the release of this camera will go to challenge their ongoing dominance.
Overall, The Nikon Z50 is an impressive camera that delivers both quality and capabilities in an extremely compact form factor. While it lacks a single killer feature that overshadows the competition, it makes up for this by maintaining a high-quality build in a small package. And overall, it is an excellent camera for both beginners and seasoned pros.
Last Updated on September 11, 2023 by Photography PX Published January 24, 2020
Overall it is an excellent lightweight camera at an attractive price that delivers the performance needed to meet the demands of a wide array of different applications. It inherits a good number of features and functionality as the higher-end Z6. However, at a price-point, that’s more suitable as an ideal choice for the beginning photographer. While it lacks a single killer feature that overshadows the competition, it makes up for this by maintaining a high-quality build in a small package. In the end, Nikon has done well to release a camera that can truly disrupt Sony’s ongoing dominance in the APS-C realm.