Nikon Z50 Review

December 4, 2019 | Mark Goldstein |

Introduction

Following the launch of their full-frame models, the Z7 and Z6, the new Z50 is Nikon's first mirrorless camera with an APS-C sensor.

The Z50 uses the same Z lens mount as the larger sensor cameras, which means that it can utilise the same range of Z branded FX lenses, albeit with a 1.5x crop factor applied.

Alongside the Z50, Nikon have also launched the first two lenses in a fledgling range of DX Z-mount lenses, a 16-50mm pancake zoom and 50-250mm super-telephoto zoom.

In addition to the FX and new DX Z-mount lenses, the existing FTZ Mount Adapter that was released with the Z6/7 is also compatible with the Z50, which means that F-mount lenses can also be used with the new camera.

Other key features offered by the Nikon Z50 include a 20.9 megapixel APS-C sensor with 209 phase detection AF pixels, ISO range of 100-51200 that' expandable to 20400, 11fps burst shooting with AF/AE tracking, EXPEED 6 processor, 180-degree flip touch-screen, 2360k-dot EVF, 4K UHD video recording at 30p, Snapbridge, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity and a body that weighs less than 400g.

The Nikon Z 50 is available now priced at £849 / $856.95 body only. Various kits with the two new DX Z-mount lenses are also available.

Ease of Use

Nikon Z50
Front of the Nikon Z50

The introduction of the new Z50 means that there are now five full-frame and five APS-C cameras in Nikon's camera range. Three of them are mirrorless models, with the Z50 joining the Z6 and Z7 full-frame cameras.

In terms of how Nikon sees the Z50, it sits alongside the D7500 and D500 DSLR cameras in their positioning.

Nikon are hoping to tempt people to upgrade from their smartphones or their D7000-series Nikon DSLR with the Z50, as well as being an ideal backup camera for Z6 and Z7 owners.

For the design of the Z50, Nikon has taken things a step further than they did for the Z6/7 cameras, and miniaturized their DSLR camera blueprint even more.

Trying very hard not to alienate their existing customer base of DSLR users, the Z50 resembles a Z6/7 that's spent even longer time getting shrunk in the wash.

It weighs in at a mere 395g body only and measures 126.5 x 93.5 x 60mm, making this a camera that you can truly carry anywhere and at all times without really noticing it.

Despite this drastic size reduction, it doesn’t go so far that the camera becomes unusable. The lovely handgrip is still deep and chunky, while the rubberized covering across the whole camera body adds a tactile quality that belies the Z50's mid-range price-point, as does the magnesium alloy build.

While the Z50 doesn't have the same level of weatherproofing as the Z6/7, overall the build quality feels high enough to withstand a little bit of rough and tumble, as well as coping with a variety of different weather conditions, if you take the necessary precautions.

Nikon Z50
Front of the Nikon Z50

Control wise, almost all of the Z50’s buttons are grouped on the right hand side of the camera, making one handed operation easy.

Sadly, unlike on the Z6/Z7, there's no joystick which you can use to move focus points around the frame.

Instead you have to use the slower, less precise method of pressing the four directions on the rear d-pad to move the AF point, with a press of the OK button recentering it.

It’s also not possible to use the touch-sensitive screen to set the AF point when shooting through the viewfinder, as on some rival models (although not the Z6/7), all of which makes selecting the AF point less intuitive than it could be.

If you’re coming to the Z50 from a Nikon DSLR or the Z6/7, you’ll be very familiar with lots of the buttons here already, such as AE-L/AF-L, the Info button for accessing a quick men, and the switch on top for flicking between shooting video and shooting stills.

Nikon Z50
Rear of the Nikon Z50

To the left of the lens mount are two customisable function buttons which are useful for assigning oft-used settings to. A lens release button is found on the right of the mount.

Moving to the top of the Z50, you’ll find another familiarity in the shape of the mode dial. From here, you can switch between the different shooting modes that the Z50 offers, including M/A/S/P as well as fully automatic.

There’s space for two different groups of custom settings marked U1 and U2, which is very handy if you often find yourself shooting in a specific kind of situation, such as low light.

There's no button in the middle of the dial which must be pressed before you can rotate the dial, as on the Z6/Z7, although in practice the dial proved to be stiff enough to prevent accidental mode changes when the camera is stored in a bag.

Nikon Z50
Top of the Nikon Z50

Twin electronic dials occupy the top right of the Z50 – again being very reminiscent of using a Nikon DSLR camera such as the D7500 or D5600.

They can be used together to adjust the shutter speed and aperture, depending on the particular shooting mode you’re currently in.

They can also be used to adjust other settings when holding down other buttons – for example when holding down the ISO button, the rear dial adjusts sensitivity speed, while the front dial enables and disables Auto ISO.

As well as the ISO button, near the on/off switch, you’ll also find a dedicated video record button, as well as an exposure compensation button.

On its highest quality setting, the Z50 can record 4K UHD video at 30p in 8-bit. While it would have been nice to see 4K/60p or even 10-bit recording, the Z50 at least doesn't apply any crop in the 4K mode.

There' also a built-in time-lapse feature and interval timer, and slow-motion movies can be recorded complete with sound.

Unlike the bigger Z6/7 models, there's no handy LCD panel on top of the Z50 for showing the current key settings, which is one of the compromises that Nikon have had to made to reduce its size.

Nikon Z50
Tilting LCD Screen

Moving to the back of the Nikon Z50, there are two ways to compose your image – either via the LCD screen or the viewfinder.

This being a mirrorless camera, the Z50 employs an electronic viewfinder. At 2360k dots and with 0.68x magnification it’s one of the better electronic viewfinders that we’ve used, although not as good as the one in the Z6/7.

You get a clear view of the overall scene, along with extra benefits over a more traditional DSLR optical finder, such as being able to preview how changes to the camera's settings will affect your final image.

Meanwhile, the 1040K-dot tilting touchscreen is also middle-of-the-road in terms of its specification, rather than class-leading.

It gives you the option to change the AF point via the screen, as well as move around menus and make appropriate selections. Using the touchscreen in conjunction with the physical buttons is a great way to use the Z50, depending on how best you like to work.

One small disappointment is not being able to use the touchscreen when shooting through the viewfinder to select the AF point, something we’re used to seeing from other manufacturers such as Canon and Panasonic, especially considering the lack of an AF joystick on this model.

Nikon Z50
The Nikon Z50 In-hand

On a more positive note, the screen can be tilted down below the camera to face forwards by 180-degrees to enable easier selfies and vlogging, something that isn't possible on the more expensive Z6 and Z7 models.

Nikon have also introduced a brand new feature that we've not seen on any other camera before. The Z50 has a permanent column of three controls on the right of the touchscreen.

Starting from the top, there are icons for zooming in, zooming out, and toggling between the various display modes.

It's quite a neat, if somewhat limited idea, that's meant to make the transition from a smartphone to the Z50 easier.

The familiar Nikon Quick menu can be accessed by pressing the “i” button on the rear of the Z50. In this menu you’ll find – by default – a set of commonly used settings.

You can change the options which appear in this menu though, if you find there’s another setting that you more often require quick access to.

Nikon Z50
Front of the Nikon Z50

One of the big advantages that cameras like the Z50 offer over traditional DSLRs is their ability to shoot completely silently. Certain kinds of photographers, such as wedding or quiet sports photographers will likely find this function appealing.

Of course, it’s not new to the mirrorless market as a whole, but if you were previously a Nikon DSLR shooter before moving to the Z50, having this option may open up new shooting opportunities.

The Z50 may be relatively tiny, but Nikon have still managed to fit a built-in pop-up flash into the design, which may prove useful for some fill light if you haven't got a more powerful unit to hand.

A key difference between the Z50 and the more expensive Z6/7 cameras is the AF system, which as you'd perhaps expect isn't quite as capable on the former camera.

Having said that, the Z50's sensor has 209 PDAF points, making it the first ever DX sensor with PDAF onboard, and despite the reduced number of focus points compared with its more advanced siblings, the coverage is an impressive 90% both horizontally and vertically.

In practice, even when using the two slow kit lenses, the Z50's AF doesn’t seem to be noticeably more sluggish in the majority of shooting situations than the Z6/Z7.

It locks on pretty much instantaneously for static subjects in good light, while in low light, focusing is a little slower, but not unacceptably slow, with the Z50 capable of focusing down to an impressive -4EV. The same capable Eye AF system as found in the Z6/7 is also onboard.

Nikon Z50
Pop-up Flash

The Nikon Z50 camera can shoot at 11fps, faster than the max 9fps that the Z7 can muster and marginally slower than the Z6' 12fps.

As we found with the Z6/Z7, it performs best when attempting to keep the subject under an active AF point (using Single-Point AF or Wide-Area AF), rather than activating the tracking focus.

Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity are included, primarily designed for use with Nikon’s Snapseed app.

After some early teething issues, on the whole using the app is a much more pleasant experience than when it first appeared a few years ago.

You can use it to automatically send files over to your phone for sharing online, which is useful for social media aficionados.

One of the big controversies at the Z7 and Z6 launch was the decision to only include a single memory card slot.

That’s likely to be less of a problem with the Z50, which is aimed more at consumers than professionals, but it’s still something to think about if you’re at all concerned about backup whilst shooting.

Instead of expensive XQD cards, the Z50 uses much more ubiquitous, cheaper SD cards. Rather annoyingly for this kind of camera, though, the card slot is in the same compartment as the battery on the bottom of the camera, rather than in a dedicated compartment on the side.

Nikon Z50
The Nikon Z50 and Kit Lenses

At the time of writing, there are only two DX format, Z mount lenses for the Z50, which accompanied it at launch. They are the NIKKOR Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR and the NIKKOR Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR.

While we expect Nikon to bring more to the market during the next months and years, for the time being the available lenses are the main weakness of buying into the Z50 system.

The two kit zooms are both stabilised, important as the Z50 doesn't have built-in IBIS, feature a retractable design to make them more compact, and together cover virtually every focal length that most of the Z50's target market will ever need.

The super-slim 16-50mm pancake zoom in particular is worthy of praise, forming a tiny package with the Z50, yet still featuring a mechanical zoom mechanism, rather than a power zoom system.

But they are constructed from plastic, offer slow maximum apertures that make it more difficult to throw the background out of focus, and also suffer from a lack of sharpness when shooting wide open.

While you can use the generally excellent FX Z-mount lenses that Nikon has released, they're pretty expensive compared to the body-only price of the Z50, and suffer from having a 1.5x crop factor applied.

Nikon Z50
The Nikon Z50 and the 50-250mm Lens

For the time being, though, Nikon seems to think that some Z50 owners who aren't satisfied with the two kit lenses will naturally gravitate towards the faster primes and zooms that they've released for the Z6 and Z7 - we're not so sure...

For anybody with an existing array of DX and FX F-mount lenses, purchasing an FTZ adapter with the Z50 is a good idea. The adapter does not include a focusing motor within it, so only lenses which have focusing motors can take advantage of the Z50’s autofocus system, otherwise you’ll have to engage manual focus.

While we can't see too many new owners going down this route, if you're already invested in a Nikon full-frame system, be it DSLR or mirrorless, it's great to see Nikon supporting those lenses on their new DX-format camera.

The Z50's new EN-EL25 battery has a battery life rating of 300 shots, according to CIPA, making it just a fraction less than the 310 shots of the Z6. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s important to remember that the aggressive power consumption of a standard CIPA test is unlikely to be replicated by the average user.

Instead, with good power management practices – such as turning the camera off when not in use – it’s unlikely most average users would need a second battery. If you’re a particularly rapid shooter, it’s certainly worth investing in a second battery, though.

Just like the Z6 and the Z7, the Z50 can be charged via its Micro USB port, so another option could be to pick up a battery pack so you can charge on the go.