The Nikon Z50 was released in November 2019, about 1 year after the initial release of the full frame mirrorless cameras Z6 and Z7. Initially, upon the spec leaks, many Nikon fans groaned at the lacklustre specs, at that time, an APS-C sensor that was already in use for several years in the D500, no dual card slots, no AF joystick, no in-body image stabilization (IBIS), many were already calling the camera a failure even before it was released.

Now, coming on 2 years after the release, I was able to get a used set in near mint condition and put it through it’s paces. I have been shooting with Nikon ever since I started on my photography journey more than 10 years ago, and have gone through a slew of consumer and pro grade DSLRs in my quest to find value for money cameras that will serve me well in my work. Here are my thoughts on the Z50 from both a work and casual usage viewpoint.

Revision: As I am writing this article, the Nikon Zfc has just been released. To some extent, some of the comments here also apply to the Zfc since the two cameras largely share the same specs such as sensor, viewfinder, single card slot and battery (EN-EN25) etc.

Ergonomics

Weight

The first thing that struck me when I picked up the camera was the weight. One of the original arguments for choosing mirrorless over a DSLR was that mirrorless cameras are lighter. Definitely the case here. The Z50 is a small, compact, lightweight camera that one can throw into a small bag and carry around with no issues, assuming you pair it with the kit lens or a small third party lens the 25mm prime from Meike.

Grip

The small body matches a small prime perfectly

Usually, cameras that are built to be as small as possible may sacrifice grip comfort to minimise weight, the old Olympus EP-Minis come to mind. Here, I feel that the grip is sufficient for small to medium lenses mounted on the camera. The sculpted grip still allows enough finger room for small and medium sized hands.

Nevertheless, people with large hands might feel this camera is a little cramped, with your pinky hanging out while gripping the camera. If you need more vertical room, you may want to invest in a Smallrig L plate, which adds grip room as well as additional tripod mounting options to even allow side mounting for your to see the screen even with a tripod.

As you can see from the pictures above, the body is tiny on any of the larger telephoto lenses, like the older version of the 300mm f/4 that I have here. I would definitely advise holding the combination by the lens rather than the body so as not to stress the mount. It’s unlikely that the lens mount will break or snap, but might as well take precautions rather than have an expensive repair yeah?

Battery | Memory card slot

The battery used here is a new EN-EL25. The battery doesn’t last as long as the EN-EL15 used in the bigger brothers Z6/Z7. Luckily, the Z50 is able to charge the battery using the micro USB port on the side and attaching a power bank. Charging can therefore be done in camera as well as using the external charger (provided). When charging using a power bank, there will be a small red LED lighting up to let you know that charging is on.

charging using a generic power bank using micro usb.

Unfortunately, the single memory card slot can only accept UHS-I SD cards. While these cards are generally cheaper, they are also slower. But for my purposes, I have yet to encounter any issues with transfer speed. I would imagine someone who does a lot of burst shots needing a faster card, however.

Top dial

The top dial will be familiar with anyone who has used a consumer grade Nikon DSLR. That’s not to say this is bad.

The consumer grade dial comes with the U1 and U2 memory bank functions, which I personally prefer over the menu bank system in the older pro grade bodies. Maybe it’s a user issue, but hey, I find this system easier to use, save the settings to either U1 or U2, and once you switch to that setting, presto, all your settings are there. I usually leave U1 for low light settings without flash, and U2 for flash settings indoors when I am covering events.

Back buttons | Screen | Viewfinder

The back of the screen is dominated by the LCD panel which only flips down and up, but not to the side like quite a few other brands. Not too sure why Nikon has designed it as such but I would personally prefer a full articulated screen for ease of use, especially when using the screen in a vertical manner (I’ve previously tried this with the D5xxx series, which I found extremely convenient). The touch screen zoom and display buttons are an interesting implementation, some people would have preferred physical buttons since you can actually feel them, especially with gloved hands. In Singapore, with tropical, warm weather, this is not an issue for me. Luckily, the centre “Ok” button still works as a one button zoom during playback.

One thing about the Z50 is that most of the back panel functions can be accessed with your right hand, so if you’re someone who likes to operate the camera one handed, you can do it here.

The viewfinder is large enough, sharp and has a decent refresh rate. In photo mode, I never had an issue looking through the viewfinder to frame my image, even for wildlife photography. In video mode, however, there is a slight lag when looking through the viewfinder which I found reflects your settings in video. Personally, I am not a fan of this but there may be some people who like working like this.

Flash

The in-built flash on the Z50 is tiny. Unfortunately, it’s power is lacking for all but the closest subjects. Using it for fill is fine, but don’t expect it to light up subjects if they are standing more than 1m away, especially at ISO 100. Using the flash in conjunction with a higher ISO will yield better results at night if you simply want to see your subjects (eg. you are taking a holiday shot at night and want to see someone’s face).

Still, having the flash means you have a means of controlling external flashes remotely if you so desire. I personally use the in-built flash in manual mode and then control my two manual flashes using S1 receiver mode.

Image Quality

Resolution

Female scarlet backed flowerpecker

I was able to crop in to the image to focus more on the flowerpecker here. In Lightroom, I was still able to see individual feathers and tons of detail despite already cropping in. I believe there are no issues with resolution for normal purposes (like posting for social media) though I imagine you may be able to get better results with wildlife photography if the resolution were to be higher. For wildlife though, I use a 300mm lens paired with a 1.4x teleconverter (pictured earlier) on this crop-sensored body to get a 630mm equivalent (300 x 1.4 x 1.5) field of view.

Shot using the Z50 with the Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4
Shot using the Z50 with the Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4

Base ISO

At base ISO, as seen from the image above, shots are clean and detail, again, no issues. I would definitely be able to get good shots for both my own projects and for clients at base ISO, since I’ve not had the need for 45 MP pictures (at least not had the request from clients yet).

Shadows are extremely clean, and there is a lot of detail in the raw photo for a 20MP image.

High ISO

Shot at ISO 6400

Taking pictures in low light is an issue with the kit lens due to the small max aperture of f/6.3. However, do take note that as stated by DP Review, this 20.9 MP sensor from Nikon is potentially a tried and proven sensor (used in the D500 and the D7500) with very good dynamic range and low light performance. Using it at up to ISO 6400 is definitely not an issue. Thankfully, one does not need full frame just to shoot useable images at ISO 6400 these days 🙂

From the sample shot here, despite being shot at ISO 6400, I noticed very little banding or color noise in the shadows. Highlight recovery was possible as well, I was able to pull the highlight slider to -82 in Lightroom to recover detail from the overexposed areas (in the lit areas in the apartment blocks). The only issue is that as the image is quite grainy, some noise reduction will need to be applied depending on your personal preference.

Autofocus

Single AF

Female scarlet backed flowerpecker below it’s nest (top left)

In single AF mode, you can control the specific point to focus on. In this case, this was the best setting for a small birding hiding in the middle of foliage. The single point AF was reasonable quick and accurate.

Continuous AF

This is very lens dependent, but using a pro grade 2.8 zoom lens will help a lot with the speed of continuous AF. Using the accompanying kit lens is a hit and miss affair. In good light, even the kit lens will give you good results, with fast, accurate continuous AF assuming that you are landing the AF point on an area of contrast (basically not a plain white wall). In low light, the small f/6.3 may be affecting the speed of focus to some extent.

More testing will be doing when I bring this lens out for a birding trip, keep a look out for that!

Video

I primarily use the camera for casual photography, but from my light usage regarding video, I realised that the video specs are largely the same as the Z6, of course without the full frame sensor. Another thing would be the lack of raw video output over HDMI and also no 10 bit footage when recording using an external recorder like the Atomos.

My experience with the flat profile in video is pretty good. The footage grades quite easily in Da Vinci Resolve and offers decent results.

Using adapted lenses

I have mixed feelings using the Z50 with F mount lenses using the FTZ adaptor. I’m glad that the adaptor allows me to use all my F mount AF-S lenses, no issues at all. Third party lenses don’t play very well using the FTZ adaptor, I had an old Sigma DX lens (more than 15 years old) not autofocus despite it working fine on my DSLRs. Luckily, my beloved Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4 works just fine.

Your mileage may vary depending on the age of the third party lenses.

Conclusion

So, do I regret the purchase after 2 months?

I enjoyed the small size of the camera, especially since I also have a small, third party, manual Meike 25mm f/1.8 prime lens. The entire kit can basically fit in a small camera bag and weighs less than my 300mm f/4 telephoto prime.

The single point autofocus is definitely snappy and accurate, especially when using higher grade lenses with better AF systems such as the 2.8 zooms and of course the native Z mount lenses. I also enjoy the ability to autofocus quickly in video, plus there is no additional crop on top of the existing crop from the sensor size compared to the Nikon D7500 and the D500. Hence, feel free to shoot wide angle footage in 4K using the kit lens (not possible in the two aforementioned DSLRs)

My issues were regarding ergonomics. Coming from the Z6, I was used to the large grip and had some trouble with pressing some buttons sometimes, especially since I much prefer using back button autofocus.

Another issue is with the zoom buttons and the back panel display switch being touch buttons on the LCD itself. I would much prefer physical buttons, especially if I happen to be wearing gloves.

My final beef was that there is no sensor based stabilisation in the APS-C bodies. After getting used to it in the Z6, dealing with shaky images in the viewfinder was not very pleasant with unstabilised lenses (most of my lenses are unstabilised, F mount lenses).

Still, the Z50 serves it’s purposes, as a reliable, second camera in case I need a backup for my Z6 during paid shoots. The smaller sensor also helps me when I’m out shooting wildlife. Finally, having a camera using SD card as storage is good for me if i ever travel again (after this entire Covid situation is over) since I can get SD cards quite easily if I need one in a pinch.

If you’re able to get one used for a good price, take note of some of the issues here, but rest assured this camera is still a capable one that offers the user a lot of features for the price.

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