Hands-on with the new Nikon Z50 and kit lenses
The much-rumored Z50 is here. Nikon’s latest Z-series camera, the third in the lineup, features an APS-C sensor and is being launched alongside two DX-format kit zooms. Reminiscent in many ways of a downsized Z6, the Z50 should (Nikon hopes) open up the Z-mount to more enthusiast and entry-level photographers.
As you can see in this image, the Z50 is a small camera, with a relatively sparse top-plate, but generously-sized grip. Lacking the upper status screen included on the Z6 and Z7, the biggest control on the top of the Z50 is a large, non-locking exposure mode dial. A simple lever allows for quick switching between still and movie capture modes.
The 20.9MP sensor inside the Z50 is based on the familiar BSI-CMOS sensor inside the D500. ISO sensitivity spans 100-51,200, and based on our initial (JPEG) shooting, it’s capable of excellent image quality. One major change compared to the Z6 and Z7 though – the sensor in the Z50 is not stabilized.
This shot shows the Fn1 and Fn2 buttons at the 8 o’clock position on the large Z-mount. These are the same buttons – in the same place – as the Z6 and Z7, and fall naturally under your fingers when the camera is held in a shooting position.
It remains to be seen whether future DX-format Z-series cameras will offer in-body stabilization, but for now, Z50 owners will have to rely on the VR built into the two new kit lenses: the Z DX 16-50mm F3.5-6.3 VR and the Z DX 50-250mm F4.5-6.3 VR. More on these lenses later.
209-point PDAF system
While the Z50’s sensor might be closely related to that found inside the D500, there is one major difference, which is the addition of on-sensor phase-detection autofocus pixels. The Z50 offers a 209-point autofocus system covering approximately 87% of the frame horizontally and 85% vertically, which operates in essentially the same way as the equivalent systems on the full-frame Z6 and Z7.
As such, autofocus performance is generally very good, with a decent amount of control, and includes useful face/eye-detection features. We continue to miss the speed and ease with which the company’s DSLRs can initiate AF tracking but, although we can’t draw any definitive conclusions, autofocus speed when the Z50 is paired with its new DX lenses seems responsive.
Weather-sealed magnesium-alloy body
The Z50 is positioned as a midrange ILC, but build quality appears excellent, with a magnesium alloy body and extensive weather-sealing around the major potential points of dust and moisture ingress. Nikon is at pains to point out however that buyers of the Z50 should not expect quite the same level of environmental sealing as the Z6 and Z7, because unlike those cameras, the Z50 features a pop-up flash.
Speaking of the flash, some enthusiasts might be disappointed to note that while handy for fill light or social snaps, unlike higher-end Nikon DSLRs, the built-in flash on the Z50 cannot be used as a ‘commander’ to control the company’s off-camera strobes.
3.2in tilting touch-sensitive LCD
The 1.04M-dot LCD screen on the rear of the Z50 is touch-sensitive, and can be tilted up for waist-level shooting. The experience of using the Z50’s screen is essentially the same as the Z6 and Z7. It’s easy to position your desired autofocus point by touch, and swiping between images, and tapping to zoom in / out is fast and intuitive. You don’t get quite as much resolution as you do on the Z6/7, though, which offer 2.1M-dots on their screens.
A tilting screen like this isn’t as versatile as a fully articulated design (especially when composing images vertically) but it’s fine for waist-level shooting, video, and for composing images from awkward low angles. It can also flip downward 180 degrees, below the base of the camera, for selfies or vlogging.
2.36 million-dot OLED viewfinder
The Z50’s 2.36M-dot OLED electronic viewfinder is very nice. Crisp and contrasty, it’s up there with the best in its class, while (understandably) falling short of the 3.69M-dot resolution of its full-frame Z6 and Z7 cousins. This shot also gives you a view of the permanent touch-sensitive magnification and ‘DISP’ labels just outside of the main screen area on the rear of the camera.
Hidden in this shot is the top control dial, which falls naturally under your thumb when the camera is held in a shooting position. The control logic of the Z50 is extremely similar to that of the Z6 and Z7, which in turn were natural evolutions of established Nikon ergonomics going back several generations. In fact, if you imagine a Z6 crossed with a D5600, that’s pretty much the Z50.
Card slot and battery
The single UHS-II card slot is accessed via the battery door in the base of the Z50’s grip. The battery itself is a new type: EN-EL25, which Nikon claims is rated for around 300 shots (per CIPA). As always, we’d expect most people’s normal use to yield many more shots than this figure. The bad news for some existing Nikon users is that (for now) the Z50 is the only camera that uses this battery.
Continuous shooting rate
The Z50 is a snappy little camera, offering a maximum framerate of 11 fps with autofocus. This places it among the fastest cameras in its class, and we’re keen to test how well the PDAF system performs while shooting fast action once we get hold of a reviewable camera.
No surprise the Z50 offers 4K video shooting (we’d be more surprised at this point if an enthusiast-focused ILC didn’t) and its feature set is reasonably solid, given the Z50’s market positioning. 4K/24p is offered, which will keep cinephiles happy, but there’s a fairly heavy 1.5X crop and while there is a microphone input, Nikon has not found room for a headphone audio monitoring socket.
While probably not an everyday shooting mode, Full HD at 120 fps is nice to have, and offers a lot of fun creative possibilities.
Creative filters and in-camera editing
Nikon has been offering Picture Control modes for a very long time, and the Z50 offers a wide range of profiles and picture effects, to help you get that little bit closer to the Instagram experience, right in the camera. For Raw shooters, it is also possible to edit NEF files in-camera, and save edited JPEGs directly to your memory card.
The Z50 is equipped with built-in WiFi + Bluetooth, and can be controlled via Nikon’s Snapbridge app. This shot also shows the physical ports, which are (from top to bottom) 3.5mm audio in, USB (2.0) and HDMI. The Z50 can be charged via USB, but cannot be powered over this port. And don’t worry – there’s a proper battery charger included in the box.
Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm F3.5-6.3 VR kit lens
The Z50 is being launched alongside two ‘DX’ APS-C lenses. This is the Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm F3.5-6.3 VR, which is a very compact 24-75mm equivalent standard zoom. Like several of Nikon’s zoom lenses, the 16-50mm is collapsible, and in its ‘locked’ position (shown here) it barely protrudes further than the Z50’s grip, making the camera genuinely pocketable, assuming you’re wearing a jacket.
Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm F3.5-6.3 VR kit lens
Here’s the 16-50mm in its unlocked state. Zooming is mechanical, and the other ring is customizable, and can be used for direct control over focus, aperture or exposure compensation (etc.). Optical construction comprises nine elements in seven groups including one extra low dispersion element and four aspherical elements.
According to Nikon, the lens’ Vibration Reduction system is effective up to 4.5EV.
DX 50-250mm F4.5-6.3 VR kit lens
The second lens released alongside the Z50 is the DX 50-250mm F4.5-6.3 VR, which covers an equivalent focal length range of 75-375mm. Optically it is comprised of 16 elements in 12 groups, including one extra low dispersion element. Nikon claims that its built-in VR system is effective up to 5 stops.
The Nikon Z50 will be available soon for $859 body only, $999 with the 16-50mm zoom or
$1349 for the dual lens kit, with the 16-50mm and 50-250mm. What do you make of it? Let us know in the comments.