Nikon D50By: Dave Etchells and Shawn Barnett
Nikon develops an "entry-level" SLR loaded with features for less than $750. (Body only)
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Page 7:ViewfinderReview First Posted: 05/20/2005, Updated: 08/10/2005
Like all SLRs, the Nikon D50 by definition has an optical viewfinder that receives light through the same lens that will direct light to the imager when the mirror flips up and the shutter opens. Rangefinder-style cameras have separate optics for viewfinder and imager, so the image can be slightly off due to what's called parallax error. This is largely eliminated with LCD viewfinders on consumer-grade digital cameras, but these LCDs usually lag behind reality at least a little bit, making it harder to track rapidly moving subjects. LCD viewfinders also tend to have a hard time in dim lighting, where an optical SLR like the D50 does just fine. Since SLR designs let you look through the same lens the camera will shoot through, you naturally get more accurate framing, but without the delay or low-light problems that LCD viewfinders tend to bring. An illuminated display inside the viewfinder provides detailed camera and exposure information, including focus area indicators, "no memory card" warning, battery status, focus confirmation, focus mode, shutter speed, aperture, metering, AE lock, FV lock, exposure and flash compensation, frame counter, and flash ready light.
Lacking on the D50 is the handy viewfinder "grid" overlay that the D70 had. This was an optional 3x3 grid of lines that could be turned on or off in the viewfinder to help you line up horizontal or vertical subjects. Like the D70 (and most other inexpensive digital SLRs), the D50 uses a Pentamirror viewfinder. While Pentamirrors are supposed to be less bright than the more expensive pentaprism viewfinders, I've personally never found much to complain about the view through pentamirror systems.
The 2.0-inch LCD panel is not usable as a viewfinder on digital SLRs, for the simple reason that the mirror is directing light to the optical viewfinder, completely obscuring the digital sensor until the time of exposure. It can, however, provide a good deal of information after an image has been captured. Five different display screens are available, ranging from limited file information, to very detailed lists of the settings, plus a histogram, and an overexposure alert. The histogram is a graph of how many pixels in the image have each brightness level. The brightness is the horizontal axis, running from black on the left to white on the right. The height of the graph shows the number of pixels at that brightness level. This kind of display can be very helpful in determining over- or underexposure. An evenly-exposed, low-contrast subject would create a histogram that stretches across the entire width of the display, using the full range of brightness values available. An underexposed image will have a histogram with all the data lumped on the left of the histogram, and an overexposed image would be bunched up on the right.
Another display mode that's useful is the Highlights display, which flashes any overexposed areas, alternating white and black. Few objects should appear as pure white in a well-exposed photograph, because few objects in the real world are pure, saturated white to our eyes. Obvious exceptions are light sources, like lamps or the sun. The flashing Highlights display is thus very useful for seeing any parts of the image that might be overexposed. It's particularly helpful when only isolated highlight areas are overexposed. Because the histogram display shows the distribution of all the pixels in the image, small overexposed areas don't produce a noticeable blip on the graph, making them easy to miss. The Highlights display takes care of that, by calling attention to overexposed regions very directly.
Though it's a little buried in the control buttons, the D50 has the ability to zoom in on photos up to 4.7x to examine focus in playback mode. The animated series of shots shows how this works. As you enter a zoomed playback mode, the display changes from a 3:2 ratio view, which shows the entire image, to a 4:3 ratio, matching the dimensions of the LCD. Once you've entered zoomed playback mode, pressing the Thumbnail display button (of all things) while rotating the Command dial zooms in on the image. Once zoomed, you can use the Four-way rocker to move around inside the image. Pressing the Thumbnail display button toggles to a display showing the position for your zoomed window within the normal-sized image, indicated by a bold red outline. You can move this window around with the Rocker Pad control, and then pop back into the zoomed view by releasing the Thumbnail button again. This may all sound a little complicated, and it is, but after very little acclimation, I found I could move around within the enlarged display very fluidly using this arrangement. See the animated screen shot above for a whirlwind tour of the feature. Pressing Playback Zoom/Quality/Enter button zooms you in and out by 2x, and you can move around with the navigator button.