Nikon Z50 Review

Camera Reviews / Nikon Cameras / Nikon Z i Hands-On Preview
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Nikon Z50
Resolution: 20.90 Megapixels
Sensor size: APS-C
(23.5mm x 15.7mm)
Kit Lens: 3.10x zoom
16-50mm
(24-75mm eq.)
Viewfinder: EVF / LCD
Native ISO: 100 - 51,200
Extended ISO: 100 - 204,800
Shutter: 1/4000 - 30 sec
Max Aperture: 3.5 (kit lens)
Dimensions: 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.4 in.
(127 x 94 x 60 mm)
Weight: 18.8 oz (533 g)
includes batteries, kit lens
Availability: 11/2019
Manufacturer: Nikon
Full specs: Nikon Z50 specifications
20.90
Megapixels
Nikon Z APS-C
size sensor
image of Nikon Z50
Front side of Nikon Z50 digital camera Front side of Nikon Z50 digital camera Front side of Nikon Z50 digital camera Front side of Nikon Z50 digital camera Front side of Nikon Z50 digital camera

Nikon Z50 Review -- Hands-on Preview

by Mike Tomkins
Preview posted 10/10/2019

Last year, Nikon reinvented its mirrorless camera strategy from the ground up with the launch of two full-frame cameras sharing a brand-new lens mount, the Nikon Z6 and Z7. Some 14 months later, the company is now expanding that line in a new and more affordable direction with a third model, the Nikon Z50, which is also the first to feature a smaller APS-C sized sub-frame image sensor.

The Nikon Z50 shares the exact same lens mount as its full-frame siblings, but differs quite a bit in other ways which will make it more approachable for consumers. (And, says its maker, especially for a generation of content creators shooting video for the likes of YouTube.) As well as its sub-frame sensor, the 20.9-megapixel Z50 is a good bit smaller and lighter than the earlier models, and adds a selfie-friendly articulation mechanism for the rear-panel LCD monitor, as well as a consumer-friendly popup flash strobe on the top deck.

There's also a more broadly-available SD card slot on which to store your creations, in place of the higher-speed XQD cards used by its siblings. Further changes are aimed at helping to pare down both the size and cost, simultaneously improving portability and reducing the impact on your wallet. There's a switch to in-lens image stabilization in place of in-body sensor-shift stabilization, a smaller, lower-resolution viewfinder, a lower-res LCD panel on the rear, a slower maximum shutter speed and a rethinking of connectivity.

The final result of all of these changes is a camera which will come in at less than half the cost of its full-frame siblings. In fact, it will arrive in time for the 2019 holiday season at below the magic thousand dollar mark, even with a stabilized kit lens being included in the product bundle.

Video walkthrough: Hands-on with the Nikon Z50

We've already been hands-on with the Z50, and given that Nikon is aiming this camera at the YouTube crowd in particular, it seems appropriate that we kick things off with some video content ourselves. You'll find a hands-on tour of the latest Z-series model and our early thoughts in the video below!

Correction: Note that although we mentioned UHS-II compatibility in the video above, we have subsequently learned that the Nikon Z50's SD card slot is in fact compatible only with the UHS-I standard. (UHS-II cards should still work, but will be limited to UHS-I speeds.) Apologies for the error!

A brand-new body that's significantly more compact and lightweight

With introductions and our video walkthrough out of the way, let's roll up our sleeves for a deeper dive on the Nikon Z50, and some comparisons with its full-frame siblings.

[Ed. Note: For the sake of accuracy, we should note that the official naming for this new camera is actually the "Nikon Z 50", just as its full-frame predecessors were actually the "Nikon Z 6" and "Nikon Z 7". However, we'll be referring to them as the Z50, Z6 and Z7 throughout this article, as the extra space makes things harder to read or search for, but we can't really abbreviate them to just 'Z', '50, '6' or '7' either.]

No question about it: The switch to a sub-frame image sensor as well as all the other ancillary changes in the Nikon Z50 have together allowed for a really significant reduction in size and weight compared to the full-frame Z6 and Z7. (And those were already fairly compact cameras, mind you.)

The brand-new, magnesium-alloy body of the Z50 is a full third of an inch smaller on every axis, as compared to the full-frame models. And although we don't yet have a figure fully loaded and ready to shoot, body-only weight has fallen by about 6.7 ounces or almost one-third, as compared to the Z6 and Z7, for a final figure of just 14 ounces.

Although the Z50 is not weather-sealed to the same degree as its full-frame brethren, it's still sufficiently weather-sealed to handle some rain. The smaller body does mean that there's less room for dedicated controls, however, and so some of the rear-panel controls found on the Z6 and Z7 -- most notably the joystick -- have had to be removed. In some cases, though, soft buttons on the right edge of the touch-screen LCD monitor make up for these removals. There's also no longer a top-deck status display, and the mode dial has had to jump across to the camera's right shoulder, as there's no longer room to the left of the electronic viewfinder hump.

A brand-new ~21 megapixel sensor derived from those in the D500 and D7500

Obviously, the most significant difference between the Nikon Z50 and the Z6 / Z7 is its smaller image sensor. In place of the full-frame sensors of the earlier cameras -- or the FX-format sensor, in Nikon parlance -- there is instead a brand-new sub-frame, APS-C sized sensor, also known as a DX-format chip. Sensor dimensions are 23.5 x 15.7mm, as compared to 35.9 x 23.9mm for the FX-format cameras.

We're told that the sensor is an evolution of those in the earlier Nikon D500 and D7500 DSLRs, and it has an effective resolution of around 20.9 megapixels, as compared to 24.5 megapixels for the Z6, and 45.7 megapixels for the Z7. (That suggests a pixel size much closer to that of the latter.) Total resolution is about 21.51 megapixels, as compared to 25.28 megapixels for the Z6, and 46.89 megapixels for the Z7.

Unlike its full-frame siblings, the Nikon Z50 lacks any physical form of dust reduction for its sensor, instead relying on the ability to capture a dust-off reference photo which can then be used to remove dust from your images automatically in software for as long as the dust particles predominantly remain in the same locations.

Performance and sensitivity are broadly similar to the full-frame Z6

Output from the new image sensor is handled by Nikon's EXPEED 6 image processor, the same generation as features in last year's Z6 and Z7. Together, the new sensor and EXPEED 6 chip allow a sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 51,200 equivalents by default, the same as is offered by the Z6. (The Z7, meanwhile, provides a range of ISO 64 to 25,600 equivalents.)

This can be extended at the upper end to ISO 204,800 equivalent, just as in the Z6, but unlike that camera, there's no extension at the bottom end of the range. (The Z6 allows expansion to as low as ISO 50-equivalent, while the Z7 has an expanded range of ISO 32 to 102,400 equivalents.)

Burst capture performance is pretty close to both the Z6 and Z7, although the former will still provide the maximum performance available on the Z-mount at this time. With an electronic shutter, the Nikon Z50 will be able to capture some 11 full-resolution frames per second, per Nikon's own measurements, as compared to around 12 fps for the Z6, and 9 fps for the Z7. Switching instead to a mechanical shutter will reduce this significantly to around five frames per second for the Z50, a half frame less per second than both the Z6 and Z7 can manage. No word yet on buffer depths.

A lower magnification and resolution viewfinder

With a smaller sensor size than its full-frame siblings, you might expect a smaller viewfinder image as well, and that is the case. The resolution of the organic LED panel around which it is based has fallen from 3,690k-dots in the Z6 and Z7 to 2,360k-dots in the Z50, and the OLED panel itself is a smaller 0.39-inch type instead of the earlier 0.5-inch panel. Magnification is stated as 1.02x or about 0.68x in 35mm-equivalent terms compared to 0.80x for the Z6/Z7, and eyepoint is 20 millimeters down from 21.

The new EVF still has an eye sensor which can be used to enable it or disable it automatically as you bring the finder to your eye and then return to using the LCD monitor. Its automatically or manually-controlled brightness adjustment is rather coarser-grained, however, with just seven steps where the Z6 and Z7 had 11-step control over brightness. (Color, too, can be adjusted but we don't yet have specifics for this.)

Those with less-than-perfect eyesight will find that there's a dioptric adjustment range of -3 to +3 diopters, as compared to a range of -4 to +2 diopters in the Z6 and Z7.

The LCD touch-screen is lower-res too, but now supports selfie shooting

Although its 3.2-inch diagonal size remains unchanged, the Nikon Z50's rear-panel LCD monitor also has a lower resolution. Where the earlier cameras had a 2,100k-dot display, the Z50's touch-screen display now has a more ordinary 1,040k-dot resolution. It's still mounted on a tilt-only articulation mechanism which allows for framing of landscape-orientation shots over the head, from the hip or low to the ground.

An improvement to that mechanism now allows it to be flipped downwards a full 180 degrees for framing of selfies as well, though, where the Z6 and Z7 weren't selfie-friendly. The choice of a downwards flip means that the display won't conflict with the popup flash or a strobe or mic mounted in the hot shoe, but also means you won't be able to view it from in front of the camera if you're shooting with a tripod.

The LCD has an 11-step brightness adjustment like that of the Z6 and Z7, but early press materials for the Z50 don't mention if a color adjustment remains available.

In-lens stabilization comes to the Z-mount with two new DX-format lenses

One big omission in the Nikon Z50 as compared to its full-frame siblings is the lack of an in-body image stabilization mechanism, where the Z6 and Z7 both sported five-axis sensor-shift systems. This change was doubtless made both to reduce size, weight and complexity, and to get the price of the body down to where Nikon needed it, but fear not: Stabilization is still possible. It's just been shifted to the lens instead, meaning that it will only be available if it's supported by the attached lens.

As of this writing, that's true only of two newly-announced lenses which have been revealed alongside the Z50. These are both DX-format optics, and if you plan on shooting both full-frame and sub-frame bodies side by side, both of these new lenses can also be used on the Z6 and Z7 with some limitations. (Most notably, there's the fact that they'll come with a 1.5x focal length crop, but they're also incompatible with the in-body stabilization of the full-frame models, and so will rely solely on their in-lens stabilization instead.)

The two new lens models are the very compact NIKKOR Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR and the NIKKOR Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR. The former will offer 35mm-equivalent focal lengths from 24 to 75mm, and the latter from 75 to 375mm, for a generous range of 24 to 375mm from just two optics in total. Both lenses are said to have reduced focus breathing, a customizable control ring to smoothly control aperture or exposure compensation, and fast / silent operation. The 16-50mm lens should have a 4.5-stop corrective strength for its Vibration Reduction, while the 50-250mm lens promises five-stop VR correction.

As well as these new lenses, the Z50 can also shoot with existing full-frame Z-mount optics, again with a 1.5x focal length crop. (But the flip side of that coin is that you'll be using only the central portion of their field of view, where image quality should be at its highest.) As of this writing, there are seven first-party, full-frame Z-mount lenses to choose from, giving you a choice of nine Nikkor Z-mount lenses in total.

Three of the full-frame lenses are zooms: A 14-30mm f/4 (21-45mm eq.), and a choice of f/2.8 or f/4 max. aperture 24-70mm (36-105mm eq.) zooms. There are also four f/1.8 primes: a 24mm (36mm eq.), 35mm (53mm eq.), 50mm (75mm eq.) and 85mm (128mm eq.)

And finally, you can also mount Nikon F-mount lenses with an adapter, although these will likely offer a less-than-optimal experience since as well as the adapter itself, these DSLR-oriented lenses will be bulkier, and the Z50 itself is small even for a Z-mount mirrorless camera.

Eye-detection autofocus is a first for a Nikon DX-format camera

Like the Z6 and Z7 before it, the Nikon Z50 uses a hybrid autofocus system pairing information from both phase-detection autofocus pixels arrayed across the surface of its image sensor, and contrast-detection operating on data streamed from the sensor. In total, there are 209 autofocus points addressable in single-point autofocus, covering about 87% of the image frame vertically, and 85% horizontally.

By way of comparison, the Z6 and Z7 have 90% coverage both horizontally and vertically. The Z6 has a 273-point AF system, while that in the Z7 sports a total of 493 AF points. The Z50's AF system has the same EV -2 to +19 working range as that in the Z7, while the Z6 has the best low-light performance with a -3.5 to +19EV working range.

Like the Z6 and Z7 before it, the Nikon Z50 includes both face-detection and eye-detection capabilities which can help to put the point of focus in just the right place for pleasing portraits, which will be of particular use when using the bright f/1.8 prime lenses. While eye-detection isn't new to the Z-mount -- it's a feature both the Z6 and Z7 gained through firmware updates -- it's something Nikon has never before offered in a DX-format camera.

Sports shooters will want to consider FX-format instead for a faster shutter

Most creative options in the Z50 are broadly similar to those of last year's Z6 and Z7, but there are a few important areas in which they differ. For one thing, where its siblings offered three user modes on their mode dials, the Z50 now has just two, but replaces the third one with both scene and effect positions on the dial, instead. (That's a change which would seem to make sense given its more consumer-friendly nature.)

A different shutter mechanism not only contributes to a fractionally slower burst capture rate, as discussed previously, but also a less-swift maximum shutter speed of 1/4,000-second, where the full-frame cameras are both capable of 1/8,000-second instead. Timed exposures as long as 30 seconds are still possible, and there's also a bulb mode in the Z50, just as in the earlier Z-mount models. As you'd expect, the Z50 offers an all electronic shutter mode, however its top speed is also limited to 1/4,000. An electronic front-curtain shutter option is also provided.

And its metering range of -4 to +17EV actually bests both, at the bottom end of the range, as the Z6 and Z7 had a metering range of -3 to +17EV. There's still +/-5EV of exposure compensation available around the metered exposure, in your choice of 1/3 or 1/2EV increments. And you can also access two to nine-shot bracketing in 1/3 to 1EV steps, just as in the Z6 and Z7.

A built-in, popup flash makes clear this is more of a consumer-oriented camera

Among the more obvious body changes in the Nikon Z50, as compared to the Z6 and Z7, is the addition of a consumer-friendly built-in, manually-raised flash strobe at the front of its electronic viewfinder hump. With a guide number of seven meters (22 feet), it's pretty weak even compared to Nikon's entry-level SB-300 Speedlight (GN 18m / 59ft) which you could instead mount in the Z50's hot shoe, let alone higher-end models. Still, you needn't carry any extra bulky gear to use it, and can never accidentally leave it at home, and Nikon tells us that the Z50 can still handle some rain despite the popup strobe's presence, so we'd say it's a worthwhile addition for consumer shooters.

Flash exposures still use Nikon's i-TTL metering, there's flash exposure compensation available within a range of -3 to +1EV in 1/3 or 1/2EV steps, and Nikon's Creative Lighting System is supported, as well, though the built-in flash can't act as a commander. Flash X-sync is at 1/200 second, just as in the Z6 and Z7, and the Nikon Z50 can support FP high-speed sync all the way up to its fastest shutter speed of 1/4,000-second.

The Z50 boasts most of its pricier siblings' video features at a much lower cost

In most respect, the Nikon Z50 sports much the same array of video features as did the full-frame Z6 and Z7, just with a smaller sensor, lens-based image stabilization and at a much lower pricepoint. Really, all that's missing as compared to its full-frame siblings are a headphone jack, time code support and Nikon's N-Log profile.

The bad news is that there's still a 29 minute, 59-second record time limit. The good news is that there's a generous selection of ultra high-def and high-def recording modes, including 4K at 24, 25 or 30 frames per second, and Full HD at 24, 25, 30, 50, 60, 100 or 120 frames per second. There are also three Full HD slow-motion capture modes, recorded without sound, offering a 4x slow-motion effect at a playback rate of 25 or 30 fps, as well as a 5x slow-motion effect with 24 fps playback.

Although there's not a headphone jack, Nikon did include both an internal stereo microphone and a 3.5mm jack for external microphones. Movies can be recorded with an ISO sensitivity of anywhere from 100 to 25,600 equivalents. To shoot at higher sensitivity, you'll need to switch to night portrait mode, which can shoot at up to Hi-4.

A switch to Secure Digital storage makes more sense in a consumer-oriented cam

Where the full-frame Z6 and Z7 both sported a single, high-speed (and pro-oriented) XQD card slot, the consumer-friendly Nikon Z50 opts instead for the much more broadly-available Secure Digital card format. High-speed UHS-I cards are supported, and there's still only a single card slot. As well as JPEG format, still images can also be saved as either 12-bit or 14-bit raws. We don't yet have details as to whether you have a choice of compression, however.

Wired connectivity is a significant difference from the Z6 and Z7

The Z6 and Z7 were also on the cutting edge in terms of their wired data connectivity, sporting super-swift USB 3.1 Gen 1 (aka USB 3.0) via a reversible USB Type-C connector. The Z50 instead opts for the older, slower USB 2.0 High Speed standard and a Type-B Micro connector which can only be inserted one way around.

And in place of the sturdier and more reliable Type-C Mini HDMI connector used for high-definition video output in the earlier cameras, the more size-conscious Z50 instead opts for a smaller Type-D Micro HDMI connector.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth cater for Nikon's SnapBridge wireless sharing

Like the Z6 and Z7 before it, the Nikon Z50 also provides both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless radios, allowing transfer of data to your smartphone or tablet without any cables. Specifics of the Bluetooth implementation aren't yet available, but we do know that the Wi-Fi radio supports 2.4GHz or 5GHz 802.11b/a/g/n/ac wireless networks. (These standards are nowadays also known as Wi-Fi versions 1 thru 5, respectively.) Together, the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios allow for Nikon's always-on SnapBridge system, which uses the lower-power and lower-speed Bluetooth radio most of the time, and raises the higher-power, higher-speed Wi-Fi radio automatically as necessary for larger data transfers.

Lower battery life than its full-frame siblings, and from a different battery pack

Likely in the interests of reducing size, the Z50 doesn't use the same EN-EL15 series battery packs as the Z6 and Z7. Nikon rates the Z50 as capable of 320 frames on the LCD monitor or 280 frames when using the electronic viewfinder, derived from a new EN-EL25 battery pack. By way of contrast, the Z6 was capable of 380 frames on the LCD or 310 on the EVF, and the Z7 was capable of 400 frames on the LCD or 330 on the EVF. (And both of these were already below average for a mirrorless camera.) Plan to pick up a couple of extra batteries alongside your purchase!

The good news is that you can charge batteries externally in a dedicated charger, or internally in the camera via a USB charger. (However, since the battery and USB connector themselves differ between the Z50 and its full-frame kin, the specific charger model offered by Nikon varies in both cases.) We don't yet know which will be included in the product bundle.

Nikon Z50 price and availability

The Nikon Z50 is expected to go on sale in the US market from November 2019. It will be offered body-only for a list price of around US$860, in a single-lens kit with the NIKKOR Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR lens for around US$1,000, or in a dual-lens kit with both the NIKKOR Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR and NIKKOR Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR lenses for around US$1,350.

 

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