Update: We have now added some sample images to this
Nikon Z50 hands-on review, shot during Berlin Photo Week.
The Nikon Z50 (or Nikon Z 50 as Nikon prefers to write it) brings Nikon's mirrorless camera technology to the hobbyist market. Nikon's full frame mirrorless cameras might be tempting, but not everyone can afford them!
Nikon’s first stab at producing interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras didn’t exactly set the world on fire; the 1-series’ relatively small, low-resolution 1-inch CX sensor – with a 2.7x crop factor – quickly fell behind its mirrorless rivals.
The solution was the Z mount, which was introduced in late 2018 and so arrived somewhat late to the mirrorless party. But if you’re going to turn up late, you’re going to have to make quite an entrance – and the Nikon Z 50 has certainly done that.
With the revolutionary Z mount in Nikon mirrorless cameras, the company rethought its lens mount from the ground up. The first two models, the full-frame Nikon Z 7 and Z 6, really showcased this cutting-edge tech, with range of ‘S’-line lenses that are amongst the sharpest we’ve ever tested. This qualifies Nikon's Z cameras as amongst the best mirrorless cameras you can buy. But they come at a hefty price. Now, a shade over a year since the launch of the Z mount, Nikon has brought out its first more affordable mirrorless Z-mount model, and it already looks like one of the best Nikon cameras for hobbyists and enthusiasts.
Much of this cost saving is due to the Z50 using an APS-C ‘DX’-size sensor, as used in its range of DSLRs from enthusiast down to entry-level, and this has enabled the camera to launch with a price tag well under $1,000/£1,000. This DX body is fitted with the same Z mount used on the full frame models, so full-frame Z lenses can be mounted directly onto the Z50 (and the new Z DX lenses will fit the Z 6 and Z 7, automatically engaging crop shooting mode). Using the same FTZ adaptor, existing DX and FX lenses for DSLRs can be used on the Z50 too.
At the same time as launching the Z50, the company also unveiled its latest Nikon lens roadmap, underlining its commitment to its new mirrorless Z mount, though it's possible the new $8,000/£8,000 Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct might be a step too far for most users...
But the smaller physical sensor size isn’t the only place where savings have been made. This model doesn’t feature ‘in body image stabilization’ (IBIS), and so the lenses that launch with the new model have Nikon’s Vibration Reduction built in.
But otherwise, the specs are truly impressive. The 20.9 MP DX-format sensor borrows the fast, wide Hybrid-AF (autofocus) system from Nikon's full frame 'Z' cameras, with 209 AF points covering 90 percent of the sensor width and height. Its 11fps continuous shooting range (with full autofocus and auto exposure) almost matches the Z 6 (and exceeds the Z 7), and certainly puts it up amongst the fastest shooters around, matching many pro-level DSLRs. It’s a great low light performer too, with a native ISO range of ISO100-51,200 at up to -4EV.
And the Z 50 is great for video, shooting 4K across the full sensor width, rather than a cropped version than some rivals have employed. 4K time-lapse sequences can be created in-camera, while shooting in Full HD adds additional slow-motion footage mode.
The Z 50 also features an electronic viewfinder. It’s lower-resolution than its full-frame cousins at 2.36 million dots rather than 3.6 million, but we found it to be sharp and exhibit few signs of the lag that have plagued some of Nikon’s competitors. Electronic viewfinders do take a little getting used to, but once you do, seeing the effect of your exposure settings through the viewfinder before you take the shot is nothing short of brilliant.
A tilting 1.04 million-dot touchscreen flips by 180 degrees to sit below the camera body, and is primarily designed for selfies and blogging use; Nikon sees a large part of its target market to be ‘influencers’ who use platforms such as Instagram and Youtube to share content. This does mean that the screen would be obscured when used in this way if the camera were mounted on a tripod, but Nikon has hinted that a solution to this is in the works.
Build and handling
We thought the Nikon Z 6 and Z 7 were compact, but the Z50 is positively dinky, particularly with the new ‘pancake’ Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR kit lens attached. There's also a new Nikkor Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR telephoto zoom.
The camera may be physically smaller and lighter than full-frame Z models, but uses a similar deep grip that is comfortable to hold. It has fewer buttons than the Z 6 and Z 7, but touch icons etched next to the touchscreen replace some of the functionality of the physical buttons.
There are both rear and front-mounted scroll wheels that enable aperture and shutter speed to be quickly changed, among other functions. The exposure mode dial flips from the left to the right side of the top plate, compared to the Z 6/7, but in a space-saving (and cost-saving) measure, there’s no top LCD. Two programmable ‘Fn’ buttons enable commonly used settings to be quickly changed, and are in the same place as the Z 6/7, nestled close to the lens mount.
In all, it feels very much part of the existing ‘Z’ family, but even smaller. If the Nikon Z 7 is the mirrorless equivalent of the D850 pro full-frame DSLR and the Z 6 the D750 enthusiast full-frame model, then the Z 50 is roughly on par with the Nikon D7500 (and perhaps the Nikon D500) as an enthusiast APS-C camera, and Nikon has hinted that we can further expect to see even lower-cost mirrorless entry level models released in the fullness of time to fit alongside the Nikon D5600 and D3500.
Our initial hands-on time with the Z 50 in London was short – and the initial samples were 'pre-production', however a few days later we were able to test the real deal during Berlin Photo Week, taking advantage of the sets and stages that were set up in the old Kraftwerk power station. You can see the samples below to get a sense of the results this is capable of - bearing in mind that our time with the camera was short, and we were in relatively dark conditions, and forced to simply use the camera at high ISO settings.
Technically, the Z 50 might sound like a scaled down version of the Nikon Z 6 and Z 7, but in the flesh it has a very different feel. Nikon has done a remarkable job of giving such a small camera such a solid one-handed grip, but quite apart from the size of the camera, we were impressed by the 16-50mm pancake kit lens which is one of the slimmest APS-C kit lenses we've yet seen and uses a 'proper' mechanical zoom rather than an electrical power zoom system – these always feel rather 'disconnected'. But even more than the camera and its kit lens, we are impressed by Nikon's pricing. Body only, the Z 50 costs less than its chief APS-C rivals, the Sony A6400 and Fujifilm X-T30, and the pricing for the kit lens and twin lens bundles is really quite remarkable.