Every time I review a camera, I mention that I started my career as a newspaper photographer. I shot pictures for 10 years before I realized I was an IT guy and I ditched my Nikons for a Mac.
I switched careers, but I still like taking pictures, and I have three really nice Canon cameras that I use frequently.
When I was a shooter, there were two choices: point-and-shoot cameras and single-lens reflex cameras. SLRs are the large cameras with swappable lenses you see news photographers using on the sidelines of football games.
Now there are entire lines of cameras that simply didn’t exist before, like the Nikon Z 50 mirrorless compact DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) I’ve been testing.
Mirrorless cameras weren’t around when I was a shooter. Let me explain the concept.
Traditional SLR cameras have a mirror inside the camera body to bounce the image up to the viewfinder. When the photographer likes what he sees in the viewfinder, he presses the shutter button, and the mirror flips up and lets the light through the shutter to expose the film.
Yes, we used film back in the day, and it was great. But developing film was tedious, and printing pictures in a darkroom was no fun for me, which is why I love digital cameras.
The mirror has been replaced by an electronic viewfinder.
Instead of using a set of mirrors to look out the lens and frame your shot, mirrorless cameras use a tiny OLED screen to show you what the lens sees.
Cameras with mirrors have some limitations as to how many frames they can shoot per second, and they’re noisy. Mirrors flipping up and down make noise.
Mirrorless cameras also make noise, but the Z 50 has a silent shooting mode that’s isn’t totally silent but comes very close. If you listen closely, you can hear the lens motor moving just a bit during focusing. I doubt you could hear it from 6 feet away. They also shoot quickly. The Z 50 can shoot up to 11 frames per second at its highest resolution.
The Z 50 joins Nikon’s two professional mirrorless DSLRs, the Z6 ($1,999.95) and Z7 ($2,799.95), which are tremendous and certainly not cheap.
Full of features
Now Nikon has introduced the Z 50 ($859.95), which is a DX format mirrorless camera.
DX (also called APS-C) refers to the size of the sensor, which is smaller than those of the Z6 and Z7.
This is a camera aimed at consumers.
Alongside the Z 50, Nikon introduced two lenses for it, a 16-50 mm VR wide angle zoom and a 50-250 mm VR telephoto zoom. The VR stands for vibration reduction. The Z 50 doesn’t have image stabilization inside the camera; it is built into the lenses.
Speaking of lenses, the Z 50 can use any of the Z-series lenses designed for the Z6 or Z7, and there is an adapter to allow the use of almost any current or older Nikon lens.
The body of the Z 50 is on the small side for a DSLR. Nikon has nicely designed it to be controlled with the thumb and index finger of your right hand. Almost every control you need is within reach.
It has a 20.9-megapixel sensor and can shoot 4K Ultra HD video, which you can edit in the camera.
It has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to use with Nikon’s SnapBridge app on your phone so you can move the photos and videos from the camera to your phone for sharing.
You can also use the app as a remote control, and you’ll be able to see what you’re shooting and change the controls before you take the photo or video.
A flip-down LCD screen helps when you want to take a selfie, but because it flips down and not out, you can’t use the screen in selfie mode when you have the Z 50 on a tripod. This is bad design choice, and I hope Nikon changes the screen’s articulation in the next version.
Social media users are familiar with photo effects in their apps. The Z 50 has creative picture controls and special effects that can be used for photos and videos.
The Nikon Z 50’s 20.9-megapixel sensor measures 23.5 mm x 15.7 mm, which is what Nikon calls DX format.
It uses SD cards for storage and has a top shooting rate of 11 frames per second.
Its ISO range is 100 to 51,200. (ISO range refers to how much light is needed to get a good image. The higher the number, the less light you need to get a good exposure, but you get grainier photos at higher ISO settings.)
In video mode, you can shoot up to 4K UHD video at 3,840 x 2,160 pixels at 30 frames per second.
The OLED viewfinder measures 0.39 inches and has 2.36 million pixels and seven brightness levels. It shows 100% of the image area, and there is a diopter adjustment to help you focus without eyeglasses.
The rear touch screen measures 3.2 inches diagonally and it has 1.04 million pixels and a 170-degree viewing angle and shows 100% of the frame coverage.
It has 11 brightness levels, and the screen articulates 90 degrees up and 180 degrees down.
The Z 50 uses a new battery, the EN-EL25, which should let you take 300 shots or record for 75 minutes of video. One feature I love is USB charging. Connecting a micro-USB cable to the camera charges the battery. I wish my Canon cameras had USB charging.
The camera measures 3.7 by 5 inches, and it weighs 14 ounces.
The shutter speed range is 30 seconds to 1/4000th of a second.
The Nikon Z 50’s body alone costs $860. A kit with the body and 16-50 mm lens costs $999.95. A kit is also available with both 16-50 mm and 50-250 mm lenses — it’s on sale now for $1,199.95.
The Z 50 is a fantastic camera that’s small, light and takes very sharp pictures with great dynamic range. Videos are amazingly clear, and the 4K resolution looks beautiful.
If you’ve ever used a Nikon DSLR, the menus and interface of the Z 50 will seem very familiar.
If you look at the features of Nikon’s more expensive Z6 and Z7, you’ll notice a lot of those features on the Z 50.
This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive review. There are plenty of those to be found online. Do your research, and I’m guessing you’ll find that the Z 50 compares really well with the competition.
If you’re in the market for a mirrorless camera, the Nikon Z 50 is a consumer-friendly and wallet-friendly choice that doesn’t skimp on features.
Pros: Easy to use, small, but full-featured. Sharp lenses.
Cons: Don’t care for the articulation of the main screen.
Bottom line: You’ll love the look of the photos and how easy they are to capture.
(Article written by Jim Rossman)