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Nikon Z 50 evaluate: Instagrammer’s mirrorless digital camera

“With the Z 50, you can crop videos in the camera and share them wirelessly with your phone. So it’s perfect for the influencer on the go. ”

Weatherproof, ergonomic design

Excellent picture quality

Burst speed of 11 fps

Wireless video transmissions

The auto focus struggles in low light conditions

Few native DX lenses at startup

There are cameras for photographers and cameras for pre-photographers. The Nikon Z 50, Nikon’s smallest DX camera and first mirrorless APS-C camera, largely falls into the second category. The Z 50 is marketed for Instagram users who want to upgrade from a smartphone. It offers in-camera video editing and wireless video transmission while maintaining a design that channels an entry-level DSLR.

The Z 50 also starts with a built-in audience – occasional Nikonographs with a stock of F-mount lenses that can be easily adapted to the mirrorless Z-mount. Without stabilizing the full-screen Z 6 and Z 7 in the body, the Z 50 offsets its shorter equipment list with a lightweight 14-ounce housing and a tiny kit lens.

After the failed Nikon 1 series, it’s good to see that Nikon is really striving for a mirrorless camera aimed at casual photographers. It’s not perfect, but the Z 50 does a lot right.

Design: a mixture of old and new

The Z 50 offers some of the high-end functions of the Z 6 and Z 7, such as image stabilization in the body, to save a few millimeters. With a body size of only 3.7 inches, it is not surprising that Nikon’s smallest interchangeable lens camera with crop sensor even surpasses the tiny DSLR D3500.

However, Nikon cannot give the same weight information. At 14 ounces, the Z 50 is about 6 ounces lighter than its full-frame counterparts. However, thanks to the weatherproof magnesium alloy exterior, it’s heavier than the Budget D3500, if only by an ounce. We take this extra ounce in return for the superior design and not for the plastic feel of a cheap DSLR.

The 16-50mm kit lens is just as impressively small, 1.26 inches long and less than 5 ounces. The small size is incredibly easy to take with you, but it allows you to grab the wrong control ring. It also leaves no space for a focus scale or an AF / MF switch. Instead, manual focus must be switched using the camera’s quick menu. Given the target group of the Z 50, we do not suspect that many customers will disrupt this additional step because they like to leave the camera in autofocus.

While smaller cameras often have a major impact on ergonomics, the Z 50 manages to hit a happy medium. The handle has a nice size and is wide enough to grip comfortably for long-term use. Due to the shorter body, the fingers do not wrap around the controls as perfectly as with a DSLR, so the camera has to sit a little higher in the palm of the hand in order to access the upper controls comfortably. But for such a small camera, it is comfortable to hold.

The controls are simple enough not to overwhelm new photographers, but still leave room to grow. There is both a pop-up flash and a hot shoe, as well as microphone, USB and HDMI connections – and of course Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

In contrast to Z 6 and Z 7, there is no secondary screen on the top plate, so there is more space for the mode dial, the double dials and links for ISO, exposure compensation and video. While the capture button is used to capture video in any mode, a small switch toggles between a still and a video mode. This way, photographers can use a range of settings for still images and one for videos, and switch easily between them.

Two function keys on the front offer customizable shortcuts. The back continues the minimalist scheme with some menu controls and playback options, including three buttons built into the LCD screen. An autofocus joystick is unfortunately missing in the design.

The 3.2-inch LCD screen has a hinge that allows the screen to fold all the way forward, but not to the side but at the bottom of the camera. The design is robust and works well for handheld selfies. However, this means that the screen is blocked when using a tripod. This is a potential problem for vloggers and YouTubers. When the screen faces forward, the camera automatically switches to selfie mode and locks many of the camera’s controls to prevent accidental bumps.

The Z 50 may be the first in the new mirrorless DX series, but the camera feels like a real Nikon.

Like the LCD, the 2.36 million point finder is clear and accurate. It is not as unusual as the high-resolution viewfinder of the Z 6 and 7, but it is good for this camera class. The downside, like most but not all electronic viewfinders, is that when you take a photo, it turns black, making it a little more difficult to track actions.

The Z 50 may be the first in a new mirrorless DX series, but the camera feels like a real Nikon. While we miss the Z 6’s joystick and larger handle, Nikon managed to use the Z 50’s real estate wisely and create a camera that is both easy to use and flexible.

Snappy but incomplete performance

The 1 Series – the mirrorless system that Nikon would rather forget – had many problems, but was known for its fast performance. The Z 50 follows a similar direction, although it is certainly not as fast as professional sports-oriented cameras like the Sony A9.

The burst speed of 11 frames per second is fast and handles RAW files well. (However, this maximum speed is not compatible with Flash.) The buffer fills up after 3 seconds of RAW photos and takes about 15 seconds to fully restore. With JEPGs, the camera shoots continuously for 8 seconds and recovers in just 4 seconds. The low speed setting keeps the Z 50 at a steady pace much longer.

But like the Nikon mirrorless full-frame cameras, the Z 50 autofocus stumbles a little. In good lighting, the camera works as expected, focuses quickly and only a handful of pictures are missing in the series mode.

In bad conditions, e.g. B. indoors or outdoors at night, the auto focus has problems with 209 points. It hunts longer than usual, delaying the shot or sometimes finding no focus at all. That doesn’t mean that all shots are blurry in low light conditions on the Z 50, but the camera has a lower hit rate than a Nikon DSLR in the toughest conditions – and some competing mirrorless cameras.

The autofocus cannot keep up with the movement and has ridiculous glitches, like focusing on the face of an inflatable snowman.

The Z 50’s eye AF follows a similar good but not good pattern. As long as the subject is relatively calm and close to the camera, it works perfectly (farther away the camera snaps into faces). But the eye’s AF can’t keep up with a lot of movement and had some ridiculous glitches – like deciding to focus on an inflatable snowman’s face instead of the person who is a little further away.

Similarly, tracking autofocus worked great in some situations, but in other cases the focus field drifted away from the selected subject.

While autofocus may not be as robust as a Nikon DSLR, the Z 50 manages to do what a DSLR can’t – silently take pictures. Quiet mode lives up to its name – the autofocus motor can make a slight noise, but that’s it. However, without seeing a viewfinder failure, you cannot tell if a photo was taken.

While most cameras have a handful of editing options in the camera, the Z 50 also offers the option to trim and resave a video. This saves time and battery when you use the new Snapbridge feature, which enables wireless video transmission. As with other newer Nikons, setting up a wireless connection is easy and gives access to remote photography tools and transfers for existing photos. This is a huge improvement over the chunky connections of a few years ago.

picture quality

At first glance, Nikon seems to have taken a step back on the Z 50. After all, it is only 20.9 megapixels, four less than the 400 D3500. Most companies seem to prefer 24 megapixels for enthusiastic models, while the new Canon EOS M6 Mark II has 32.

However, the megapixel number is a superficial and inaccurate method of measuring image quality. Images from the Z 50 sensor are 5,568 pixels wide, while images from a 24-megapixel camera are 6,000 pixels wide. This difference is good for increasing the print size by another 1.8 inches, but few will actually notice the difference – especially the Z 50’s target customer for Instagram users.

However, most will notice the difference in picture quality when it comes to noise. Generally, the more pixels you press on a sensor, the more susceptible that sensor is to noise. With fewer megapixels and the new EXPEED 6 processor, the Z 50 excellently processes high ISO values. With some adjustments to the RAW file, ISO 3,200 doesn’t even look like a high ISO. Even without processing, the noise is still inconspicuous. Photographers can take photos safely even at ISO 6.400, and if they go beyond this quality, it will only be reduced from excellent to good.

The sharpness of the Z 50 is excellent at and below ISO 6.400, a trend that we have seen in all Nikon Z cameras, also thanks to the new lens mount. By replacing the inexpensive kit lens of the Z 50 with the more expensive 24-70 mm 1: 4 Z lens, a somewhat higher sharpness was achieved, but at a level that is probably not recognizable in real pictures.

The video quality largely follows the same pattern with excellent sharpness and color. The autofocus looks smooth, although it was not always set as quickly as we would like. 4K offers great details, while Full HD offers a wider range of frame rates.

While the body is not stabilized, the 16-50mm kit is lens. We were able to capture sharp still images up to 1/25 second, and handheld videos did not cause nausea. Only two Z DX lenses are currently available, the second is a 50-250mm f / 4.5-6.3, which is also stabilized. For all other focal lengths, you either have to jump for full-frame Z-glass or adjust Nikon DSLR lenses, none of which maintain the slim profile of the Z 50.

Our opinion

The Nikon Z 50 is an impressive start for the first APS-C model in the Z series. It’s a solid design, takes great pictures, and generally offers fast performance. Easy connectivity and video trimming in the camera make it ideal for influencers who want to record and share without being connected to a computer. However, autofocus lags behind some DSLRs and competing mirrorless cameras, especially when working with limited light.

Starting at around $ 850, the Z 50 is also inexpensive and inexpensive compared to other cameras in this class.

Is there a better alternative?

While the Z 50 is a powerful little camera, auto focus performance prevents it from dethroning favorites like the Fujifilm X-T30 and the Sony A6100. We prefer the design of the Nikon over the A6100, but Sony’s autofocus system is a clear winner. The X-T30 also gets good marks for the autofocus system, although the Z 50 may be more ergonomic. The Z 50 is also the only one in this group that is weatherproof.

How long it will take?

This camera is well built and fits well in the hand. It should shoot for several years without disasters. The Z 50 also shares lenses with the full frame Z 6 and Z 7, which leads to a clear upgrade path.

Should you buy it

Yes, especially if you have a stock of Nikon lenses. Be careful, however, if you take a lot of photos indoors or in low light. The Z 50’s high ISO performance is admirable, but autofocus can fail in these situations.

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