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Nikon D50 review with 18-55mm f3.5~5.6 DX lens Gordon Laing, December 2005



Nikon D50 design and build quality

Pictured below from left to right are the Canon EOS-350D, Konica Minolta Dynax 5D, Nikon D50 and Pentax *istDL. Available in black or silver, the Nikon D50 looks and feels like a smart and serious piece of kit which won't let you down. At first glance it resembles the D70(s), but place the two side by side and there are obvious differences. Most obviously the D50's smaller at 133x102x76mm and lighter too at 830g including kit lens and battery, although it remains noticeably larger and heavier than most of its budget competition.

left to right: Canon EOS-350D, Konica Minolta 5D, Nikon D50 and Pentax *istDL front view

While Canon and Pentax fight over who can lay claim to having the smallest digital SLR though, some photographers feel both companies have gone too far and produced bodies which compromise comfort and ergonomics. In contrast, the larger D50 enjoys a decent-sized grip which better suits those with bigger hands. Of course the ideal size, shape and weight of a camera is highly subjective and you've really got to pick up and feel each to see which suits you best. One thing's for certain though: despite its budget price, the D50's build quality feels superior to its rivals.

Nikon D50 right side viewThe D50's powered by a single 1400mAh Lithium Ion battery pack and is supplied with a mains recharger. Nikon claims each charge is sufficient for up to 2000 shots under typical shooting and playback conditions. Certainly during our extended testing period we've only had to recharge the battery once.

Like the D70(s), the D50's top surface is divided between the main control dial on the left and a large (non-backlit) screen on the right showing shooting information. The D50's control dial features the usual Auto, Program, Manual, Shutter and Aperture Priority modes, along with six scene presets including the new Child mode boasting vivid colour but natural skin tones. Shutter speeds range from 1/4000 to 30 seconds plus Bulb in half or third stop increments. Exposure compensation is offered in a very wide range of +/-5EV again in half or third stop increments.

Nikon D50 left side viewThe position and operation of the controls is generally well thought-out. ISO, white balance and quality settings can be quickly adjusted by holding the required button on the back and turning the thumb wheel as you watch the status screen. The menus on the main colour screen are also crisp and clear, although the magnification in playback mode is a little convoluted: you first have to press the magnifying button, before holding another as you turn the thumb dial to draw a marquee. You can then use the four-way control pad to move around the image, but again need to redefine the marquee area if you want to adjust the magnification. Surely it'd be easier to just have one button to zoom-in and another to zoom-out again.

There's a popup flash and i-TTL flash control at fast synchronisation speeds of up to 1/500 second. You can select front or rear curtain, red-eye reduction, slow sync or slow sync with red-eye. There's also flash compensation from -3 to +1EV.

Composition and screen
The D50's viewfinder focussing screen is clear and unlike the D70(s) features two new icons in the lower left corner to indicate low battery or the absence of a memory card. Sadly the on-demand grid lines of the D70(s) focussing screen though are not present on the D50. This grid, which can be switched on and off on the D70(s), greatly aids composition and would have given the D50 a neat advantage over its budget rivals. Like its immediate competition, the D50 employs a penta-mirror to reduce cost (and weight), but the view remains bright.

Nikon D50 rear viewNikon's fitted a new 2in LCD screen on both the D50 and D70s with 130,000 pixels. This is the same resolution as the 1.8in screen of the D70, but carries sufficient detail to still look sharp at this slightly larger size. Images and menus look bright and colourful, and while it's not as impressive as the 2.5in 210,000 pixel screen of the Pentax *istDL, it's a step up in size from that on the Canon EOS-350D and in perceived detail from the Konica Minolta 5D's large but coarse display.

New to the D50 is improved auto-focus including an automatic mode which can switch between AF-S (single servo autofocus) and AF-C (continuous servo autofocus), depending on the motion and tracking of the subject in question.

Nikon D50 top viewThe D50 is equipped with an Nikon F-mount and its sensor size results in all lenses having their focal length effectively multiplied by 1.5 times. The D50 is compatible with all DX Nikkor lenses and type G or D AF Nikkor lenses with all functions supported. Other AF Nikkor lenses can be used with all functions supported apart from 3D Colour Matrix Metering II, i-TTL Balanced fill-flash. Older or specialist Nikkor lenses have further restrictions listed on Nikon's website.

The D50 was launched with two new AF-S Nikkor DX lenses designed for its smaller sensor size: the 18-55mm f3.5~5.6 and 55-200mm f4.0~5.6. Both lenses employ Nikon's Silent Wave Motor, SWM technology which allows fast, quiet focussing and are available in black or silver.

The 18-55mm lens is optionally available as a bundle with the D50 and delivers an equivalent focal length of 27-82.5mm. It may be a light budget model, but can perform well, especially when stopped down a little - see our results page. The SWM focussing motor is also slightly faster and quieter in operation to the 18-55mm EF-S lens bundled with Canon's EOS-350D, although both lenses employ rotating front elements which are inconvenient for users of polarising filters.

All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2017 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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