Nikon Z50 review – preview
Written by Gordon Laing
The Nikon Z50 is a mid-range mirrorless camera with a 20.88 Megapixel APSC sensor, 4k video, viewfinder, tilting touchscreen and 11fps bursts. Announced in October 2019, it’s Nikon’s first DX-format mirrorless camera, which means it uses a cropped APSC sensor. It’s kinda like a mirrorless D7500 and Nikon’s aiming it at hobbyists and content creators looking for a step-up in quality and flexibility over a phone. The price pitches it directly against models like the Sony A6400, Fujifilm X-T30 and Canon EOS M6 II.
I had a brief chance to try out the Z50 at the official Nikon UK press launch and in the video below I’ll tell you everything I know about it so far. As always I’ll follow this up with an in-depth review once I’ve had a chance to fully test a final production model. I’ve also transcribed the video narration for you below if you prefer to read the text!
The Z50 employs what Nikon describes as a brand new 20.88 Megapixel APSC sensor, or DX-format in their terminology, and featuring 209 embedded phase-detect AF points covering 90% of the horizontal and vertical frame. You can see it here surrounded by the relatively huge Z-mount, although unlike the Z6 and Z7 full-frame FX models, it sadly doesn’t feature built-in stabilisation. To be fair neither do any of its APSC rivals at this price, but it doesn’t stop me wanting it. The Z-mount means the Z50 can use any of the existing Z-series lenses, all of which have been reviewed at cameralabs.com, or any F-mount lens via the FTZ adapter. Any lens you attach has its field of view reduced by 1.5 times due to the sensor size.
Nikon launched the Z50 alongside two new DX-format zooms, designed for the smaller sensor. The standard kit lens is the new DX 16-50mm f3.5-6.3 VR, a pancake zoom, with a retracting mechanism operated with a twist of the zoom ring. The lens and body make for a very compact combo weighing less than 600g in total.
The second new lens is the DX 50-250mm f4.5-6.3 VR, priced at 379 pounds and weighing 405g, so pack it with the Z50 and 16-50mm and you’ll have a very travel-friendly kit weighing just 1kg. Both lenses offer optical stabilisation that works alongside gyros in the body to deliver up to five stops of compensation.
The new sensor captures 20.88 Megapixel images measuring 5568×3712 pixels, enough to make 18x12in prints at 300dpi. Interestingly it’s four Megapixels fewer than most APSC cameras, and a considerable 12 Megapixels less than Canon’s M6 II. Nikon explained it was for superior low light performance, and I can’t wait to test and compare it in practice. In terms of burst speed, the camera can shoot at 5 or 11fps with continuous autofocus and again I’ll put that to the test.
The Z50 is very capable for video, filming uncropped 1080 at 24, 25, 30, 50, 60, 100 or 120p, or 4k at 24, 25 or 30p. You can choose to slow down the 100 or 120p footage by as much as you like or choose one of the three additional slow motion modes which do it for you. The 100 and 120p modes also capture audio, and there’s timelapse video modes too. The maximum recording time per clip is a second shy of half an hour, so the Z50 matches the M6 II, beats the X-T30, but all fall short of the unlimited recording time of the A6400.
The body looks like a smaller, simpler version of the Z6 and Z7, but Nikon’s not compromised on handling or build quality: the Z50 has a magnesium alloy shell and is weather-sealed to the same extent as the D7500 and mirrorless full-framers, while the grip and controls feel comfortable in your hands.
The Z50 is equipped with a larger than average 3.2in touchscreen that can angle up by just over 90 degrees for easy composing at low angles, or down by up to 180 degrees to face you under the camera for selfies and vlogging. Screens that flip below the body are unusual but not unique – Olympus has them on some PEN models and remember Nikon had its own take back on the D5000. Obviously it avoids the viewfinder head or anything mounted on the hotshoe, but equally it rules-out tripod or gimbal mounting when facing-forward. I’m frustrated so few of the mirrorless APSC cameras have adopted a side-hinged screen, although at least the Z50’s can face-forward unlike the Z6 and Z7, not to mention the Fujifilm X-T30.
The mini-DSLR shaped body also houses an electronic viewfinder with Nikon adopting similar specs to rivals: so you have a 2.4 million dot panel with 0.68x magnification.
On the top of the body is a popup flash, hotshoe and main mode dial with a collar switch to select between shooting stills or movies. There’s two control wheels, one for your thumb at the top and one for your finger in the grip, along with dedicated buttons for the exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity and movie record next to the shutter release.
Nikon’s made great use of its touchscreen, allowing you to tap, drag or slide your way through the interface, along with providing three new buttons on the right side. Here they’re letting me zoom-in and out of the image as well as cycle through the display options. You can tap through all of the settings, or if you prefer, use the physical controls. It all feels very intuitive.
Behind two flaps on the left side of the body you’ll find the three ports: there’s a 3.5mm microphone input, micro USB and micro HDMI. The camera can be changed internally over USB, but while it can’t be powered for operation over USB unlike the A6400 and X-T30, it is at least unfussy about supplies unlike Canon. There’s no headphone jack – of its APSC rivals, only Fujifilm offers one at this price on the X-T30, but forces you to use a USB-C adapter. I also believe the HDMI is 8-bit only, leaving the X-T30 as the only one to offer 10-bit.
The Z50 is powered by the EN-EL25 battery pack which again can be charged in-camera over USB or with the supplied external AC charger. The single SD memory card slot is housed alongside it.
At the time I made this video, the Z50 was still pre-production, so Nikon wouldn’t let anyone take photos or film movies with it for publication, so I can’t comment on photo or video quality, nor on the overall handling experience. I’m certainly curious about that new 20 Megapixel sensor and how it compares to higher resolution rivals. I also hope those new DX-format zooms deliver the goods despite their compact size.
What’s not in any doubt is Nikon has created a very attractive-looking compact camera that’s ideally suited to travel, while expanding its Z-series with a much more affordable version that shares the same mount as the full-frame models. Indeed there’s only one other company that offers full-frame and APSC mirrorless.cameras that share the same native mount and that’s Sony. So tell me what you think: are you excited by the prospect of a DX-format Z-series mirrorless camera? Would you choose it over the Sony A6400, Fujifilm X-T30 or Canon M6 II? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments and don’t forget I have reviews of all these other cameras, not to mention every one of the full-frame Z-mount lenses released so far, so check ‘em out!Check prices on the Nikon Z50 at B&H or Wex. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!