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White Balance

The D50's automatic white balance performance was slightly better than the D70, with both good performance in outdoor and fluorescent light and a fairly typical performance in incandescent light. Switching to the incandescent preset helps you to overcome the lack of range available in auto white balance. Unlike the D70/D70s the D50 doesn't provide white balance fine tuning.

Outdoor - Auto WB
Red: 0.2%, Blue: 0.2%
Excellent

Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 1.5%, Blue: -2.3%
Good
Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 7.1%, Blue: -13.0%
Poor

Long Exposure noise reduction / Night shots

The D50 provides the option of dark frame long exposure noise reduction. When enabled a second equal length exposure is taken immediately after the main exposure which is used to map out any fixed pattern 'hot pixel' noise from the image. As you can see from the samples below

Noise reduction Off Noise reduction On
ISO 200, 30 sec, F11 ISO 200, 30 sec, F11

Flash

The D50's built-in flash performance was surprisingly good, well metered with accurate white balance and no noticeable color cast. Switching to an external flash (in this case the Nikon SB-600) also produced fairly good results although perhaps a little 'over powered' (perhaps our subject distance was a little short). Switching to bounced flash produced more natural looking results although perhaps a little more power would have helped here.

Built-in flash Bulit-in flash
SB-600 direct SB-600 bounced (off ceiling)

Kit Lens

Along with the announcement of the D50 came two new AF-S DX lenses, the 18 - 55 mm F3.5 - F5.6G and the 55 - 200 mm F4.0 - F5.6G. The 18 - 55 mm lens destined to be the standard 'kit' lens, supplied with the camera when bought as a ready-to-shoot kit. The 55 - 200 mm an affordable complementary lens providing telephoto reach. Below are some simple tests of the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. (Note that due to distortion the 'size' of the resolution bar in the wide angle shot is larger than in the telephoto shot).

AF-S DX 18 - 55 mm F3.5 - F5.6 G (at wide angle): 18 mm

18 mm @ F3.5 (maximum aperture)
18 mm @ F9

AF-S DX 18 - 55 mm F3.5 - F5.6 G (at telephoto): 55 mm

55 mm @ F5.6 (maximum aperture)
55 mm @ F9

As you can see from the resolution bar crops this lens performs well near its center at both wide and telephoto and even at maximum aperture. Corner softness and light fall-off however are a different matter, at full wide angle and maximum aperture the corners of the frame are soft and darkened, this improves if we stop-down to F9 but then chromatic aberrations (in the order of a pixel or two) are apparent. The lens improves at longer focal lengths and is acceptably sharp at full telephoto and maximum aperture. If you want to get the most out of your D50 I'd recommend spending a little more on a higher quality Nikon or third party lens.

Overall Image Quality / Specifics

When asked Nikon confirmed that the sensor used in the D50 is slightly different to that of the D70 / D70s, they haven't however explain exactly what the differences are. A quick comparison between D50 and D70 images shows similar levels of detail but a very slightly softer (plastic?) appearance to images, this could be down to either the sensor (I suspect a slightly stronger anti-alias filter) and/or a slightly less powerful onboard processor (as we saw in the Pentax *ist DS; although not to the same degree). We certainly noticed less moire / maze artifacts in D50 images compared to the D70.

The D50 uses a new metering system based on a 420 segment sensor, this appears to be tuned to deliver brighter images with more punch (where as the D100/D70/D70s are set up to avoid over-exposure). In our tests we concluded that the D50 typically exposed about 0.3 EV (a third of a stop) brighter than the D70. The choice of color mode III as a default produces images with punchier more saturated color with more emphasis on blues and greens, again targeted at producing a punchier image straight out of the camera, if that is not to your taste you can always select the 'D70 standard' Mode I.

Overall results from the D50 are very good (if not quite as crisp as the D70), noise is low, color balance bright and pleasing and exposure accurate if a little bright (it's worth checking the histogram).

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