Opinion: The Nikon Z50 is a good camera, but that may not be enough
|The Z50 is a lot like a mirrorless D5600. Which is no bad thing but probably won't attract a new audience.|
To a great extent, the Nikon Z50 looks like a very good camera. The very good camera in question being the D5600. The mirror has gone, but not a lot else seems to have been changed: most of the specifications and much of the experience has been ported over directly from what is a very capable mid-market camera.
Every aspect of the Z50 has been borrowed from somewhere else: the sensor (now with PDAF toppings) from the D7500, the lens mount and AF system from the Z6 and the concept and price from the D5600. The ingredients seem well blended together but end up tasting familiar, rather than enticing.
There's little evidence of the Z50 being made any more appealing or accessible than the D5600
Nikon is pretty clear about who it's targeting with this camera: people who love to share attractive moments from their lives on sites like Instagram, but who don't necessarily think of themselves as photographers. People who are hitting the limits of what their phone can do, or who want to feel more involved in the photographic process.
That's solid enough in theory, and the Z50 will undoubtedly take great Instagram-style photos. But it doesn't feel like Nikon has done much to make this camera any more attractive to them. The retractable kit zoom helps to deliver a reasonably-sized package (despite the camera being built around a lens mount that's oversized for the full-frame format), but is it really just size that was stopping these people buying D5600s? After all, Nikon had already done a pretty good job of paring down the size of its mass-market models.
|Instagramer-friendly? I'm skeptical. Or possibly just squinting into the sun.
Photo: Carey Rose
Beyond size, there's little evidence of the Z50 being made any more appealing or accessible than its DSLR twin. It gains a second command dial, and that's definitely something: Nikon has a history of building cameras with well-shaped hand grips and well-positioned dials and the Z50 continues this tradition. But it's hard to see that bringing non-camera-buyers flooding back to Nikon.
The user interface hasn't been amended or simplified to be more familiar to an audience whose primary photography experience has been their phone's camera app
It's a similar story in terms of operating the camera: Nikon has added its pretty capable Eye-AF system from its big Z cameras, but it's done nothing to make focus tracking any quicker or easier to operate. The icon-abundant user interface hasn't been amended or simplified to be more familiar to an audience whose primary photography experience has been their phone's camera app, rather than a compact camera's interface.
|The Z50's 'Creative Picture Control' options let you shoot (or re-process) images with heavy filters applied.|
Perhaps the thing that surprised me most about the Z50 was that it doesn't let you use the rear screen as a touchpad, when you've got the camera to your eye. It's a feature that's present in almost every mirrorless camera with a viewfinder and, more significantly, in Nikon's own D5500 and 5600 models. And yet it's gone missing from here: leaving you to learn button presses and repeatedly stab at the four-way controller, in much the same way as you had to on the D50, over a decade ago.
For the more experienced user who already knows their way around the interface, the Z50 might be more interesting. Or could be, were there any lenses for it. But a F3.5-6.3 maximum aperture collapsible kit zoom isn't likely to set enthusiast hearts racing. As always, sharing a mount across sensor format promises cross-compatibility, but it's hard to look at the current range of full-frame Z-mount lenses or Nikon's published roadmap and see many with size, price or focal length that make them great pairings on this body.
|Nikon doesn't have a great history of supplying anything other than zooms for its DX DSLRs. This is the sole fast aperture prime introduced in 17 years.|
That roadmap only includes a single additional DX lens: an 18-140mm travel zoom that fits with stated ambitions, but is unlikely to enthuse many enthusiasts. Which is a shame, because in many respects the Z50 a rather usable and competitively priced rival to Sony's a6400 or Canon's EOS M6 II (only without support from Sigma).
Nikon may think it's making a camera for people who don't see themselves as photographers, but seems to have made another solid photographers' camera by mistake
To an extent, the comparison with the Canon is telling. The Z50 is not conceptually dissimilar to the M6 II: metal bodies, twin dials and so forth. The difference is that Canon isn't aiming the M6 II at Instagram users; it's got the M200 for that. Which just adds further weight to the impression that Nikon may think it's making a camera for people who don't see themselves as photographers, but seems to have made another solid photographers' camera by mistake.
As things stand, it's not clear what the Z50 does to attract a new audience. And a: 'build it and they will come,' approach seems optimistic, to say the least.
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