What's new, how it compares

Though they look quite similar at first glance, that's a Z50 on the left and a Z6 on the right.

Despite being Nikon's first APS-C mirrorless camera, an awful lot of the elements of the camera are familiar: the user interface has been lifted directly from the full-frame Z cameras, the sensor is a variant of the one in the D500 and D7500, built into a camera that's conceptually similar to the D5600.

Key takeaways:

  • 20.9MP sensor with on-sensor phase detection
  • 4K video capture or 1080/120p
  • Lots of creative modes for entry-level users

The most noticeable differences compared to the D5600 are that the Z50 is smaller (especially if you factor-in the collapsible kit lens), it has two command dials and, perhaps most significantly, it has a more coherent shooting experience across viewfinder and rear screen operation, and across stills and video shooting.

New 20.9MP APS-C sensor

The Z50 is based around a 20.9MP sensor that's closely related to the one first used in the D500. It's an APS-C-sized sensor, which Nikon refers to as 'DX' format.

The version of the sensor included in the Z50 has a series of masks over the top of the sensor, meaning that some pixels only receive light from one or the other side of the lens. The data from these masked pixels allows the differences between the image entering the left and right-hand-side of the lens to be compared, which is then used to assess depth in the scene, underpinning the 'phase-detection' autofocus system.

Beyond this, much of the rest of the camera is familiar. What's interesting is that, rather than using a native 3840 x 2160 region of the sensor to give the detailed, but heavily cropped, 4K video as the D500 and D7500 did, the will capture 4K video from the full width of its sensor. We'll investigate how this affects the detail levels as soon as we get a production-spec camera.

Effects modes / Creative Picture Control

In keeping with its Instagram-friendly intent, the Z50 can shoot images with a series of significant processing effects applied. These are handled in two ways, depending on whether they just affect the color and contrast or if they manipulate the underlying image.

The first set are the Creative Picture Controls, which come in addition to the more conventional Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape and Flat color modes. The Creative Picture Control options can be used in any shooting mode, including video shooting.

The Creative Picture Control options can also be applied retrospectively to Raw files using the in-camera Raw conversion interface.

Image re-processed in-camera, showing the 'Pop' Creative Picture Control response.
Photo by Chris Niccolls
Creative Picture Control modes:
  • 01 - Dream
  • 02 - Morning
  • 03 - Pop
  • 04 - Sunday
  • 05 - Somber
  • 06 - Dramatic
  • 07 - Silence
  • 08 - Bleached
  • 09 - Melancholic
  • 10 - Pure
  • 11 - Denim
  • 12 - Toy
  • 13 - Sepia
  • 14 - Blue
  • 15 - Red
  • 16 - Pink
  • 17 - Charcoal
  • 18 - Graphite
  • 19 - Binary
  • 20 - Carbon

The filters with a more dramatic impact are accessed via the 'Effects' position on the mode dial, accessing options that actively manipulate the image itself, adding vignetting or blurring parts of the image.

Effects modes:
  • Night vision
  • Super Vivid
  • Pop
  • Photo Illustration
  • Toy
  • Miniature Effect
  • Selective Color
  • Silhouette
  • High Key
  • Low Key

Because they can only be accessed via the Effects position on the mode dial, you get less control over your other shooting options. Depending on the mode, flash, autofocus or Raw shooting may be unavailable, and movie shooting may result in stop-motion-style slowed playback. These effects cannot be retroactively applied to Raw files.

How it compares

The Z50 arrives into a competitive part of the market, meaning it has to face up against some very capable stills/video cameras. Here's how the specs compare:

Nikon Z50 Canon EOS M6
Mark II
Sony a6400 FujiFilm
X-T30
MSRP
(With kit zoom)
$1000
(16-50mm F3.5-6.3 VR)
$1100
(15-45mm F3.5-6.3 IS + EVF)
$1000
(16-50 F3.5-5.6 OSS)
$1000
(15-45mm F3.5-5.6 OIS)
Pixel count 21MP 32MP 24MP 26MP
Sensor size APS-C
(369mm2)
APS-C
(332mm2)
APS-C
(367mm2)
APS-C
(367mm2)
Image stabilization Lens only
(+ digital in video)
Lens only
(+ digital in video)
Lens only
(+ digital in video)
Lens only
(+ digital in video)
Max frame rate 11 fps
5 fps (with LV)
14 fps
(30 fps Raw bursts)
11 fps
8 fps (with LV)
20 fps (e-shutter)
8 fps (mech)
EVF res. (mag) 2.36M-dot (0.68x) Optional
2.36M-dot
(unspecified)
2.36M-dot
(0.71x)
2.36M-dot
(0.62x)
Sync Speed 1/200 1/200 1/160 1/180
Video rate UHD/30p or 24p UHD/30p
(24p coming in f/w in 2020)
UHD/30p or 24p UHD/30p or 24p
Video crop Full width
(unknown sampling)
Full width (binned) Full width 24p
1.2x crop 30p
Full width (o/sampled)
Rolling shutter Low-20s ms ~17ms 40ms (24p)
31ms (30p)
23ms
Log capture No
('Flat' profile 8-bit)
No S-Log 2 / 3, 'HLG' (8-bit) F-Log
(8-bit internal)
(10-bit HDMI)
Mic Socket Yes Yes Yes Yes (2.5mm)
Headphone socket No No No Via USB 3.0
adapter
CIPA Battery rating (LCD/EVF) 320 / 280 305 / 250 410 / 360 380 /
Dimensions 127 x 94 x 60mm 120 x 70 x 49mm 120 x 67 x 60mm 118 x 83mm x 47mm
Weight 450g
(15.9 oz)
398g
(14.0 oz)
403g
(14.3 oz)
383g
(13.5 oz)

The other camera worth considering here is the D5600. It makes good use of a 24MP CMOS sensor (probably one very similar to the a6400), offers many similar features to the Z50 and has more direct access to the vast Nikon F-mount lens back-catalogue (though APS-C has never played a large role in shaping that lineup).

What the D5600 can't offer is the seamless viewfinder/LCD experience the Z50 provides, nor the consistent stills/video experience.