The Nikon Z50 at the Seattle Japanese Garden and Fishermen's Terminal

Are non-photographers going to be hungry for a camera like the Z50? We'll have to wait and see.
Out-of-camera JPEG | Nikkor Z 50-250mm F4.5-6.3 @ 50mm | ISO 100 | 1/320 sec | F6.3
Photo by Carey Rose

By Carey Rose

As I strolled through Seattle's Japanese Garden for the first time, I was struck by how pleasant I felt. As with all Japanese gardens, the setting is painstakingly polished; everything is in its proper place. Funnily enough, that's about how I felt regarding the Nikon Z50 I had in my hands.

The Z50, as with the full-frame Z6 and Z7, is a pretty wonderful piece of ergonomic design. Its generous grip, well-placed buttons and dials, and general sense of solidity (without weighing you down too much) inspire confidence in the camera as a serious tool for making photographs.

And yet, it looks like Nikon is targeting the Z50 as a solution for non-photographers - meaning, people that may enjoy taking pictures, but don't think of themselves as being photographers. So, despite its pricing putting it up against the Canon EOS M6 Mark II and Fujifilm X-T30, it looks like Nikon's intentions have it going up against the likes of smaller, cheaper options like Fujifilm's X-A7 and Canon's EOS M50.

So, is the 'seriousness' of the Z50 going to attract the Instagram crowd looking for a new toy to take their photography to the next level? Let's dive in a bit deeper and find out.

It's just a nice camera

Out-of-camera JPEG | Nikon Z 16-50mm F3.5-6.3 @50mm | ISO 100 | 1/10 sec | F13
Photo by Carey Rose

It should come as no surprise that the Z50 is a nice camera to hold and to use. I didn't bother with a camera strap because I honestly didn't feel like I needed one, even as I was framing up shots from low, from high, and yes, holding it out over the water to capture some food-crazed Koi. (Okay, that last bit did make me want a strap.)

And this starts to get to the heart of what Nikon has needed to do in its more consumer-oriented ILC's for a very long while: provide a decent live view experience on the rear screen. For those users that snagged D3500 or D5600 DSLRs, and weren't necessarily familiar with DSLR in the past, I can see the experience being a bit off-putting.

Out-of-camera JPEG | Nikkor Z 16-50mm F3.5-6.3 @16mm | ISO 100 | 1/30 sec | F14
Photo by Chris Niccolls

After all, most people's phones are incredibly responsive and allow you to quickly and easily frame up your images on a large rear screen, but flip any of Nikon's APS-C DSLRs into live view, and you get a focus-hunting mess. So, you'd better use those tiny, tunnel-like viewfinders: hardly a great introduction for a beginner looking to broaden their photographic horizons with their first 'proper' camera.

But the Z50 fixes this. With an on-sensor PDAF system, a smooth and responsive touchscreen and a big, bright electronic viewfinder that lets me preview my exposure and settings, well, it immediately feels more modern and polished than entry-level DSLRs of yore. So, a big win for Nikon here. Also, all of the images on this page - and in our gallery - are out-of-camera JPEGs. And to my eyes, they look awfully good. I can't imagine a beginner without a Raw-processing workflow would have much to complain about.

Out-of-camera JPEG | Nikkor Z 50-250mm F4.5-6.3 @ 250mm | ISO 100 | 1/400 sec | F6.3
Photo by Jeff Keller

But, as we prepared to head to our next location, Fishermen's Terminal, there was something gnawing at me about the Z50. Something about it, something that I couldn't quite put my finger on. And then, I realized what it was.

How will it stand out?

As we've touched on earlier in this review, there's not exactly a lack of competition in this space. And again, since Nikon is really pushing the Z50 as a solution for 'non-photographers,' what specifically about the Z50 will appeal to that group?

Fishermen obviously don't just drive boats.
Out-of-camera JPEG | Nikkor Z 16-50mm F3.5-6.3 @ 16mm | ISO 100 | 1/400 sec | F5
Photo by Carey Rose

Sure, it has an abundance of creative output options, but as we've detailed on previous pages, they're confusingly split up into 'Effects' and 'Creative Picture Control' modes. Two options, 'Toy' and 'Pop,' are shared between the two categories, yet deliver different results. And you can only apply an 'Effects' ...effect... at the time of capture, whereas Creative Picture Control modes can be applied retroactively. After all of that potential confusion, I can't help but wonder how many people will even use them anyway, as opposed to just shooting on auto and applying a filter in the phone app of their choice. And, this all assumes a critical mass of users use filters at all anymore.

Beyond that, amateurs buying based on price and spec aren't likely to pick the Z50 out of a lineup either, frankly. Compared to entry-level competitors, it offers 21MP of resolution, which is plenty for almost anyone, but the Fujifilm X-A7 and Canon EOS M50 both have 24MP, which is more, and as stated earlier, those two cameras are both smaller and cheaper. The Z50 shoots at 11 fps (and with AF to boot), but that's slower than the 14 fps the more enthusiast-targeted (and similarly priced) EOS M6 Mark II manages.

Including an in-body stabilization system in the Z50 might have helped it stand out from the crowd - especially for video shooters - but Nikon has opted to focus on lens-based VR instead.

Out-of-camera JPEG | Nikkor Z 16-50mm F3.5-6.3 @ 16mm | ISO 100 | 1/1250 sec | F4.5
Photo by Carey Rose

Finally, we should discuss those new DX lenses. I really like the part-time pancake design of the Nikkor Z 16-50mm F3.5-6.3, and I appreciate Nikon's clicky retracting-lock lens designs in general. I much prefer this system to power zooms, which I find to be too slow to zoom, and that slowness is distracting and distances me from the experience of taking photographs.

But I fear that the slower apertures of the two dedicated lenses are going to do the camera, and its potential users, a bit of a disservice. In an age where smartphones can already do convincing blurry-background portraits and are steadily marching towards good-quality low-light images, it's important to have a lens ecosystem that enables users' creativity without those users having to empty their wallets and fill their bags with, say, full-frame lenses that cover an unnecessarily large image circle.

And sure, there's always the (quite justified) argument that most buyers of APS-C cameras never move past the kit lenses - but if there's a dearth of options that don't cost the earth, would they ever be motivated to? In any case, I also think that this camera has a good chance of appealing to more experienced photographers as well, and that crowd, though not huge, may someday want to purchase an additional lens or two.

The wrap

Out-of-camera JPEG | Nikkor Z 16-50mm F3.5-6.3 @ 29mm | ISO 100 | 1/1250 sec | F4.8
Photo by Jeff Keller

Anywho, let's rewind a bit. As I said earlier, based on our time with pre-production models I can safely say that the Nikon Z50 is a good, solid camera. Between the pleasing JPEG rendering, flexible Raw files, excellent build and ergonomics and an otherwise solid feature set, I can see it satisfying a wide range of photographers. But, as is a constant consideration for the current market, will it satisfy a wide range of so-called non-photographers? Only time will tell regarding that audience.

On the other hand, for those users who are perhaps already invested in the Nikon Z-system, or even owners of older Nikon F-mount glass and cameras, the Z50 is a tempting option. It offers good autofocus, excellent image quality and a user interface that Nikonians will immediately be comfortable with. And for a more experienced crowd, it's around the same price as its APS-C peers.

More to the point, the Z50 fills a necessary gap in Nikon's lineup: the company now has a product I can feel good about encouraging folks to check out if they're interested in a more 'serious' mirrorless camera for under $1000, which I haven't been able to do before.