When Nikon finally took the mirrorless camera segment seriously, it began right at the top with the Nikon Z6 and Z7. The Z6, which we reviewed last year, ranked among the best performing full-frame cameras that you can buy at around Rs 1,50,000. However, Nikon realised that lofty, full-featured full frame cameras may not be for everyone, and in February this year, introduced the Nikon Z50. Featuring a 21-megapixel APS-C back-illuminated CMOS sensor, the Z50 borrowed much of the goodness from the Z6 – both in terms of design and overall performance.
With its base, Z-mount 16-50mm kit priced at around Rs 75,000 in India now, the Nikon Z50 is pretty much the equivalent of Nikon’s much-vaunted D7xxx-series of DSLRs, which were once hailed as the ultimate bridge between Nikon’s amateur and professional camera lineups. The Nikon Z50, on this note, plays a commendable role of a highly able APS-C mirrorless camera, and in fact, ranks as one of the very best in its segment right now.
Most photographers who buy the Nikon Z50 may not be professionals, and as such, are likely to rely more on direct in-camera JPEG conversions, rather than processing their own RAW files. The first thing that we focus on, hence, is the overall image quality of the Nikon Z50’s JPEGs, which produce some of the most impressive results in this segment. The Z50 shoots well, with a back-illuminated, 20.9-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor paired with the Expeed 6 image processor. On paper, the Z50 offers the lowest image resolution output among competitors – Canon’s EOS M6 II features a 32.5-megapixel sensor, Fujifilm’s X-T30 has a 26.1-megapixel sensor, and the Sony a6400 features a 24.2-megapixel sensor.
The difference somewhat shows in the overall photographs, with the Z50 falling behind the Sony a6400 and the Fujifilm X-T30 in terms of overall sharpness and fine details. This does not immediately show in smaller displays, so as long as your primary usage device is a smartphone, the extent of impact on overall sharpness remains limited. Some images with high amounts of intricate details do have the tendency of exhibiting moire, which the other semi-pro APS-C mirrorless cameras don’t show thanks to richer sensors. The Z50 is not bad per se, and offers reasonably accurate coarse details. Some amount of resolution impact can be seen in high contrast shooting, such as monochrome photography under sharp incident daylight, where the edges of subjects look soft-edged.
That said, what the Nikon Z50 lacks in terms of peak output resolution, it more than makes up in terms of overall performance. The Nikon Z50 offers the best colour accuracy, dynamic range and tonal balance in this segment, which leads to super sharp and detailed colour (and even monochrome) performance. This will particularly benefit those who shoot in RAW, giving plenty of room to shoot in RAW. The Nikon Z50’s photographs have plenty of room to tune shadows, and even direct JPEG conversions show impressive detail and colour accuracy in tricky areas such as sharp highlight spots and deep shadows in a neutral colour landscape.
The fantastic colour accuracy allows you to toggle around with picture control aplenty, which in turn helps you find the ideal ground for your shooting style. For instance, setting a neutral picture control will help you obtain better results for processing RAW images. However, you can also go all the way up to vivid picture control for high contrast, direct JPEG shooting. The Nikon Z50 produces brilliant yellows and greens, which is already what we expect from Nikon, but also eats into Canon’s territory with splendidly rich and highly detailed reds. Well-adjusted levels of blues sum up all the basic colour palettes, hence bringing out a vast range of composite shades. The biggest advantage of this is that you can simply transfer an image directly from your camera to your smartphone using Nikon’s SnapBridge wireless image transfer service, and upload it to your social media handles, without requiring extensive post-processing.
The wide dynamic range, coupled with great tonal balance, is what makes the Nikon Z50 specialised in something very specific – black and white photography. The dynamic range helps preserve details in shadows and brings out a brilliant amount of monochrome texture, and the tonal balance helps adjust the difference in overall luminosity of different areas of an image. This helps preserve details in aspects such as reflections on water surface, light clouds in the sky and brick textures on sunlit walls, all in monochrome. In fact, it is this performance that leads us to believe that the Nikon Z50 is by far the best APS-C mirrorless camera in the semi-professional segment – one that will suit beginners, but particularly impress professionals too.
Autofocus and Video quality
The one area where Nikon has improved leaps and bounds in comparison to its competitors over the years is autofocus, and the Z50 is a great example of this. The hybrid autofocus system features a 209-point module, and on overall terms, works super accurately. In most situations, Nikon’s AF tracking system works absolutely smoothly, even in minute contrast difference situations. It locks on to the subject well, and retains the focus smoothly even if you shift focal length when using a zoom lens. In comparative terms, the Nikon Z50’s autofocus system appeared to work far smoother than the Sony a6400, which had minor inconsistencies, and also the Fujifilm X-T30’s. We are yet to test the Canon EOS M6 II extensively.
The same aspects reflect well in videography performance as well, and it is this that rounds up the Nikon Z50 as one of the most versatile cameras around. The Z50 produces great oversampled 4K videos at up to 30fps, and can shoot 1080p videos at all the way up to 120fps. The Z50 combines its crisp colour performance with a good amount of details that lead to impressive rolling shutter performance. To aid shooting, the camera also comes with focus peaking and zebra line warning, which makes life easy for professional users. What’s really impressive is the clearly bifurcated movie settings, which can be switched to using the one-switch toggle between photography and videography. This can help you retain the last used video settings, and simply switch to it in a jiffy – something that is super helpful when you are shooting a natural scene over which you have minimum control. The Z50 also uses the full sensor width for 4K shooting, therefore producing splendid 4K footage.
Build, handling and battery life
In almost every way, the Nikon Z50 is a mini Z6. To the rear, it gets the same LCD display size – 3.2-inch, but gets lower screen resolution with 1.04 million dots. It still offers 100 percent frame coverage, and instead of more physical buttons on the Z6, gets three touch buttons to the side of the display. Additionally, it does not get the quick view LCD plate on the top of the camera, and instead gets physical toggles on the top.
The Nikon Z50 is significantly smaller and lighter than the Z6, which also means that it is far, far easier to use and carry around. It is this that makes shooting with the Z50 even more fun, and it is very, very smooth to carry around and shoot. The overall ergonomics mean that you don’t get fatigued too often, and Nikon’s largely improved touchscreen menu interface also makes figuring out shooting options a breeze. It is this that further makes the Nikon Z50 one of the best handling cameras in its segment, one that is super easy to use.
The overall battery life is not that great, though – Nikon promises 320 shots as per CIPA standard, and paired with video shooting of about 30 minutes, we still drew out close to 350 shots in one charge cycle with some careful amount of switching off when not shooting actively, as well as judicious use of the LCD viewfinder. While that is also rather middling, the presence of USB charging makes the Nikon Z50 fairly easy to top up, when on the move.
Despite the lower resolution sensor, the Nikon Z50 is one of the very best cameras in this segment. It is easier to use than the Sony a6400 and the Fujifilm X-T30, and also offers better overall colour performance across a wider selection of scenarios. You can actively play around with ISO as well, since the Z50 offers good high ISO noise rendering as well. But, at the end of the day, if you process RAWs and need a second kit as a professional, the Z50 falls a bit short due to its lack of resolution. It is the best in its segment for direct JPEGs and ease of usage – no questions asked. All things considered, at Rs 75,000 with the Z-mount 16-50mm ‘stock’ lens, the Nikon Z50 is a fun camera to own.