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Hands on: Nikon Z50 review

This dinky travel-friendly snapper is entering a crowded market

What is a hands on review?
Nikon Z50
(Image: © TechRadar)

Early Verdict

Introducing an APS-C format Z series camera makes a lot of sense, appealing to a broad range of different kinds of photographers. In a crowded marketplace, Nikon will have a battle on its hands if it wants to win consumers away from well-established rivals – having already done that in the full-frame mirrorless sector, will the Z50 be able to do the same for APS-C? Early results are very promising, with swift focusing, and what seem like detailed and vibrant images plus smooth 4K footage.

For

  • Small size
  • Z mount
  • Tilting screen

Against

  • UHS-I SD card
  • Limited native lens options

Nikon’s newest Z-series model takes its lead from its existing Z6 and Z7 models, but houses a much smaller APS-C sized sensor which not only brings the size down, but also the price point. 

A 20.9 megapixel DX format sensor is joined by a range of other appealing features, but it’s fair to say that this segment of the market is already fairly crowded, with Canon, Sony and Fujifilm all having established APS-C mirrorless models. 

Still, what Nikon is hoping to do is tap into that lucrative mid-range audience who are keen to buy into the system but perhaps have so far been put off by price and accessibility. There’s a secondary audience who might also want to consider the Z50 as a back-up or travel camera to their main CSC (compact system camera) or DSLR – especially as it uses the same Z lens mount as the Z6/Z7. 

As well as the brand new Z50 body, two new DX-format Z lenses have also been announced specifically designed for the new shooter: a 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 collapsible kit lens, plus a 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 telephoto zoom lens. You can, of course, use existing range Z lenses with the new camera, but you will need to take into account the DX crop factor, which is roughly 1.5x  – so a 35mm lens becomes a 52.5mm, for example. As with the Z6/Z7, you can use an FTZ mount adapter to also use existing Nikon F-mount DSLR lenses, too.

Nikon Z50: Price and Availability 

  • Nikon Z50 sales start date: November 7
  • Nikon Z50 price: kit packages start at $999 / £989 (around AU$1,543)

Nikon is offering the Z50 in a range of different kit options and bundles. 

You can buy the camera on its own as body only  for $859 / £849 (around AU$1,543), which may make sense if you’re keen to use it with existing Z lenses. 

What will probably be the big seller is the kit package which includes the 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens for $999 / £989 (about AU$1,798), but we imagine the kit which includes the camera, 16-50mm lens and the 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 lens for $1,349 / £1,199 (around AU$2,177) will also be very popular. 

If you have some existing F-mount DSLR lenses, you’ll also be able to buy the Z50 as part of a package with an FTZ mount adapter for £989 (about $1,207 / AU$1,798), or as part of a kit which includes the camera, the 16-50mm kit lens and the mount adapter for £1,129 (that's about $1,379 / AU$2,048).

Nikon Z50: Features

  • Same mount as the Z6/Z7
  • 4K video at 30fps
  • 20.9MP APS-C (DX format) sensor 

(Image credit: Amy Davies)

Along with the 20.9 megapixel sensor, there’s a Digic 6 processor - the same engine as found in the Z6/Z7. That processing power helps to facilitate some of the camera’s other headline features, including 4K video recording (30fps) and a native ISO range of 50-25600.

Nikon Z50: key specs

Sensor: 20.9MP APS-C (DX format) sensor
Image processor: Digic 8
AF points: 209 points
ISO range: 100 to 51,200
Video: 4K UHD up to 30fps
Max burst: 11fps
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

The same hybrid autofocusing system has also been brought across, with 209 on-sensor AF points which cover approximately 90% of the frame and promises to deliver edge-to-edge sharpness. Low-light focusing is also promised to be excellent, with sensitivity down to -4EV. 

An electronic viewfinder can be used to compose your images, or a tilting touch-sensitive screen alternatively. This screen can be tilted to face all the way forwards for selfie aficionados, with a dedicated selfie mode which locks some of the Z50’s buttons to prevent accidental changes. 

Rounding off the spec sheet are features including Eye-Detection AF, 11fps shooting, and a single UHS-I memory card slot (compared to the Z6/Z7’s single XQD card).

(Image credit: Amy Davies)

Nikon Z50: Build and Handling 

  • Styled like a smaller Z6/Z7
  • Tilting screen faces forwards for selfies
  • Lower resolution EVF than Z6/Z7 – but still very good

Plonk the Z50 side-by-side with a Z6 or a Z7 and you’ll see that Nikon really has stuck with the same design concept but, thanks to the smaller sensor, it’s been able to miniaturize the form factor even further. The new 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 pancake lens is also tiny compared to any of the existing Z mount lenses, so the resulting overall camera and lens size is very appealing as a travel option.

Despite this effective miniaturization, Nikon has managed to retain an impressively deep grip and kept the high-quality coating found on either the Z6 or the Z7, so it still has a good overall feel and sense of quality. What you lose for the space sacrifice is a top-plate LCD panel, some of the buttons found on the back panel and the navigational joystick. Although that sounds like a lot to be missing on the usability front, it helps to give the buttons that have been left behind plenty of space and not be too cramped together. 

(Image credit: Amy Davies)

On the top of the camera, there’s a mode dial for quickly choosing the various shooting modes on offer, as well as a switch for instantly flicking between video and stills recording. Dual dials are found on the front and rear of the hand grip for controlling various functions depending on the shooting mode you’re in at the time – for example, the front dial will control aperture in aperture priority mode.

Move to the rear of the camera and you’ve got a fairly simple setup consisting of a group of four buttons sitting underneath a navigational dial. The 3.2-inch 1040k-dot screen also takes on some of the jobs that physical buttons perform on the Z6/Z7, with magnification and display buttons appearing as 'virtual' buttons along the right-hand side of the screen. 

(Image credit: Amy Davies)

While the Z6/Z7 screen has a tilting mechanism, what it doesn’t do is face all the way forwards, which is no good for selfies. Acknowledging the beginner-type audience, the Z50’s screen can be tilted forwards underneath the body of the camera – in doing so, a selfie mode will be automatically activated. Tilting at the bottom is not so helpful for mounting the camera to a tripod to film videos to camera, but it’s a decent workaround which helps to keep the lines of the Z50 as streamlined as possible. If you wanted the screen to tilt upwards at the top of the body, it’d have to first get past the electronic viewfinder (EVF), which would likely create an issue. 

Unsurprisingly, Nikon has equipped the Z50 with a lower-resolution EVF than you’ll find on the Z6/Z7. We'll need to test it further, but our initial impression is that it’s still a very capable performer, giving you a bright and clear view of the scene. Without the Z7 or the Z6 next to it to compare, it’s unlikely the average user of the Z50 would entirely know what they were missing out on. 

Part of the rear grip on the older and bigger Z series snappers is taken up with the door for the XQD slot. There’s a similar set up here, only the slot is of the more ubiquitous SD kind – good news for mid-level users who don’t want to fork out the high asking price of an XQD unit. Being the slower UHS-I kind is slightly disappointing though – it’ll be interesting to see the impact that decision has on the Z50’s capabilities for burst shooting.

Nikon Z50: Performance and Image Quality

(Image credit: Amy Davies)

So far we’ve only had the chance to test the Z50 in limited conditions during our hands-on session with the camera and we weren't permitted to take home our own images to examine in any kind of fine detail. 

Within the confines of a fairly poorly lit press briefing, we could see that the Z50 seemed to lock onto a target subject rather quickly and accurately with ease, but it’ll be interesting to put this properly to the test once full production samples become available. With a frame rate of 11fps, we'll also be keen to discover how well it’s suited to sports and action photography, too. 

Although we weren't allowed to take our own photos with the Z50, some sample images taken by photographers given early access indicate very pleasing results. We're big fans of the Z6 and the Z7, but it seems likely that there will be plenty of situations where the Z50 will probably produce reasonably comparable results, especially in good light. To that end, the Z50 might be the more sensible as a travel camera where you’re generally shooting in bright situations. 

(Image credit: Amy Davies)

Nikon Z50: Early Verdict

It’s not at all surprising to see Nikon entering the APS-C mirrorless market now that it’s earned its place with the existing full-frame Z series cameras. 

However, it’ll be interesting to see how well the camera is received by this sector of the market which is arguably even more crowded than the full-frame one. With long-established lines from Canon, Sony, and Fujifilm, Nikon will have a big fight on its hands if it’s to steal a march from its rivals. 

That said, the camera Nikon is bringing to the fight is an excellent contender. Keeping much of the usability and ergonomics of the full-frame Z models is a wise decision that doesn’t make you feel like you’re compromising too much on quality when you’re using it – indeed, the small size and light weight make it a very appealing option for travel. 

Introducing two new lenses specifically for the DX format is also extremely logical. A Z50 with a collapsible kit lens is something to chuck in a bag for a city break, while being compatible with some seriously impressive Z mount lenses which already exist gives you confidence when investing in the system as a whole.

The Z50’s price gets you into the Nikon Z system at a much more affordable point than ever before, making it ideal for those buying their first 'proper' camera or perhaps looking to upgrade from an entry-level Nikon DSLR. 

Watch this space for updates as and when a full production sample becomes available. 

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.