Nikon D50 Review

The Nikon D70 has been one of the biggest and most touching success stories in digital photography. This camera was able to help Nikon reclaim its proper position as the archrival nibbling at the heels of Canon by fusing excellent appearance, excellent performance, and alluring pricing.

The Nikon D50 advances the concept by providing an even greater number of features in a more compact and affordable design, along with increased performance. This throws the camera into a fight with the Olympus E300, Pentax *st DS, and Canon EOS 350D. Let’s examine how the D50 performs in comparison to this field.

A kit that includes the new AF-S DX 18-55mm f3.5-f5.6G ED lens is available for the camera. This creates a very tidy, small package, and its rakish lines obviously reveal its Nikon heritage. Its heavier-than-expected weight when picked up contributes to its reassuringly robust chubbiness. This meshes well with the overall positive and solid clicks of the controls.

To aid with focusing in the dark, a lamp is mounted on the front of the body to the right of the lens mount. The autofocus or manual focus is chosen using a switch to the left of the lens mount; if the lens has its own switch, one of the switches is superfluous. If the lens is set to autofocus but the one on the body is set to manual focus, you must focus manually. Possibly confusing for amateur photographers.

The typical DSLR controls are located on top of the body: an on/off switch around the shutter button, a display next to it with a self-timer, and buttons for exposure override. Simply pressing the self-timer button causes it to switch modes. It’s too simple to do given where the button is, and because the LCD indication is so little, it’s easy to miss.

Effective performance

Two characteristics distinguish images taken by the camera: purity from noise and high dynamic compression. This describes the photographs as having smooth gradations that go smoothly from mid-tone to darker tones.

If a dynamic compression technique is effective at handling a wide range of brightness, more detail will appear in the highlights while shadow features will also be preserved. However, this does have the unintended consequence of giving the photos a little flat or soft tone.

The mid-tone contrast makes up for this, and the overall impression of the photographs is extremely positive. This is partial because of the lens, which performs admirably for its class. Images are beautifully drawn, however, the details could be presented with more clarity.

Overall, a camera that handles and performs well gives all of the necessary shooting features, and is so reasonably priced makes for an excellent entry-level model. It may readily expand to meet growing demands or serve as the ideal backup for a more complete set-up.

Features

The 6.24 megapixel, 23.7mm x 15.6mm RGB CCD in the Nikon D50 yields 6.1 actual megapixels. There are three options for image size (3,008 x 2,000 [L] pixels; 2,256 x 1,496 [M] pixels; 1,504 x 1,000 [S] pixels), as well as three levels of compression (Fine, Normal, and Basic) (8 bit). Another format with an image size of 3008 × 2000 pixels is RAW (12-bit). The standard kit includes an AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX lens. SD memory cards are supported by the camera.

The Nikon D50 offers seven different scene modes (Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, Close up, Night portrait), four advanced exposure modes (Programmed Auto [P] with flexible program; Shutter-Priority Auto [S]; Aperture Priority Auto [A]; Manual [M]), and a fully automatic Programmed Auto mode.

Exposure adjustment can be adjusted in steps of 1/3 or 1/2 EV up to +5 EV. A button for auto-exposure and auto-focus lock is also present. The lens that comes with the camera has a maximum aperture of f3.5 for wide-angle shots and f5.6 for telephoto shots. The shutter speed range is 1/4000 to 30 seconds, and there is also a Bulb option. Four ISO speeds, spanning from 200 to 1600, are available.

The Nikon D50’s 5-point TTL phase detection autofocus technology is used for focusing. Single Area AF, Dynamic Area AF, and Closest Subject Priority Dynamic Area AF are the 3 focusing modes offered. The 3 metering modes are 3D Color Matrix, Center-weighted metering, and Spot metering.

There are four different methods of focusing: continuous-servo AF (AF-C), single-servo AF (AF-S), and manual focus (M). Five autofocus points on the camera can be chosen automatically or manually.

Focus can be locked by depressing the AE-L/AF-L button or halfway depressing the shutter release button (single-servo AF). There is also a lamp with auto-focus assistance. There includes an Auto setting, six manual modes, preset white balance, and white balance bracketing for the white balance.

Effortless Use

It is immediately apparent why the Nikon D50 is so inexpensive when you take it out of the box because of how light it is thanks to its all-plastic design, especially if you have previously used a more expensive DSLR. The included 18-55mm kit lens, which is also built completely of plastic, is the same.

Fit the body and lens together, and everything starts to make a lot more sense, even if you are still unsure about your purchase decision. All of a sudden, you are left with a well-balanced product that is light by DSLR standards but doesn’t feel skimpy or insignificant. The Pentax *ist DL and Canon EOS Rebel XT/350D are two of Nikon’s key competitors. Nikon refrained from shrinking the D50 to the size of these cameras.

Instead, the D50 follows in the footsteps of the D70s that I just reviewed, featuring a thick handgrip and a “business-like” style that is more practical than attractive. The D50 is undoubtedly made for big hands, which helps to dispel the initial impression that the camera is overly light and plasticky.

The Canon EOS 300 film SLR, an incredibly well-liked camera that was also totally built of plastic, comes to mind when I think of the Nikon D50. Canon sold a ton of EOS 300s, making it one of the most popular film SLRs ever. I don’t want to spoil the rest of this review, but I think Nikon will also be successful with the D50.

Image Quality

The JPEG Fine (3008 x 2000) option was used to capture each sample image for this evaluation, which results in an average image size of about 2.5Mb.

Nikon D50 Specifications

Body colorsBlack and Silver *
Sensor• 6.24 megapixel (total) CCD
• 6.1 million effective pixels
• 23.7 x 15.6 mm
• Nikon DX format (1.5x FOV crop)
• RGB Color Filter Array
• 12-bit A/D converter
Image sizes• 3008 x 2000 [L] (6.01 million)
• 2256 x 1496 [M] *
• 1504 x 1000 [S]
File formats• NEF (12-bit uncompressed RAW)
• JPEG (EXIF 2.21)
• NEF+JPEG (Basic)
Color space• IIIa (sRGB – more green for colourful landscapes) default *
• Ia (sRGB)
• II (Adobe RGB)
Lens mountNikon F mount (with AF coupling & AF contacts)
Lens compatibility• DX Nikkor: All functions supported
• Type G or D AF Nikkor: All functions supported
• Micro Nikkor 85 mm F2.8D: All functions supported except autofocus and some exposure modes
• Other AF Nikkor: All functions supported except 3D Color Matrix Metering II
• AI-P Nikkor: All functions supported except 3D Color Matrix Metering II and autofocus
• Non-CPU: Can be used in exposure mode M, but exposure meter does not function; electronic range finder can be used if maximum aperture is f/5.6 or faster
Note: IX Nikkor lenses cannot be used.
Autofocus• TTL phase detection
• Nikon Multi-CAM900 autofocus module
• Detection range: EV -1 to +19 (ISO 100 equivalent, at normal temperature)
Lens servo• Single Servo AF (AF-S)
• Continuous Servo AF (AF-C)
• Auto selection (AF-A) *
• Manual focus (M)
AF Area mode• Single Area AF
• Dynamic Area AF
• Closest Subject Priority Dynamic Area AF
Focus areaOne of five areas can be selected
Focus lockFocus can be locked by pressing shutter-release button halfway (single-servo AF) or by pressing AE-L/AF-L button
AF AssistWhite light lamp
Exposure mode• Digital Vari-program
    – Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Child *, Sports, Close up, Night portrait
• Programmed auto (P) with flexible program
• Shutter-priority auto (S)
• Aperture priority auto (A)
• Manual (M)
MeteringTTL full-aperture exposure metering system
• 3D color matrix metering II *
• 420 segment RGB sensor *
• Center-weighted: Weight of 75%(8mm circle) given to 6, 8, 10, or 13-mm circle in center of frame, or weighting based on average of entire frame
• Spot: Meters 3.5 mm circle (about 2.5% of frame) centered on active focus area *
Metering range• EV 0 to 20 (3D color matrix or center-weighted metering)
• EV 2 to 20 (spot metering) (ISO 100 equivalent, f/1.4 lens, 20 °C)
Meter couplingCPU coupling
Exposure compen.• +/- 5.0 EV
• 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps
AE LockDetected exposure value locked by pressing AE-L/AF-L button
AE Bracketing• 3 frames *
• +/- 2 EV
• 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps
Sensitivity• Auto
• ISO 200 – 1600
• 1 EV steps *
Shutter speed• Combined mechanical and CCD electronic shutter
• 30 to 1/4000 sec *
• Steps of 1/3 or 1/2 EV
• Flash X-Sync: up to 1/500 sec
• Bulb
White balance• Auto (TTL white-balance with 420 segment RGB sensor *)
• Six manual modes
• Preset white balance
• White balance bracketing possible
WB fine tuningNo *
Image parameters• Sharpening
• Tone
• Color
• Hue
Viewfinder• Optical fixed eye-level
• Penta-dach-mirror type
• Built-in diopter adjustment (-1.6 to +0.5 m-1)
• Eyepoint: 18 mm (at -1.0 m-1)
• Frame coverage 95% (approx.)
• Viewfinder eyecup DK-20 *
• Viewfinder magnification approx. 0.75x with 50mm lens at infinity; -1.0 m-1
• Focusing screen: Type B BriteView clear matte screen Mark V * with superimposed focus brackets
LCD monitor• 2.0″ TFT LCD *
• 130,000 pixel
Flash control• TTL: TTL flash control by 420-pixel RGB sensor *
     o Built-in Speedlight: i-TTL Balanced Fill-Flash or standard i-TTL flash (spot metering)
     o SB-800 or 600: i-TTL Balanced Fill-Flash or standard i-TTL flash (spot metering)
• Auto aperture: Available with SB-800 with CPU lens
• Non-TTL Auto: Available with Speedlights such as SB-800, 80DX, 28DX, 28, 27, and 22s
• Distance-priority manual available with SB-800
Flash Sync Mode• Front-Curtain Sync (normal sync)
• Red-Eye Reduction
• Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync
• Slow Sync
• Rear-Curtain Sync
Built-in Speedlight• Auto flash with auto pop-up
• [P], [S], [A], [M]: manual pop-up with button release Auto flash with auto pop-up
• Guide number (ISO 200/ISO 100, m): approx. 15/11 (manual full 17/12)
Flash compensation• -3 to +1 EV
• 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps
Accessory shoe• ISO standard hot-shoe with safety lock
Flash Sync TerminalNo
Shooting modes• Single frame shooting (S) mode
• Continuous shooting (C) mode: approx. 2.5 frame per second * (up to 12 consecutive shots with JPEG format, 4 shot with RAW format)
• Self-timer/remote control mode.
Self-timer• 2 to 20 sec
Playback functions• 1 frame: Thumbnail (4 or 9 segments)
• Magnifying playback
• Slide show
• Histogram indication
• Highlight point display
• Auto image rotation
Orientation sensorYes
Storage• Secure Digital (SD) card *
• No card supplied
Text inputUp to 36 characters of alphanumeric text input is available with LCD monitor and multi-selector; stored in Exif header
Video outputNTSC or PAL selectable
Remote controlML-L3 wireless remote controller (optional)
Connectivity• USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed) *
• Mass storage / PTP selectable
• Video out
• DC-IN (optional AC adapter)
LanguagesChinese (simplified), Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Swedish, Russian, Portuguese
Power• Lithium-Ion battery pack EN-EL3
• AC Adapter EH-5 (optional)
Dimensions133 x 102 x 76 mm (5.2 x 4.0 x 3.0 in)
Weight (no battery)540 g (1.2 lb)
Weight (inc. batt)620 g (1.4 lb)
Box contents• Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL3
• Quick Charger MH-18a
• Video Cable
• USB Cable UC-E4
• Strap
• Body cap
• Eyepiece Cap DK-5
• Rubber Eyecup DK-20
• Accessory shoe cover
• PictureProject CD-ROM
Optional accessories• Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL3(a)
• Multi Charger MH-19
• Quick Charger MH-18(a)
• AC Adapter EH-5
• Speedlight SB-800/600
• Eyepiece Magnifier DG-2
• Angle Finder DR-6
• Nikon Capture 4 (Ver.4.3) Software
• Wireless Remote Control ML-L3
• Semi-Soft Case CF-D50

Conclusion

Nikon made the decision not to compromise their reasonably priced digital SLR, unlike Canon when they created the EOS 300D (Digital Rebel). Instead, the D50 maintains performance and photographic flexibility despite sacrificing some of the capabilities of the D70, which is crucial for first-time consumers who (surely) the manufacturers hope will eventually advance to a more expensive D-SLR.

The sensor and image processing pipeline of the D50 are obviously different from those of the D70/D70s; while it shows fewer moire/maze artifacts, it isn’t quite as sharp as its “older siblings.” Having said that, the D50 is more than capable of delivering some incredible results and is set up to give vivid and colorful images straight from the first exposure. If you choose, you can customize the image processing to create photographs more akin to the D70.

The D50’s noise levels arguably caught us off guard the most; Nikon has obviously made modifications to its design to reduce noise since the D70 was introduced. Even though they are all fairly clean, we’re talking about little amounts of noise here, and the D50 has the lowest noise levels of any of the low-cost digital SLRs we’ve examined.

Though I’m all for making cameras lighter, there’s a limit to how small you can make an SLR before the hand grip feels cramped and controls start to get in the way. The best thing about the D50, however, is that it just feels right. In terms of build, it’s a step above the Canon EOS 350D and Pentax *ist DS. It’s also not too small.

The D50 is a joy to use and feels just as snappy as any film camera. The only modification I might do is probably to add a larger viewfinder (a la the Pentax *ist DS).

Nikon D50 Price

Good For
  • Default color mode III produces vivid, bold colors.
  • Good detail and resolution, although a little less “crisp” than the D70/D70s
  • Excellent control over image parameters, including tone, color mode, saturation, and hue
  • Better than rivals, little noise even at high sensitivities.
Need Improvements
  • Kit lens performance is generally fair, with soft corners and light fall-off.
  • not as sharp as the D70/D70s (per pixel sharpness)
  • Still, some more and maze artifacts are present, although they are substantially fewer than on a D70 or D70s.
  • There is no Kelvin white balance option
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