Do not want to read? YouTube review here
With the announcement of the Z50 I was excited, as a portrait photographer I have been in love with the Nikon for a while. The love has never faded despite the fads in the market, my goto DSLRs were the D810, D610 all were great and the Nikon J5 was my first Nikon Mirrorless which worked great and was really really small (but its noise handling was also small).
The Z series had launched with the Z6 and Z7, both impressive – but I wanted something smaller, lighter and more portable. The answer was the Z50, coming it at 1.33 lbs with the 16-50mm lens which collapses and locks down when not in use. This new APSC mirror less camera is so small it can fit into my Canadian winter jacket pocket with ease. What did I want from this camera and did it meet the requirements:
- smaller take anywhere body – YES <INCREDIBLY LIGHT>
- street photography camera – YES <small enough to be unnoticeable>
- 4k (or 1080p) capture for video work – YES
- camera I could use for portraiture – YES <see below>
However, as a pragmatic photographer I also did not want to jump to conclusions and decided to put the camera through a series of tests. What started out as tests turned into an actual camera review which I have never written but rather consumed. I had a vacation trip coming up and set myself a goal, to take the Nikon Z50 with me on the trip with only the camera gear I could fit into my sling bag. The tests had to include all the regular use a traveller would have for a camera and also to see if I could use it for a professional portrait shoot.
Before I break down the results of the tests (and spoiler – the Z50 passed with flying colours), I want to quickly let you know was as in my bag, I wanted to be as light as possible in my travels so here is what I had:
- Z50 camera
- Z50 lens 16-50mm (kit lens)
- Nikon FTZ adaptor (for my DSLR Nikon lenses to work on Z mount on Z50)
- one battery for the Z50 (no charger)
- usb cable. usb battery pack 10,000MAH, and usb wall plug (phone charger)
- Nikon 50mm 1.8G, Nikon 85mm 1.8G (portraits)
- Nikon 200mm AIS F4 manual focusing lens (its small but no auto focus)
- SB700 speedlight and SB600 speedlight for portrait lighting
From the above equipment items 1 – 5 were used 90% of the time for my photos in Mexico, with the other lenses I ended up using for portraits only. The flashes were also useful as Nikon Z50 was able to work with my SB700 as a commander flash for remote lighting of a model during a photo shoot by the SB600. All the other time, the Z50 with the 16-50 was my go to for photos and videos.
Power: I did not bring the Nikon Z50 battery charger which comes with the camera but only the wall plug I use for my phone and a micro-usb cable and used that to charge my Z50 during the whole trip. As a backup I had my battery pack which I could use to charge my phone or the Z50 during the day. This way if I was walking around the city the camera could charge while I was in no location in particular. The battery on the Z50 would last about 1.5-2 hours of video and about 300 shots without any issues.
Video: Excellent – 4k looks great. 1080p is fantastic. 1080p slow motion 5x slower (120fps) is very useful, no sound recording during slow motion.
Slow motion video:
Still photos: So how did Nikon Z50 handle still photos. For a non-technical assessment I can say the following: “with ease and quality of Nikon”. If you have used a Nikon before you will get excellent results of sharp and colourful photos with a lot of detail. 20 Megapixels of the camera is more than enough for any prints web or online publications. I feel it is also enough for studio shot portraits (see below).
Using the Z 16-50mm lens or DSLR lenses with the FTZ adaptor the Z50 delivered consistent results in all of my tests and has now earned a place in my bag at all times . (As a matter of fact since I had come back from vacation having the Z50 in my bag had already paid off. I had been at an event of a fire with the Z50 in the bag and shot photos and videos which had been published in local news).
Detailed quality break down:
ISO: Z50 ISO handling which is very impressive. I had done an ISO test starting accidentally at ISO 16000, only to realise it looked pretty good so I left that shot for you to review. At the “fit to internet” size ISO of 16000 down to 6400 produces useful photos. The grain drops to minimal between 3200 and 1600 and at ISO 800 you have very useful images.
ISO tests Close up at 100%
Colors and Dynamic Range: The colour of the photos is great and punchy without being too overwhelming. Full control of images comes from the the Z50 raw shooting capability. Each of the RAW files weighs in at around 25Mb and produces excellent files where you can recover +3 to -3 stops without quality suffering. I was able to bring back detail on shots I’ve taken at the hotel through the window showing recovery both in highlights and shadows.
Focus: The Z50 focus with both the native Z 16-50mm lens and DSLR lenses (50mm,85mm) using the adapter was quick and consistent. Eye detect worked well and face detect worked very well, with a test at a Cabo live music venue where I photographed and recorded video of a band playing live.
The Z50 locked on their faces in realtime even though at some times they were obscured by microphones. Video similarly was also locking on and was consistent throughout the test of the camera.
KIT Lens: The kit 16-50mm lens which comes with the Z50 has VR which helps with long exposure videos where I can hand hold a photo for up to 1 second while being all around sharp. The variable apperture is something the “advanced” photographers often may complain about, but for day to day use its compact size is unbeatable. The 16-50mm was on my Z50 most of the time and remains there currently. Its so small and produces awesome photos.
This was my most important test, how is the quality and detail and auto focus for portrait photography. I am always considering any camera I purchase with the question, will it work as a backup or primary camera for a business shoot. I had a couple of opportunities to shoot portraits, once at a sustainable farm where I photographed the staff and second was a portrait shoot for a local DJ in Cabo san Lucas (https://www.instagram.com/lesssantana).
The 50mm 1.8 G was excellent on the FTZ adapter and produced sharp photos and eye auto focus working. See the details in the images below:
In both cases was I was very impressed with the Z50 snapping to focus on faces and eyes (a bit confusing at first as my DSLRs did not do that). The Z50 with the FTZ adapter made the 50mm and 85mm G lenses feel seamless extensions of the Z camera and I did not feel like these were slowed by using the adapter. Quality out of these lenses was outstanding on the Z50.
Finally, as a portrait shooter I needed to confirm that the speedlights worked as I follow the speedlight off camera flash practice. The Z50 has a built in flash which you CANNOT use as a commander for the Nikon speedlights in CLS / TTL mode. However, attaching an SB700 to the Z50 I was able to use the SB700 commander features to trigger the SB600 in the softbox for excellent results and control. Quality of the photos speak for themselves.
Things which did not work: Z50 screen flips around (down not to the side) so if you have a selfie stick you may cover up the screen. The camera has only 1 memory card slot(SD). Finally the touch screen was tapping my cheek each time I would use the viewfinder and kept zooming in on the subject, that was annoying to some degree.
Final Thought: The Z50 is now in my bag at all times, never know when I will take an amazing photo or need to record video. This camera is a camera a perfect method of transition from the F to Z mount DSLR to mirrorless which gets your feet wet in the Mirrorless world and shows you its possibilities and features such as live preview and focus peaking without being a replacement for your DSLR. In addition, the video quality is great and any photographer who shoots stills should have a video camera Z50 delivers.
For everyone who is currently using a 3000 5000 or 7000 series Nikon DSLR series camera the Z50 is a considerable upgrade in quality, size and ease of use in my opinion!
PS I realised reviewing cameras is a lot of work…