The Nikon D50 is offered in several configurations, including body only and as a kit with one or more lenses. In the case of the Nikon D50, the kit lens is an 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 AF-S G DX lens (that’s a mouthful). We didn’t test this lens, so I can’t offer comments on its performance, but its focal length range is a good one for general purpose photography. It’s equivalent to a 27-83mm lens on a 35mm body – pretty close to the popular 28-85mm lens category. This lens should work well for family photos, travel shots, and many other types of photography. In the United States, the price for the camera and lens together is currently around $850. The price for the body alone is $700. If you’ve been following the DSLR market over the last five years, those are remarkable prices and are near the cost of an advanced point and shoot digital camera.
The D50 is a fairly compact camera, slightly smaller than the D70/D70s, but a little larger than some of its competitors from Pentax and Canon.
You can see the size difference in the D50 vs D70 photo below; it’s not huge, but it’s there. Most of the size difference is on the photographer’s left side of the camera. If you hold the camera with your left hand underneath the lens as is usually recommended, you’re not likely to miss that extra material. Personally, I find the size comfortable to use and wouldn’t want something smaller. A nice surprise for me was how solid the camera felt in my hands. I expected something toy-like at its price, but the D50 is every bit a Nikon: solid and smooth handling.
In terms of features, the D50 offers a very comprehensive set, but as you would guess, a few features are missing compared with its more expensive siblings.
On the other hand, there are a few areas where the Nikon D50 actually has enhanced features.
Because many photographers will want to know how this body compares with the Nikon D70 and D70s, I’ve focused the comparison on those bodies.
Here are the key differences:
- The Nikon D50 uses Secure Digital (SD) cards vs. the Compact Flash (CF) cards used by the rest of Nikon’s DSLR series. SD cards are slightly less expensive and physically smaller than Compact Flash cards. More importantly, SD cards are used in many recent point and shoots. Nikon is clearly appealing to owners of those photographers by offering a camera that doesn’t require the purchase of new cards. The smaller size of SD cards helps save internal space in the camera, and this has helped Nikon reduce the size of the camera. On the other hand, this difference in storage media could be an issue for owners of other Nikon DSLRs. The combined cost of the camera and new storage cards moves is in the D70 realm, reducing the attractiveness of the camera to those photographers.
- No depth of field preview capability. This is a common deletion in the lower priced camera bracket and most buyers won’t miss it. Compared with a film camera, its absence is less of an issue as results can be checked on the LCD display. This isn’t quite as handy as a real depth of preview capability, but it’s not unworkable.
- The Nikon D50 has a slightly slower top shutter speed, 1/4000 second vs. 1/8000 second on the D70/D70s. Most owners won’t miss this.
- No sub-command dial for changing the aperture. Recent Nikon bodies have two dials for changing shutter speed and aperture: a command dial on the back of the camera that’s operated with the photographer’s thumb and a sub-command dial on the front of the camera that’s operated with the middle finger. Normally, the command dial adjusts the shutter speed and the sub-command dial adjusts the aperture. The D50 diverges from this practice and has only one dial. In aperture priority or shutter speed priority, the single dial changes the aperture or shutter speed respectively. In manual exposure mode, the dial changes shutter speed, and aperture is altered by pressing a button on top of the camera and then turning the dial. It’s not difficult to do, but it’s not quite as quick or convenient as having two dials.
- Lower maximum frames per second (2.5 frames per second vs. 3 frames per second on the D70/D70s). This isn’t a big enough difference to worry about.
- Fewer metering segments (420 vs. 1005). I don’t view this is a big deal. It’s still a huge number of segments compared with past cameras and metering performance in the field was excellent.
- No automatic bracketing. Frankly, I don’t use this feature a lot anyway, so its deletion wasn’t a concern for me.
- Uncompressed NEF vs. compressed NEF file formats. Like Nikon’s other “consumer” DSLRs, the Nikon D70 and D70s, the Nikon D50 only offers the option of saving RAW files with compression turned on (Nikon’s version of RAW is called a NEF). There are pros and cons with compression. Nikon uses a lossy compression scheme that looks visually lossless; with more expensive digital bodies, you can choose between compressed or uncompressed NEFs. The good thing about compression is that it saves storage space: compressed RAW files are about 40% smaller on average than uncompressed ones. The downside to compression is that you theoretically lose a little detail in areas of the image, primarily highlights. Most photographers find compression is a positive thing or at least prefer the option of turning it on or off.
On the other hand, the Nikon D50 has a few new features that aren’t present in other cameras:
- New AF-A mode. In addition to the standard AF-S (single servo) mode for stationary subjects and AF-C (continuous) mode for moving subjects, the D50 also has a mode that automatically detects motion and switches to continuous operation. I can see many owners keeping the D50 permanently on this setting.
- USB 2.0 vs. 1.1 Interface. If you download your images by plugging the camera into the computer rather than using a card reader, downloads will happen much quicker than with the Nikon D70/D70s.
- Slightly different defaults (Mode IIIa vs. Mode Ia). The Nikon D70 and D70s default to the Mode Ia color space, which is a lower contrast setting that’s best for portraits. The Nikon D50 defaults to mode IIIa, which is a higher saturation setting that produces images with greater punch. Think of this as the difference between a low contrast portrait film and Velvia. Most photographers will probably like Mode IIIa better, but it’s easy to change this setting if you want less saturation. From a marketing perspective, the default mode IIIa will result in more people seeing “pleasing” results without having to change settings; especially if they are trying out the camera at their local electronics warehouse.
More articles that might interest you