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DCRP Review: Nikon D50
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: June 27, 2005
Last Updated: April 6, 2008
The D50 is Nikon's first truly entry-level D-SLR. Designed to compete with cameras like the Canon Digital Rebel XT, Olympus E-300, and Pentax *ist DL, the D50 is a "slimmed down" version of the D70s (see our review). While both sound similar from a quick reading of the spec sheet, there are some major differences between the D50 and the D70s, and here they are:
That's quite a list! I should add that apparently the D50 and D70s use different CCD sensors, but Nikon does not detail the differences anywhere.
With that all out of the way we can begin our review of the D50 now. Along the way I'll do some comparisons with the D50's biggest competitor, the Digital Rebel XT.
Do note that since the cameras are quite similar I'll be reusing a lot of text from the D70s review here.
What's in the Box?
There are two "kits" available for the D50: body only and with an 18 - 55 mm lens. Here's what you'll find in each kit:
As is the case with all D-SLRs, Nikon does not include a memory card with the D50, so you'll have to factor that into the total purchase price. The good news is that Secure Digital (SD) memory cards are very cheap these days. I recommend a 512MB card as a good starter size. SD cards currently come as large as 2GB. High speed cards definitely make a difference on this camera. With a regular "slow" SD card the camera started to slow down after taking 8 shots in a row in burst mode. I swapped that card for a SanDisk Ultra II card and the camera was able to take three times as many shots before it started to slow down. So it's probably worth the extra bucks for a high speed SD card (60X or higher recommended).
Unless you buy the lens kit you'll need to buy a lens or two also. I found the kit lens to be quite good, and better than the one included with the Rebel XT. Those longing for more telephoto power might want to check out the Nikkor 55-200 F4-5.6G lens which served me well during my time with the D50.
The D50 uses the same EN-EL3 battery as the original D70 (the new D70s uses the higher capacity EN-EL3a). This battery has 10.4 Wh of energy, which is pretty darn powerful. Nikon lists two battery life numbers: 400 shots on the low end and 2500 shots on the high end. Neither number was derived using the CIPA battery life standard, though I'd guess that number is closer to 400 than 2500. Anyhow, since there's no CIPA battery numbers I can't compare the D50 to other D-SLRs.
I should mention that the EN-EL3a can be used in the D50 and you'll get about 25% more battery life by doing so.
The usual caveats about proprietary batteries like the EN-EL3 apply here. For one, they're expensive -- $40 a pop. Also, if you run out of juice "in the field", you can't just pop in some AAs to finish the day. The only D-SLRs that use AA batteries are from Fuji and Pentax. The D70s has an optional adapter for using using CR2 lithium batteries but it's not supported on the D50. Something else that neither of the cameras supports is a power battery grip.
When it's time to charge the EN-EL3 battery just snap it into the included charger. It takes about two hours to fully charge the battery. This isn't one of those handy chargers that plugs right into the wall -- you must use a power cable.
The beauty of a digital SLR is that nearly any accessory you can think of is available. First and foremost are lenses, and Nikon has tons of them. Same goes for flashes. The SB-600 ($195) and SB-800 ($320) are fully compatible with the camera's i-TTL flash metering system. Numerous eyepieces are available, and so is a handy "angle finder" ($185). The D50 supports a wireless remote control ($25), and naturally there's a carrying case available as well ($45). To power the camera without using the batteries you'll want the EH-5 AC adapter ($80).
Nikon includes their PictureProject 1.5 software with the D50, and it's a mixed bag. The interface is reminiscent of Apple's iPhoto, and I found the software to be responsive and stable. The default view can be seen above, and it's your standard thumbnail setup.
A view showing exposure info is also available. Double-clicking on an image enters the image edit window:
Here you can adjust things like brightness, color, and sharpness. You can also straighten images or use Nikon's D-Lighting feature to brighten up dark areas of your photos. Auto image enhancement and redeye removal features are also available.
One thing you can't do, much to my dismay, is edit RAW (NEF) images. For those who don't know, the beauty of RAW is that you can adjust image properties like white balance, exposure, sharpness, and color without affecting the image quality. It's like being able to take the shot again. Unfortunately PictureProject open opens the NEF image and won't let you adjust anything. For that you'll need Nikon's optional Capture 4 software (see below) or Photoshop CS2, which has an excellent RAW import engine.
Other features in PictureProject include the ability to e-mail or print your photos, and you can burn them to a CD as well.
Also included is a demo version of Nikon Capture 4.2. Nikon Capture lets you do all kinds of things, from editing RAW properties to removing dust from your photos.
Something else that Nikon Capture lets you do is control the D50 over the USB connection. You can adjust any of the camera settings and when you take a photo the image is send right to your Mac or PC.
The D50 is a pretty complex camera and that means that it needs a pretty comprehensive manual. The one that comes with the camera has all the info you need, though it's not terribly user friendly.
Look and Feel
Let's call the D50 the "Mini D70s". It looks almost identical except it's smaller. Here are some comparisons:
Despite being Nikon's "cheap" D-SLR, it doesn't feel that way when you pick it up (unlike the Rebel XT). The D50 has a solid feel to it, and the solid right hand grip makes it easy to hold.
The D50 isn't as small as the Rebel XT or the various Pentax models, and that's a good thing in my opinion. Here's how the various D-SLRs compare in terms of size and weight:
The D50 is "just right" in terms of size. I don't know about you, but I don't want a small D-SLR -- but that's just my opinion.
Enough about that, let's move on to our tour now!
The front of the D50 looks a whole lot like the D70's, just a bit smaller. Like that camera, the D50 uses an F mount and it will work with almost all Nikkor lenses, though you should check with Nikon if you have older lenses. Nikon recommends using D or G lenses for maximum compatibility with the camera.
One thing to remember about digital SLRs: due to their smaller sensor size (versus 35mm film) and therefore narrower angle-of-view, the effective focal range of the lens is 1.5 times what it says on the lens. That means that the 18 - 55 mm included in the lens kit is equivalent to a 27 - 82.5 mm if used on a 35mm camera. This is great if you like telephoto shots, but for wide-angle you may have to invest some money into some wider lenses.
To the right of the lens mount is the lens release button. Below that is the focus mode switch that I'll discuss later.
Directly above the lens mount is the D50's built-in flash, which has a guide rating of 11/36 at ISO 100. While the flash range will depend on what lens you use, the minimum range is 0.6 meters. If you need more flash power you can always attach an external flash to the hot shoe you'll in a minute.
At the top-left of the photo (above that red piece) you'll find the remote control receiver. Just to the right of that is the camera's AF-assist lamp (which doubles as the self-timer lamp), which helps the camera focus in low light situations. I much prefer this kind of AF-assist over the flash-based system used by Canon lately.
On the back of the D50 you'll find a 2.0" LCD display with 130,000 pixels. I found the screen to be sharp and bright. In case you're new to D-SLRs, I should point out something very important: on 99% of D-SLRs the LCD is used only for menus and viewing photos after they are taken. You must compose and shoot your photos using the optical viewfinder.
Speaking of viewfinders, you'll find the D50's optical viewfinder directly above the LCD, and it shows 95% of the frame. There is an information line at the bottom, which shows exposure info and camera settings. Also shown are five (yes, just five) focus points, and a grid for composing your photos is also available. A diopter correction slider (located on the right side of the viewfinder) will focus things for those with less than perfect vision.
The button to the left of the viewfinder controls the shooting mode, with single or continuous shooting options. With a high speed memory card I was able to take about twenty Large/Fine JPEGs in a row at 2.1 frames/second, which is less than advertised (though your results may vary). In RAW mode the camera took four shots in a row before slowing down. For the sake of comparison the Nikon D70s shoots at 2.9 frames/second while the Canon Rebel XT is a bit slower at 2.8 frames/second.
On the opposite side of the viewfinder is the AE/AF lock button. To the right of that is the command dial, which is used for adjusting manual settings. The is only one command dial on the D50, unlike the D70/D70s which have two.
To the left of the LCD are five buttons:
The D50's white balance controls have been stripped down a bit compared to the D70s. You can still select from various presets and a custom option is available as well. White balance bracketing is also available. What's missing compared to the D70s is the ability to fine-tune white balance. I suppose Nikon had to cripple the camera somehow to differentiate it from its pricier sibling.
Something else that's been crippled are the ISO choices. On the D70s you can select the ISO sensitivity in 1/3EV increments (e.g. 200, 250, 320, 400, etc.), while the increments go in 1EV steps on the D50 (e.g. 200, 400, 800, etc.).
The D50 has the same in-camera help system as the D70. To use it you just select the menu item you need help for and then press the help button. A brief description is then shown on the LCD. This is no substitute for reading the manual, of course.
On the right side of the LCD you'll find the four-way controller and the delete photo button. In addition to navigating the menus, the four-way controller is also used for manually selecting one of five focus points (top, center, bottom, left, right). The Rebel XT lets you select from seven focus points.
There's plenty to see here, so I'll work my way from left to right.
Over on the left side is the mode dial, which has many options, as you'd expect. The items here aren't exactly the same as the D70s, though, so pay attention to this list:
The "child" scene mode is found only on the D50.
The next item on the top of the camera is the hot shoe. While the D50 works best with the SB-600 and SB-800 flash (supporting both AF-assist and wireless features), it will work with Nikon flashes as well. If you have a third party lens it will most likely work too, though you'll have to choose its settings manually. The D50 can sync as fast as 1/500 sec with an external flash.
The next item over is the LCD info display, which shows all kinds of things ranging from shots remaining to flash setting to aperture and shutter speed. Much to my dismay, there's no backlight for the info display... too bad.
Above that are two last buttons plus the power switch / shutter release button. The buttons are for self-timer/remote control and exposure compensation (-5EV to +5EV in 1/3EV increments).
On this side of the camera are a few more buttons plus the I/O ports. You can also catch a glimpse of the kit lens here, and I suppose I should comment on it. It's quite light, reminding me of the 18-55 EF-S lens that can come with the Rebel XT and the 20D. We'll see how it performed in the field later in the review.
On the camera body itself the first thing to see is the flash button at the top. This releases the flash (electronically), changes the flash mode (fill flash, rear curtain + slow sync, slow sync, slow sync + redeye reduction, redeye reduction), and adjusts flash exposure compensation (-3EV to +1EV, 1/3EV increments).
Below that is another switch for focus: auto or manual. The last thing to see here are the camera's I/O ports, all of which are under rubber covers. Let's take a look:
The ports include (from top to bottom):
Strangely enough, the entry-level D50 supports USB 2.0 High Speed while the more expensive D70s does not. Another difference (in the other direction) is with regard to remote control support: the D70s supports a wired remote control, while the D50 does not. Don't worry, a wireless remote is still available.
Over here you'll find the SD memory card slot, which is protected by a pretty flimsy plastic door.
On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. The door covering this compartment is fairly sturdy.
The tripod mount is inline with the lens, as you'd expect on a D-SLR.
The included EN-EL3 battery is shown at right. The more powerful EN-EL3a looks exactly the same.
Using the Nikon D50
Just like the D70s, the D50 is ready to start taking pictures as soon as you turn it on.
Autofocus speeds were excellent. For "easy" subjects the camera locked focus in 0.1 - 0.2 seconds, with tougher subjects taking maybe half a second. The camera did a great job in low light as well, thanks to its AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag was not noticeable.
Shot-to-shot speed is excellent as well. You can keep shooting as fast as you can compose your shots until the buffer fills up. If you use a slow SD card this will happen after four RAW shots or nine shots at Large/Fine. Buying a high speed SD card will flush the buffer faster so you'll be able to take even more photos before the camera slows down.
After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to review and/or delete the shot you just took
Now, let's take a look at the image size and quality choices on the D50:
The D50 can shoot RAW (NEF) images -- either by themselves or along with a JPEG at the Large/Basic quality. If you've got the space on your memory card, shooting in RAW+JPEG mode isn't a bad idea. If your image looks good, just use the JPEG... but if you want to tweak it, the RAW image is available.
Images are named using the following convention: DSC_####.JPG (or .NEF), where #### is 0001 - 9999. File numbering is maintained ever if you switch or erase memory cards.
Enough of that, let's move onto menus now.
The D50 uses the same "refined" menu system as the D70s. I found it pretty easy to use, and the help feature described earlier is a nice touch. There are four "tabs" in the menu: record, playback, custom functions, and setup. Here's the complete list of menu options:
The only things I want to mention briefly are the two bracketing options. For both AE and WB bracketing, three shots in a row are taken. For AE (exposure) and flash bracketing the camera takes one shot at the selected exposure settings, then one underexposed, and a third overexposed. I found this feature especially helpful on the D50, as it didn't always get the right exposure at 0EV. White balance bracketing works the same way: the first shot is taken at the selected WB setting, the second is slightly warmer, while the third is slightly cooler. The bracket intervals are 0.3, 0.7, and 1.0EV for exposure and 1, 2, and 3 for white balance.
Okay, let's move on to the test photos now, all of which were taken with the 18 - 55 mm kit lens.
The D50 took a pretty nice, though slightly soft, photo of our usual macro subject. Colors turned out nicely, even under my 600W quartz studio lamps. With the ability to use custom white balance (not to mention support for RAW), it's pretty hard to botch the white balance. As far as the softness goes, you can either turn up the in-camera sharpening or do it later in software.
The minimum focus distance will depend on the lens you can use. Nikon makes lenses specifically for macro shooting, which you'll probably want to look into if you're serious about close-up shots.
The fog layer makes this photo look a little gloomy, eh? I feel like I could repeat what I said about the macro shot here. Overall a good performance, but on the soft side. With full control over shutter speed, taking in the required amount of light for this photo was not a problem. Noise and purple fringing levels were both low.
Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images:
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As you can see, the differences between the photos at ISO 200 and 400 are hard to spot. ISO 800 isn't much worse, either. Even at ISO 1600 the photo is totally usable, especially after a little cleanup work in Photoshop or similar. Such is the beauty of digital SLRs!
For a few more high ISO shots, check out the gallery.
Not surprisingly there's a fair amount of barrel distortion on that 18 - 55 mm kit lens. I saw no evidence of vignetting or blurry corners (that's a good thing).
There was no redeye in our flash test should... and I wouldn't expect any on a camera with a big popup flash like the D50.
Overall the D50's photo quality was very good. Color was accurate, noise levels were low, and purple fringing was not a problem. While sharper than on most D-SLRs, some may find the photos to be a bit on the soft side. If that bothers you, you can turn up the in-camera sharpening or just fix it later in Photoshop. The one issue I did find with the D50 is that it almost always overexposed the photos I took. It didn't take me long to figure out that I needed to turn the exposure compensation down to -0.3EV or even -0.7EV in order to get a properly exposed shot (this was not an issue on the D70s). The good thing about this "problem" is that it can be easily fixed by fooling with exposure compensation or just bracketing your shots (I did -0.7EV, -0.3EV, and 0EV for many of my test photos).
Since it was an issue on the D70s I should mention that moiré didn't seem to be as much of a problem on the D50 (compare these for an example: D50, D70s).
Speaking of which, here's a little comparison for you between the D50 and the D70s. I used the D50 and D70s at the same settings (aperture was F8) with the same lens (18-55) and took shots at ISO 200 and 1600. You can quickly compare the results using the crops below, or click the respective links for a look at the original images.
D50 at ISO 200
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D70s at ISO 200
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D50 at ISO 1600
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D70s at ISO 1600
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I have two observations about these comparison shots. First of all, it seems to be that the color and sharpness has been bumped up a bit on the D50 when compared to the D70s. This is probably since it's aimed at consumers and that's how they like their photos. The second thing I noticed is that the D50 seems to have less noise than its more expensive counterpart at ISO 1600. I think you'll agree. Supposedly the D50 uses a different sensor so this could explain some of the differences.
That's enough about photo quality from me. Ultimately the decision comes down to you, though. Have a look at our extensive photo gallery and decide of the D50's photos meet your expectations for a D-SLR!
Digital SLR cameras do not have movie modes.
The D50 has a pretty standard playback mode with no gimmicks (like all D-SLRs). Features include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection and hiding, image rotation, and zoom and scroll.
The zoom and scroll feature lets you enlarge your image and then move around in the zoomed-in area. It's not quite as easy-to-use as on a camera with zoom buttons, but it works well enough. This feature comes in handy for when you want to make sure that your subject is properly focused.
A "small picture" feature will downsize photos to sizes fit for e-mailing (640 x 480 and below).
Deleting photos is easy, as there's a button right on the camera for that purpose. By using the playback menu, you can select a group of photos to delete -- a feature I always appreciate.
By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos. But use the four-way controller and you'll get detailed exposure and setting info, a histogram, as well as a screen showing blown-out highlights.
Keeping with the "fast" theme of the rest of the camera, the D50 moves from photo to photo instantly in playback mode.
How Does it Compare?
The Nikon D50 is a very good entry-level digital SLR that performs just as well as the more expensive D70s, though you'll lose a few features along the way. Even so, many people will be happy to ditch those features to get an affordable D-SLR that performs very well.
The D50 is the "Mini Me" version of the D70s, with very minor cosmetic differences. It's a little smaller and lighter, as well, but it wasn't too small like the Digital Rebel XT is (in my opinion). Build quality is excellent and it does not feel "cheap" at all. The camera fits well in your hand with a substantial right hand grip, and all the important controls are easy-to-reach. One thing missing on the D50 is a backlight for the LCD info display -- one of the few features from the D70s that I really miss.
Camera performance is superb: just flip the power switch and the D50 is ready to go. The camera focuses quickly and takes pictures without any noticeable shutter lag. Autofocus speeds were impressive, even in low light. While battery life isn't as good as the D70s, it's still excellent (and you can buy a higher capacity battery if you need to). Transferring photos is actually faster on the "cheap model" because it supports USB 2.0 High Speed, unlike the D70s.
Photo quality is very good overall, though the camera almost always overexposed the photos I took. The good news it that this is very easy to fix by adjusting the exposure compensation. Noise levels were low -- perhaps even better than the D70s -- and purple fringing was not a problem. Something else that wasn't a problem on the D50 was redeye. Finally, images were a bit sharper than on most D-SLRs.
While it doesn't have as many features as the D70s or the Rebel XT, the D50 will satisfy both the beginner and the enthusiast. Those new to photography will appreciate the D50's scene modes and in-camera help system, while more experienced users will enjoy the full manual controls, RAW image format support, and numerous custom functions.
There are some downsides worth mentioning. Neither the D50 nor its more expensive sibling support a battery grip. The included software doesn't take advantage of the RAW image format -- you'll need Photoshop, Nikon Capture, or similar for that. And finally, the camera's burst mode was a little slower than the competition.
Trying to decide between the D50 and the D70s? Look at the chart at the top of the review and see if you can live without some of the D70s' features. I think most people could probably survive with the D50. Trying to decide between the D50 and the Rebel XT? First, if you have a sizable investment in lenses I'd just stick with the manufacturer of said lenses. Just starting out? Then it becomes more difficult. While the Rebel wins in terms of resolution and features, I much prefer the design of the D50. Both perform very well and each takes high quality photos, though the photographer matters more than the camera, in my opinion. You can't really go wrong with either camera, so it comes down to personal preference. That's why I always suggest trying them in person and then deciding which camera you prefer!
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other digital SLRs worth looking at include the Canon Digital Rebel XT, Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D, Nikon D70s, Pentax *ist DL, and the Olympus EVOLT E-300.
As always, I strongly recommend trying the D50 and its competitors before you drop the big bucks on a camera!
Photo GallerySee how the photos turned out in our gallery!
Want another opinion?
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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