Nikon Z50: Initial Thoughts and Review

The new Nikon Z50 is an exciting APS-C mirrorless camera for underwater photography and video
By Bryan Chu

After the eye-catching releases of the Nikon Z7 and Z6 full-frame mirrorless cameras last year, Nikon has continued to expand its Z mount system with the new Nikon Z50 - an APS-C sensor camera focused on being small, light, affordable, and great for vlogging and social media. It enters a crowded field, competing with the likes of the Olympus and Panasonic micro-four-thirds ecosystem and the Sony 6500 and 6600, among others. So how does it stack up for underwater photographers and videographers?

U.S. MSRP Nikon Z50: $859.95

 


 

Jump to Section:

 

Nikon Z50 Specs    |    Nikon Z50 vs Z6 and Z7    |    Key Features

Z50 for Underwater Photo and Video    |    Best Lenses    |    Underwater Housings

Camera Comparisons    |    Conclusion

 


 

Nikon Z50 Specifications

  • 20.9 Megapixel Resolution
  • 23.5 x 15.7 mm CMOS sensor (APS-C - DX format)
  • Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist, 209 points
  • 11 fps sequential shooting
  • 4K Video (3840x2160) at 30/25/24 fps
  • FHD video up to 1080/120p
  • 1/4000 mechanical shutter, to as slow as 30 sec
  • 1/200 sec max shutter sync speed for flash, auto FP high-speed sync supported up to 1/4000 sec
  • ISO range of 100-51200
  • 2.36 million dot OLED elecontric viewfinder (EVF) with 1.02x magnification
  • Lens mount system: Z mount, can use F mount lenses with FtZ adaptor
  • 3.2 inch tilting touchscreen monitor (can flip it over underneath camera for selfies/vlogging)
  • 450 g (0.99 lb) camera body weight, including SD card and battery; 395 g (0.87 lb) body only
  • Ports: USB Micro-B, Type D HDMI connector, Stereo mini-pin jack, plug-in power supported
  • Memory card compability: SD and UHS-I compliant SDHC and SDXC
  • Built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, along with SnapBridge for automatic upload functionality via Bluetooth
  • Battery CIPA rating of 300 shots

Nikon Z50 vs Z6 and Z7

The Nikon Z50 has the same Z lens mount as its bigger relatives, the Z6 and Z7. However, it is much cheaper, smaller, and lighter on specs, with an APS-C sensor instead of a full-frame sensor. It uses the same lenses as the Z6 and Z7, but has a 1.5x crop factor, meaning that whatever focal length a lens has on one of the full-frame cameras, it will act as a lens with 1.5x that focal length on the Z50. For example, if you use a 24-70 mm Z series lens on the Z50, it will act like a 36-105 mm lens would on one of the full frame cameras. With that said, Nikon has also released two Z mount lenses specifically for this sensor size, and the FTZ adaptor gives access to standard Nikon F mount lenses.

The main differences you will find between these cameras is:

  • Much better autofocus on the Z6/Z7
  • Higher resolution and image quality, with better low light performance on the Z6/Z7
  • In-body image stabilization on the Z6/Z7
  • Similar battery life across the three cameras
  • DX 1.5x lens focal length multiplier on Z50
  • Same video specs (4K 30p and FHD at 1080/120p).
  • Smaller body size and weight on the Z50

You can read more about the Z6 and Z7 in our detailed review

Nikon Z50 Key Features

Body & Build

The Z50 is smaller and slimmer than its larger Z6 and Z7 cousins. The Z mount does result in the body being a bit large; noticeably larger than other crop-sensor mirrorless cameras like the Sony a6600 and Olympus OM-D E-M5 III.

The EVF follows the trend of other new cameras around having an OLED screen, which should provide a brighter and nicer looking viewfinder display. The LCD is specifically designed for vlogging and selfie taking, as it folds underneath the cameraa into a position where it can be viewed from the front of the camera. 

This camera features twin control dials, very important for being able to control aperture and shutter speed underwater without needing to go into menus or toggle button functions.  

 

Sensor & Image Quality

The sensor is expected to be similar in quality to Nikon's SLR-style DX lineup, like the D500's 20.9 MP APS-C sensor. The D500 received quite a strong sensor rating on DXOMark, with a rating of 83. If the sensor for this camera is similar in quality, then it will offer a very strong sensor for the cost of the camera!

Although the resolution of this camera is very close to that of the Olmypus OM-D E-M5 III, or even the latest Sony RX-100 cameras (20.9 MP vs 20 MP), the larger sensor brings its own benefits beyond its resolution spec. Since the Z50's sensor is larger, for a similar amount of megapixels, this means that each individual pixel on the sensor is significantly larger (roughly 60% larger by volume than those of the E-M5 III, and 200% larger than those of the RX100V). Larger pixels mean better dynamic range performance, meaning more capturing details from the highlights and the shadows, and less image noise, for overall better image quality. 

Autofocus

The autofocus specs of the Z50 are quite strong, especially for such a low cost camera body. Dual constrast and phase detect with 209 points is not too far off from the Z6's 273 point dual contrast/phase detect system. Based on the strong autofocus performance we saw with the Z6 and Z7, we expect the autofocus of the Z50 to be quite good.

Image Stabilization

Disappointingly, the Z50 does not feature any in-body image stabilization. This is one of the reasons for the very low price tag. This is primarily an issue for videography and topside photography though, as with most underwater photography you will be using strobes, meaning shutter speeds should typically be fairly high. However, when getting into lower light conditions, where you might want to push your shutter speed down to 1/60 or 1/80 sec, or lower, the lack of image stabilization might be a limitation.

Flash Sync Speed

The flash sync speed is not great, at 1/200. However, this camera also has Nikon's high speed sync functionality, allowing flash use up to 1/4000 sec. Of course syncing this quickly underwater with strobes is expected to cause significant issues, but if it is possible to sync up to 1/500 sec while still getting in a full strobe discharge (and strobes typically discharge faster than 1/500 sec, depending on power setting), then this will provide some fantastic latitude for pulling out more details in sunball shots. Stay tuned - this could be a very exciting underwater function to have on such a low cost camera!

Battery Life

The CIPA battery life rating of 300 shots is about par for the course for this type of camera. Nothing too great, but certainly not bad, and solid enough to get two full dives in, with lots of LCD use, before needing to swap batteries. 

Z50 for Underwater Photo and Video

The Z50 is a very exciting offering for underwater photography. High speed sync for the flash has the potential toallow for excellent sunburst shooting, and the great autofocus specs should mean not much time spent hunting for focus. The lack of any Z mount lenses which are good for underwater photography is an issue, but Nikon's excellent underwater lens lineup can be used with the FtZ adaptor (see below section). Overall, the large sensor is expected to provide great details, dynamic range and overall image quality, and the price is right. 

The Z50 does fall short for underwater video. Although it has some nice video recording specs of 4K 30p and 1080 120p, it is missing any form of image stabilization. Image stabilization is very important for underwater video, where it is often very difficult to hold the camera totally steady. Competitors like the Sony a6600 and Olympus E-M5 III, and even the GoPro Hero 8, have advanced 5 axis image stabilization which really helps add a cinematic feel to underwater video, which you just won't get with the Z50. 

Best Lenses for Underwater Use

As this is a new lens system, Nikon only has a few Z mount lenses available. However, they have released their lens lineup until 2021, which is quite informative.

As can be seen here, although there are a lot of exciting lenses for topside use, many are prime lenses in mid focal ranges so not well suited to underwater photography. And although there are some nice wide angle zooms (14-30mm f/4 and 14-24mm f/2.8), there is no fisheye lens. Additionally, with the 1.5x crop factor of the Z50, 14 mm ends up being 21 mm full frame equivalent, which won't cut it as a wide angle lens for underwater use. The DX lenses either available or in development (specifically designed for the Z50 or other future APS-C mirrorless cameras) are not as wide as the abovementioned lenses, so even less use underwater. 

The good news is that a 60mm and a 105mm micro lens are now planned. The 105 is especially interesting as it is a S-Line lens, which is the premium line of Z mount lenses. These should be released in the next couple of years, but that still means there are no good Z mount underwater lenses, especially for use on the Z50.  Fortunately, there are a lot of great underwater lenses on Nikon's old F-mount.

Recommended Underwater Lenses with the FTZ Adapter

Macro

  • Nikon 60mm 2.8G Macro: Great all around lens and especially great for blackwater diving
  • Nikon 105mm 2.8G VR Macro: Great for small and shy subjects, giving you more working room than the 60mm and essential for super macro. You will get even more working room than normal on the Z50, with an approximately 150 mm full frame equivalent focal length; even better for shy subjects, but difficult for larger macro subjects
  • Nauticam Super Macro Converter: the Nauticam super macro converter (SMC-1) is a wet diopter perfect for taking sharp super macro images. In fact, it is the strongest, sharpest diopter on the market. For the best super macro results, use it with the Nikon 105 mm 2.8G VR lens. 

 Wide Angle Fisheye

Wide Angle Rectilinear

  • Nikon 16-35mm 4.0: Great for large animals and extremely sharp lens, but requires a larger dome to get sharp images. Keep in mind that on the Z50 it will act like a 24 mm equivalent lens, which rules it out for much wide angle shooting

For further reading, check out Bluewater's guide to the best Nikon lenses for underwater.

Underwater Housing Options

Housings have not yet been announced - stay tuned for updates and announcements! We expect underwater housings from popular manufacturers such as Ikelite, Nauticam, and more!

Nikon Z50 Compared to the Competition

The Nikon Z50 is a very exciting and competitive offering. Its main direct competition are mid-range crop-sensor mirrorless cameras like the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III and the Sony a6600. Check out our reviews here:

As you can see, there are no clearcut losers or winners; each camera system has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. The Z50's combination of low cost, large, presumably high quality sensor and presmuably strong autofocus is very impressive. However, the native lens selection for underwater use is currently non-existent, requiring the use of the Nikon FTZ adaptor and Nikon F mount lenses. This adds significant cost and size/weight to what should otherwise be a very cheap and compact system. Additionally, for videography, the lack of any in-body stabilization is a significant disadvantage, and enough of a reason to disqualify this camera from consideration for anyone doing much underwater video.

This puts the overall advantage to the Sony for the best image quality and specs, though at a higher price. The Olympus is the best budget option based on the strongest native lens lineup, and smaller size and cost (especially with avoiding using Sony full frame lenses) when compared to the a6600, but that comes with a significant drop in sensor quality and a relatively minor drop in resolution.

Consider the following costs for each system to get a great macro setup around the 120 mm + full frame equivalent focal distance:

  • Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III with 60mm macro lens: $1200 + $500 = $1700
  • Sony a6600 with 90mm macro lens: $1400 + $1100 = $2500
  • Z50 with FtZ adaptor and Nikkor 105mm micro lens: $860 + $250 + $900 = $2010

The release of a native Z mount micro lens will shift things more favor of the Z50. But until then, the OM-D EM5 III has a decent edge in terms of total cost of system. 

Conclusion

The Z50 is another exciting mid-range mirrorless option. Now that Nikon and Canon have entered into the mirrorless race, expect the pace of innovation to continue to increase. It's an exciting time for mid-range mirrorless cameras, as the technology continues to get better and better, and smaller and less expensive, while the lens ecosystems continue to grow and evolve.

The Z50 is a very good first foray by Nikon into the mid-range mirrorless camera world. This camera is worth a serious look, especially for people who want quick and seamless integration with their smartphone and social media, who like vlogging and selfie taking, and who want a simple but powerful piece of photographic equipment.

Sony's offerings may have better specs, though they tend to come at a higher price. And the Z50's specs are already very competitive with more established mirrorless players like Olympus and Panasonic.

The lack of native Z-mount lenses is a weak spot, especially now while the ecosystem is so new, and certainly one of the things that may make Olympus or Panasonic cameras better options. Nikon's great line of F-mount lenses can be used with the FtZ adaptor, but that adds significant cost and bulk, while the whole point of this camera is to be small, simple and budget friendly.

Every camera is a unique tool that has its own advantages and disadvantages over the competition. The key is to be very clear about what facets are most important to you, what jobs you need it to fill, and then pick the best tool for the job. If that's the Z50, then great, it will do an excellent job. If not, there are lots of other fish in the sea!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan is an editor and writer for the Underwater Photography Guide. He loves any activity that takes him out into nature, and is especially fond of multi-day hiking trips, road trips to National Parks, and diving. Any kind of diving. He discovered the joy of underwater photography on a Bluewater trip to the Sea of Cortez and has been hooked ever since. He recently finished a 1-year "radical sabbatical" with his partner Lisa (both of them quit their jobs), which included over 120 dives, mostly in Indonesia and the Philippines. His very favourite underwater experiences include swimming with humpbacks in Moorea, being smashed against the rocks next to marine iguanas in the Galapagos, marvelling at the riotously colourful reefs of Komodo, freezing his hands off under the ice in Greenland, and exploring the never-ending wonders of muck diving in Tulamben and Anilao (where he was a Bluewater photo workshop co-trip leader).

Fortunately, Bryan and Lisa managed to avoid killing each other during their year of traveling together (though at times it came close). Now they are back home in Canada, planning their wedding and doing their best to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. Their main concern at this point is finding a way to not run out of money, while avoiding returning back to their old 9-5  jobs (oil & gas, government). Oh, and also continuing to support their diving and underwater photo/video habits...

You can find more of Bryan's underwater photos on Instagram at @bryandchu and check out his and Lisa's travel and relationship blog at www.bryanandlisa.ca!

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.