Nikon D50

As the digital SLR (D-SLR) camera market continues to expand, Nikon has released the D50, its first sub-$1,000 D-SLR. Designed to compete head-on with the Canon EOS Digital Rebel (   ) and EOS Digital Rebel XT (   ), as well as the Pentax ist DS (   ) and Olympus Evolt E-300 (   ), the 6.1-megapixel D50 delivers excellent image quality and a decent feature set in a well-designed, comfortable body.

Bigger than a Rebel, smaller than a breadbox

The D50 is almost exactly the same size as the Nikon D70s (   ). Though it’s small and lightweight, it’s not so small that it’s uncomfortable, like the Canon Rebel XT or Pentax ist DS. In addition, the D50 has excellent build quality, with sturdy seams and a solid feel.

Along with the D50, Nikon has also released two new DX lenses. Designed specifically for Nikon’s digital SLRs with APS-sized film sensors, DX lenses are incompatible with Nikon’s 35mm film and higher-end digital SLRs. Both the new 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 zoom and the 55-200mm f4-f5.6 telephoto lenses offer excellent quality, and are extremely compact. With the D50’s 1.5x cropping factor, these lenses have 35mm equivalent focal length ranges of 27-82.5mm and 82.5-300mm, respectively. In addition to DX lenses, the D50 can use Nikon’s full line of G or D series lenses.

Nikon offers the D50 body only for $819, the body and an 18-55mm lens for $900, or the body and both the 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses for $1,304, though street prices vary.

Shooting

The D50 has almost all of the features that a professional or advanced amateur shooter will want. In addition to a full Auto mode, the camera also provides Program, Priority, and full Manual mode, as well as a thorough assortment of scene-specific modes ranging from Landscape to Portrait to Slow-sync flash. Multiple focus zones are provided, along with spot metering, white-balance bracketing, and a burst speed of 2.5 frames per second for 16 frames when shooting in JPEG mode, and a burst speed of 2.5 frames per second for 4 frames when shooting in raw mode.

As on the D70s, all of the D50’s controls are interlocked—you have to press and hold a button while spinning the control wheel to change any settings. While this prevents accidental changes, it also precludes one-handed use of the camera.

Overall, I found the camera comfortable to hold, but frustrating to shoot with. Trying to change exposure compensation while looking through the viewfinder requires an uncomfortable forefinger stretch. More annoying is the counterintuitive nature of the control. To increase exposure compensation, you rotate the command dial to the left. To decrease, you rotate to the right.

Curiously, though, the Nikon D50 lacks a depth-of-field preview button and a backlight for its status display. If you frequently use aperture control or shoot in low light, these missing features will be very frustrating.

The D50 has excellent image quality. The camera’s defaults produce nicely saturated, sharp images. If you’re not happy with its saturation, contrast, or sharpening, the camera offers simple controls for tweaking its image-quality parameters. As with most D-SLRs these days, the D50 yields images with extremely low noise, even at higher ISOs.

Macworld’s buying advice

If you’re trying to choose between Nikon and Canon D-SLRs, the D50 might not be such an obvious winner, largely because it’s missing both a depth-of-field preview and a backlit LCD, and it has a cumbersome interface. But if you already own or have access to Nikon lenses, and have been wanting to go digital but haven’t liked the high prices, the D50’s sub-$1,000 sticker should make it a slam-dunk.

Specifications

Resolution 6.1 megapixels
Zoom/Focal Length Kit lens: 18-55mm (27-88mm in 35mm equivalencies); 55-200mm (82-300mm in 35mm equivalencies)
Maximum Aperture kit lens: 3.5; 4
Size (wxhxd) 5.2 inches x 4 inches x 3 inches
Weight 1 lb 3 oz (body only)
Batteries Rechargeable Li-ion battery
Storage Format Secure Digital

Jury Tests

Color Quality Very Good
Clarity–Detail Excellent
Clarity–Artifacts and Noise Very Good

Scale = Excellent, Very Good, Good, Flawed, Unacceptable

How we tested: We took a photo of a standard test scene with each camera under controlled conditions, with the flash turned off, with the white-point setting at tungsten, and at the same aperture and shutter-speed settings. All other settings were at automatic and all in-camera image-processing options were set at factory defaults. Images were saved as JPEGs. A panel of experts looked at our test image, both on screen and printed by an Epson Stylus Photo 2200, and rated color quality and clarity as Excellent, Very Good, Good, Flawed, or Unacceptable.—Macworld Lab testing by Ben Long and James Galbraith

[ Ben Long is the author of Complete Digital Photography , 3rd Edition (Charles River Books, 2004). ]

Nikon D50

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