Nikon D50 Digital SLR Camera

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, March 2006
Manufactured by: Nikon
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$799.00, CA$899.00 (Kit—complete with 18-55mm zoom lens; dealers sell for less)

The Nikon D50 digital SLR 6.1 megapixel camera is one of the venerable manufacturer's offerings to families interested in the versatility of an SLR combined with the automated ease of use of a point & shoot camera. Kickstartnews however, is often concerned about SOHO, home-office and small business product reviews in addition to home and personal tech, so we grabbed the review opportunity when it was offered to us on the condition that we were going to use the D50 in a variety of work environments. This review therefore is all about how well the D50 can function as a digital camera for your business and your personal photography habit. The D50 is compatible with the entire line of Nikon/Nikkor autofocus lenses.

Some definitions are in order. The acronym SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex. This type of camera design provides the means to change lenses for various conditions. Cameras of this design are often of superior quality and essentially make it much easier to take pictures in a wide variety of weather, temperature and lighting conditions. Because all of the major camera manufacturers offer a wide range of lenses, both fixed (so-called Prime lenses) and zoom models, it's possible to purchase a digital SLR and a selection of lenses to meet every conceivable picture taking opportunity. The vast majority of people who employ digital SLRs for casual or general business use are most often satisfied by a combination of any of these pairs of lenses: a) a wide angle zoom of 12mm-24mm plus a basic intermediate range zoom of 24mm-120mm, b) a 60mm prime lens plus a high quality medium range zoom of 70mm-200mm, c) an intermediate range zoom of 24mm-120mm plus a long 200mm or 300mm prime lens, or d) a wide angle prime lens of 12mm or 14mm plus a high quality extended range zoom of 18mm-200mm. Some advice is in order. If you're already familiar with digital SLRs, lenses and other related issues, skip to the next paragraph. If you're somewhat new to all of this, we've got some suggestions. First of all, film is dead. It was a long time coming, but film is dead. The immediacy and ease of use of digital cameras makes the film vs. digital decision a relic of the past (albeit the relatively recent past).


If you love taking pictures, a digital SLR will help you get the most out of your passion. On the other hand, Nikon also makes a wonderful range of point & shoot cameras and so-called prosumer digital cameras well worth considering. If you like to fiddle and tinker, choose a digital SLR to slake your thirst, keeping in mind that simply by setting it to automatic mode, a digital SLR can also be used as handily and easily as many point & shoot cameras.

If you limit the range of lighting conditions in which you're going to be shooting to only those which fall within what's considered optimal, there are a number of digital point & shoot cameras which offer picture quality which actually rivals that of some digital SLRs including the D50. The problem is simply that optimal lighting conditions which suit the capabilities of a point & shoot camera rarely last for even a full morning let alone an entire day. So the theory is that a digital SLR can be used to capture better pictures more often. Prosumer digital cameras bridge some of the feature gap that exists between point & shoot models and SLR models. Prosumer cameras also provide access to much of the fiddling and tinkering available in SLRs, but without the option to change lenses.

The review camera was supplied to us with two lenses: a Nikon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 G-type DX (designed for digital) standard zoom lens, and a Nikon 70-300mm F4-5.6 G-type standard zoom. The lenses are very basic models from Nikon—essentially entry level items. We placed the D50 in the hands of a couple of service technicians (an electrician and a plumber) for five days while they were both on general service calls. The instructions we gave them were simple: "Take one picture of the job site, take one picture during the job, take one picture of the complete job." The idea was to provide both trades with the means to digitally record their work. Both technicians spent the first day gingerly handling the camera for fear of breaking the thing. I then took some time to give them reinforcing instructions in the use of the D50, after which they started using the camera the way it's meant to be used. The end result was a total of about 900 pictures. I had hoped for a maximum of around 200, but the D50 proved to be popular. More often than not during the week, each technician took the time to dump the day's pictures onto a computer at his head office and name them according to each work order completed. I had a discussion with each company owner about the advantages of having accurate digital photos when presenting a large repair bill to a client. Both business owners, highly skilled technicians in their own right, liked the idea a lot.

After much complaining and long looks from the technicians involved in the field tests, I managed to extract the D50 from their grip and tossed it on the passenger seat of my car along with the 70-300mm zoom, ready for use in my travels around western New York state and southern Ontario. I used the camera for another few days, grabbing shots here and there and generally putting the camera through its paces.

Using the very basic zoom lenses supplied with the review unit, the quality of images captured by the 6.1 megapixel sensor is very good. Using my own Nikon 12-24mm wide angle zoom however, image quality improves noticeably: better edge definition, better clarity, sharper focus throughout, faster zoom, and faster focus. That's to be expected with a superior quality lens. I also tried the D50 with my own Nikon 70-200mm F2.8 VR zoom and was generally pleased with the results—all good news for young amateur photographers or photography hobbyists who are looking for their first real SLR. Note also that the basic 18-55mm zoom lens supplied when you purchase a D50 kit (as opposed to the camera body alone) stood up perfectly well to the bumps and bangs it endured in the hands of the trades, and it was also the lens they used most often.

Cons: I'm dumb, so please give me more scene modes. For example, my favorite digital sidekick, the exemplary Nikon 7600 point & shoot camera, offers a total of 33 variations for its preset scene modes, while the D50 offers only the five master modes: Backlit, Macro, Sports, Landscape, and Portrait, plus an additional new Child mode for use when taking pictures of infants and toddlers. The programming in the D50 is somewhat more complex than what you'll find in a Nikon 7600 mind you, which means that the D50 contains a computer that can figure out on its own which settings to use in order to get the best photo. But it would still be nice to have the selection refinement found in the point & shoot model. Viewfinder grid lines are not available, which is too bad because they really help align and level the composition of a shot. No backlight for the control panel on top of the camera, which is a bit of a serious gripe when working in dark areas. Unlike its big brothers—the D100, D70s, and D2 series of cameras—the D50 uses Secure Digital (SD) cards for image storage, but we prefer the larger, less loss-prone Compact Flash (CF) cards. Spot metering is a little loose (in spot mode the camera meters an area you select while looking through the viewfinder), making results slightly less precise in high contrast lighting conditions.

Pros: Lots and lots of buffer memory, which means that you don't have to buy the more expensive high speed SD memory cards because the camera's internal memory is large enough to let you snap away without stalling while the previous image is being saved. Instant on, which means that unlike most point & shoot cameras, you'll never miss another shot while waiting for the camera to cycle on. No shutter lag. Very nice. For shutterbugs, most of the important control access buttons are up-front including Exposure Compensation Value (EV), White Balance (absolutely crucial for obtaining the best results from digital cameras), single shot and continuous shot selector, Auto Exposure Lock, Auto Focus Lock, Flash mode, Remote and Timer modes, a single thumbwheel for adjustments when in Aperture priority or Shutter priority mode, and a directional pad for navigating the settings menus and adjusting the focus point. The grip areas and general ergonomics of the D50 are very good, with comfortable shapes, and secure grip surfaces of embedded rubber. The camera is lightweight while remaining sturdy enough for use in the field. Dust and grime from repeated field use did not affect the camera's operation or external controls. Although we didn't have any problems with the standard zoom lenses, extensive field work requires better quality choices from Nikon's vast selection of lenses. I strongly recommend the intermediate quality models for their combination of durability and superior image quality. The package includes the rather easy to use Nikon Picture Project software, for downloading photos directly from the camera (without the need to remove the SD card and manually copy the files to your computer). Picture Project works well for simple photo processing and editing, and also neatly handles the Nikon RAW image format. The D50 is a terrific, entry level digital SLR which can be used by families, amateur photography enthusiasts, and businesses of all descriptions. Image quality is very good to excellent, depending on the quality of lens you're using. The 6.1 megapixel sensor produces, larger, well defined photos which are large enough for high resolution poster prints. Good camera. Highly recommended.

KSN Product Rating:





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