This little camera's got a lot. Here's how to get the most from it.
Of course the Nikon D50 is popular. It's a heck of a camera (see Hotshot Shoot-Out, March 2006), and, for a starter DSLR, a heck of a buy ($550 street, body only). It even gives the Nikon D70s a run for its money, with virtually all of its older sibling's basic features, including a robust burst mode, accurate exposure metering, and iTTL electronic flash control.
But getting the most out of this camera takes more than just reading the manual and fiddling with the controls. It requires an exhaustive analysis. I can say that, because I've done it. The result: 10 tips to help you do more with your D50.
1. Look, No Wires
The D50 can't trigger Nikon SB-600 and SB-800 strobes or the new SB-R200 speedlights wirelessly for multiple flash setups. But if you calculate exposure yourself (or if you own a flashmeter), you can use any brand of external flash with a built-in slave sensor, or attach a slave trigger to your external strobe. The D50's flip-up flash automatically triggers all of the slaves. To minimize the built-in's effect on the scene, go to the Custom Setting menu and choose CSM 16: Flash Mode, then set the manual output level as low as 1/16 Power.
To use the D50's iTTL automated flash features with Nikon-brand flash units, buy the new SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander ($250, street). It can control an unlimited number of speedlights arranged in up to three groups, in four different channels (to minimize conflicts with other photographers), at up to 66 feet.
2. Need an Assist?
Frustrated when the D50's focus-assist lamp doesn't help in dim light? The problem may be the focusing mode you've selected -- it doesn't work in AF-C (continuous autofocus). Although AF-C is great for subjects that move as you frame, it can trigger a spate of refocusing, so the AF-assist LED is disabled. Switching to AF-S (single) reactivates the lamp. If the subject moves, you might have to press the shutter release again to refocus.
Also avoid the AF-A (automatic) mode in dim light; if the subject moves, it can switch your D50 to AF-C from AF-S without notice. The AF-assist lamp is disabled in the Sports and Landscape Digital Vari-Program (DVP) scene modes, too, so use Shutter Priority instead.
3. Get Focused
The Nikon D50 beats the D70s with the AF-A option, and even the AF modes the two have in common work differently. When you partially depress the shutter release, the D50 automatically adjusts focus according to your AF mode (see above), but it won't take a picture until the focus is sharp, a mode called "focus priority." This differs from the D70s, which uses "release priority" in AF-C mode; it will let you take a picture even if it's slightly out of focus. That may be preferable with sports and other fast-moving action, because a slightly fuzzy picture at the critical moment is still better than nothing.
To get release priority on your D50, go to the Custom Settings menu, choose CSM 14, and program the AE/AF-L lock button on the back of the camera to perform autofocus lock (AF-L) only. Then, hold down the lock button as you press the shutter release. The camera will respond as if it were in release-priority mode regardless of the original setting.
4. Screen Saver
Unlike other Nikon DSLRs, the D50 doesn't come with an LCD protector. One inexpensive solution is to apply a screen "skin", like those used for personal digital assistants. Sold at office supply stores, they're easily trimmed to fit the D50's 2-inch LCD. Another solution: a three-sided hood. We like the H-D50 FlipUp LCD cap from Hoodman (www.hoodmanusa.com, $35). It clips onto the D50's eyepiece flange and lower edge, which helps viewing in bright light and protects the LCD. The Pop-Up Shade from Delkin Devices (www.delkin.com, $35 and up) is another nice snap-on.
5. What's shakin'?
Hear that faint rattle as you gently shake your D50? It's the orientation sensor, which determines whether you're shooting in vertical or horizontal, and lets the D50 embed this information in the image file. When you review images on the LCD, the camera orients them properly. The sole drawback: When you're reviewing images in the camera, vertical shots may be rotated and fitted to the LCD's shorter dimension. To see your previews full-size (but sideways), go to the Setup Menu, choose Image Rotation, and set it to Automatic. Then, visit the Playback menu and, under the Rotate Tall option, pick No. The correct orientation will be stored in the image file, but the D50 won't use it in image review.