First impressions mean a lot. That's why we were eager to get our hands on a production version of Nikon's 6.1MP D50 DSLR-to confirm our positive first impression (see "First Look," July 2005). At a street price of $750 (body only; $1,150 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 and 55-200mm f/4-5.6 Nikkor DX lenses, reviewed on page 56), it's priced below the $900 Nikon D70s and aimed at budget-conscious photographers shopping for their first DSLR. But as our lab and field tests confirm, the D50 is hardly an entry-level DSLR.
Admittedly, it's not built as ruggedly as the D70s and doesn't have as many external control buttons, dials, custom functions, or bells and whistles (like an illuminated LCD data panel). Many of these were removed to trim the D50's size and weight-a plus to those moving up from featherweight compacts. Nikon also reduced size by switching to an SD card memory slot on the D50. And while SD cards currently top out at 2GB compared with 8GB for CompactFlash, they cost about the same per GB and offer similar read/write speeds. More weight is cut with the 18-55mm and 55-200mm kit lenses.
So the D50 weighs less, but it's no lightweight. In fact, its AF speed out-performs the D70s, Canon's 8MP EOS Digital Rebel XT ($800 body only), the 6.1MP Pentax *ist DS ($700), and the 8MP Olympus Evolt E-300 ($700).
While the D50's AF system appears similar to the D70s' (on paper), its 5-area setup was faster in bright and moderate light than the D70s or Rebel XT, and most sensitive in very low light-still focusing at EV -1.
Like the D70s, the D50's pop-up flash and dedicated hot-shoe supports up to 1/500-sec flash sync-again faster than the Rebel XT or the other sub-$1,000 DSLRs. The benefit of this faster flash sync shows when using fill flash outdoors. Slower sync speeds force you to use a smaller aperture in bright sunlight, even when you want to limit depth of field in a portrait or close-up of a flower. Plus, fast-moving subjects blur a bit at slow sync speeds due to ambient light. And unlike some competitors' pop-up flashes, the D50's has exposure compensation.
Another speed boost comes in the form of a Hi-Speed USB 2.0 connection for quick image transfer to computers and similarly equipped PictBridge printers.
However, burst mode speeds are slower than those on the D70s (2.5 vs. 3 fps) and the Rebel XT's 3.5 fps. While most DSLRs have RAW storage plus JPEG, this option on the D50 limits JPEGs to a Basic size at full resolution but higher, 1:16 compression.
Who are you kidding?
While the D50 includes nearly all of the advanced exposure and metering controls of the D70s, including 3D Matrix II metering, it also sports a new Child setting in the Vari-Program section of the main mode dial. Nikon says it gives pictures of kids the right amount of vivid color and contrast. Hokey, we think. The problem with photographing children isn't color and contrast, it's capturing the fleeting expressions and composition in the split-second window of opportunity. With its superfast and sensitive AF system, accurate viewfinder, and advanced flash capabilities, the D50 can pull this off without a special mode. It also can match a kid's energy, with its battery capacity rated at 2,000 shots per charge (based on CIPA test reports).