This Nikon DSLR redefines "entry level."
Image Quality Shines
New DSLRs are constantly boosting image quality. The D50 is no exception. Despite its similar CCD specs and image quality controls (all in the menus), Nikon tweaked the image-processing circuits to give the D50 a very slight edge over the D70s in resolution, about the same color accuracy, and noticeably lower noise.
This last improvement wasn't even needed, since the D70s already held noise to a minimum compared with other DSLRs. The result? The D50 gets an Excellent image quality rating from ISO 200 to 1600, achieved only by one other camera, the Nikon D2x. However, the D2x, Canon EOS Rebel XT, and Olympus Evolt all have higher resolution, so you can make larger photo-quality prints with these cameras. Still, the D50 will produce stunning 10x15-inch prints from photos shot at ISO 1600, an existing-light shooter's dream.
The D50 does have quirks. We found that the SD memory card door slides open too easily when holding the camera tightly. That could be fixed with a small piece of black tape. There's also a slight vignetting in an otherwise decent viewfinder caused by a narrow opening at the eyecup. While the viewfinder has similar data and magnification to the D70s, it shows improved accuracy (96% vs. 92%), but we miss the D70s' on-demand grid.
Nikon also removed the front control dial, so aperture adjustment in manual mode must now be done by holding in a button behind the shutter while twirling the back dial. That may be difficult in cold weather with gloves on.
The 2-inch LCD beats the 1.8-incher on the Rebel XT. But it doesn't include a removable plastic cover as on the D70s and most other Nikon DSLRs.
Finally, with the new kit lenses, flipping the switch on the camera body from AF to manual focus doesn't give you manual focus-unless you also set the lens to manual focus. That's because these lenses are missing the AF/MF override switch found on other DX lenses that lets you focus manually and get an instant AF assist when you press the shutter.
To its credit, Nikon didn't design the D50 as an entry-level model in terms of features and performance. Instead, the D50's supersensitive AF system, low noise levels, excellent image quality, high-speed flash sync, and bright 2-inch LCD could sway prospective buyers away from its higher-priced sibling and many of its competitors.
Certified Test Results
Resolution: Excellent (1450Vx1600Hx1550D lines). Color accuracy: Excellent (Avg. Delta E: 7.14). Highlight/shadow detail: Very high. Contrast: Normal. Adjustable via menus. Noise: Extremely low at ISO 200 to 400, very low at ISO 800, and low at ISO 1600. Image quality: Excellent from ISO 200 to ISO 1600. AF speed: Best in its sub-$1,000 class. In very bright light (EV 12 to EV 7), Its extremely fast AF ranged from 0.43 to 0.49, outperforming the D70s and Rebel XT, but slightly slower than the Maxxum 7D. In moderately low light (EV 6 to EV 3), it's very fast at 0.52 to 0.63 sec. only outgunned by the original EOS Rebel. In very low light (EV 2 to EV 1), it's still very fast at 0.71 to 0.81 sec, but slightly slower than the EOS 20D. In extremely low light (EV 0 to -1) it still worked at 1.20 to 1.50 sec, matching the more expensive Maxxum 7D. Viewfinder: The viewfinder's 0.77X magnification gets a "Good" rating, but is less desirable than the Rebel XT's excellent (0.86X) rating. It shows 96% of the picture area, an excellent performance that is better than the 95% of the Rebel XT. The etched focusing screen (below) shows five selectable AF zones with sensitivity patterns (in red) identical to the D70, but there are no on-demand grid lines. The center zone covers the spotmeter area and is the only true cross sensor of the five. Info: www.nikon-usa.com; 800-645-6689.