Why Nikon's New Mirrorless Camera May Be Their Most Important

Why Nikon's New Mirrorless Camera May Be Their Most Important

Nikon’s newly announced Z50 mirrorless camera may be one of the company’s most important announcements. With sales falling across the industry, product lines will need to consolidate, and the introduction of an entirely new line sets a very significant precedent. Nikon had strong performances in the DSLR era, with cameras like the D3, D300, and D700 as standouts, but were later to the game with significant mirrorless cameras. Is the Z50 the right direction?

The announcement for the Z50 shows the impact that a number of trends have had on the camera industry. The greater desire for video functionality, a selfie-focused mode for vlogging or photos, and support for transfer to smartphones are all a sign of the times. While some of these features have been present, in some form, in past Nikon cameras, they are now front and center. For a camera aimed at “those advancing from smartphone photography,” these all have to deliver.

Features?

Whether these features rise beyond the level of just existing will have to be determined. The current implementation of Snapbridge on my Z7 is fine, but certainly doesn’t align with the main selling points of that camera. On the lower-megapixel Z50, however, transfer speeds should feel better; while the greater emphasis on picture controls (Nikon’s JPEG styling) shows they aren’t expecting heavy raw use. The selfie mode, which locks out everything but the shutter button to avoid accidental presses, is a nice inclusion. 

Speaking of buttons, the smaller body doesn’t sacrifice many compared to the larger Z7 and Z6. Importantly, both the front function buttons remain, although the back-button layout has been simplified. I’ve felt that this was one of Nikon’s biggest problems with past DX DSLRs, where control layouts changed arbitrarily between the different levels of gear. 

Unfortunately, while many features feel full-bodied in their implementation, including full sensor 4K video, the body does lack IBIS. While many APS-C mirrorless cameras don’t offer this, I loved the implementation on the Z7, and feel like this would have been a good way to stand out from the pack.

Sins of the Past

One of the biggest mistakes, in my opinion, from Nikon’s DX DSLR era was the lack of rational lens options. While they had about 40 flavors of 18mm-to-something zooms, there were few good options for their higher-end bodies. It was particularly egregious when it came to primes.

Looking at their new lens roadmap for the Z mount, I’ve got good feelings. As a Z7 user, I’m excited to see a number of great options across the range. Looking at it from the perspective of a Z50 user, I see at least some indication that Nikon is approaching the lineup with more thought. The also-announced 16-50mm and 50-250mm seems like great pairings. Even the 18-140mm was to be expected, as I remember Nikon and many users loved the 18-200mm in the DSLR era. 

The 16-50mm kit lens is impressively small. While DX has had small lenses in the past, this seems to be the same leap forward that the Z 24-70mm was.

Importantly, they are promising “compact prime lenses” at 28 and 40mm, as well as a 60mm macro. These lenses aren’t DX or S-Line (Nikon’s indication of top quality and price), making them great “grow up with the user” options for DX and a good small lens choice for Z6 and Z7 use.

A couple months ago, I mentioned how I was disappointed with Nikon’s pace and choice of lens introductions for the Z line. Given the new roadmap, I’m happy to say I’m feeling quite differently about things.

A Source of Concern

While Nikon seems to be hitting many of the right notes with the Z50 and the broader Z lineup, I still have some concerns. Is it too little, too late? Will Nikon’s marketing make users aware of the benefits of the Z50 over their cellphone? Is a 20-megapixel sensor going to impress consumers in the age of 64-megapixel phones (even if photographers know the difference)?

The Z50 makes a compelling option for D7500 users, offering the easy transition into mirrorless that the Z7 offered to D800 users. But APS-C mirrorless has been a hotly contested market, and it remains to be seen how many of those users that would have upgraded haven’t already left for other brands.

Among Nikon's sample images, I noticed an emphasis on travel, video, and social use, all things this camera seems well suited for.

Against the broader market, Nikon’s pricing strategy could make or break the camera. The Z7 and Z6 received aggressive promotions, including large trade in bonuses and free FTZ adaptors. With the one-lens kit at a retail price of just under $1,000 before any promotions, it feels pricey. At that point, it feels too expensive for a first camera, while lacking some “must-have” features for DSLR equivalent users upgrading from bodies like the D5000 or D7000 series.

I'll be curious to see how pricing shakes out over the next couple months. At the current point, Fuji's aggressive discounts put a number of bodies in contention, while older Sony full frame bodies are only a few hundred more.

The Future

As things stand, buying this feels like making a bet on the future of the Z line. By buying in, you’re committing to building a collection of lenses and comfort with the controls that should scale into the excellent full-frame Z bodies — at the expense of current value. You can see full frame in the future, but might still be shooting an APS-C DSLR right now, which makes Fujifilm’s APS-C to medium format gap unappealing. Canon’s disjointed mirrorless lens situation, where RF and M mounts are incompatible, looks shortsighted in comparison.

If you're an existing Nikon DSLR user, particularly of an older generation body, this might be a great upgrade point. If NIkon offers the same strong trade-in incentives, you could upgrade for less money than you'd expect. Moving to a more future-ready mount and getting access to the generational improvements of focus and sensor updates should both be part of the value equation. Lastly, while the size disparity isn't nearly as dramatic as FX to Z7 and Z6, it still is an improvement.

It also feels like Nikon trying to show that they’ve listened. There feel like fewer arbitrary feature reductions compared to past DX DSLRs, with new features implemented with an eye towards how people are using their cameras these days. While this camera signifies Nikon has entered the APS-C mirrorless fight, it’s their next salvo (a hypothetical Z60 meant to bring D500/D7200 users over) that will really be important.

Lastly, I think the other announcements from Nikon are just as important. New lenses across the Z line should be appealing to Z6 and Z7 users, while being an important indicator of their continued support for the platform. Also, the absurd 58 f/0.95 is finally out, allowing for the redeployment of whatever staff were working on it to more useful projects.

Is the Z50 going to be a wild sales success? No. The APS-C market is too crowded and competitive for really any option to blow off the doors. Instead, I think it can be a success as part of the broader Z ecosystem, which I’ve grown very fond of. By delivering enough features to appeal to DSLR users and adapting adequately to contemporary trends in an appeal to smartphone photographers and videographers, the Z50 shows Nikon is serious.

Log in or register to post comments

29 Comments

Studio 403's picture

A upscaled gear for upper middle class folks? If this flip back screen could articulate to the side would take a second, but it does not. In my view, body and lens should be priced for about $750 and that is high looking around the landscape of new gear this year. I am a big fan of Nikon and the quality of gear. I did leave them for Fujifilm gear this year. So hope you do well with this new entry. Guessing sales will be sluggish for this camera. Sorry Nikon

Stuart Carver's picture

I always find it amusing when people say fujifilm only care about APS-C because their business depends on it.. what a ridiculous comment haha, shouldn’t all camera companies care about all their lines of camera?

Sadly Nikon don’t :( I’m going to pounce on a D7500 because I love the 35mm and 16-80, but otherwise the lineup is poor.

Alex Coleman's picture

I think that's a good call. Nikon has reiterated that they see mirrorless as complimentary to their DSLR line, so I don't think you'll be losing out there. If you do want to go mirrorless down the line, the FTZ adapter works perfectly.

Alex Coleman's picture

Agreed, that's why I think their pricing incentives will be key.

Alex Coleman's picture

The price does feel high, but that's just list. If they follow a similar playbook to the Z7/6 introduction, I'd expect some sort of incentives to bring TCO down.

I just dislike that Nikon seems to treat APS-C as a Pro-Sumer choice and gives me needless dials where I can switch between Program mode Automatic, Landscape and Portrait... look at freaking Fuji and the dials there. It makes so much more sense to have dials on Shutter, ISO and Aperture! That’s what photography setting is about - and are the « only » three dimensions that MATTER. (Yeah a few others as well but you should always prioritise the 90% needs not the 10%)

And what the heck is Portrait mode anyway?

Alex Coleman's picture

I've tried both Fuji's implementation and Nikon's PASM setups. I don't think Fuji's implementation is anything special - if you're concerned about setting those, it's just rotate the dial to aperture or shutter and adjust with the wheel via Nikon. It also makes transitioning between those settings easier, as you don't have to "zero" out the dial when switching.

Also, I'd argue this is a consumer camera, tilting towards prosumer, not anything higher. The set of lenses, specs, and features all emphasize that.

Portrait mode typically opens up the aperture, as beginners associate shallow DoF with portraits.

My point exactly Nikon treats this as a consumer camera. Not interested

Alex Coleman's picture

I think it is a higher end consumer camera, no argument there. If they make a higher end APSC Z camera, what would you want to see on it? Nikon's control scheme has always been PASM/dials, so I wouldn't expect that to change anytime soon.

Jon The Baptist's picture

I think there are probably a lot better choices out there than this thing.

For example, the Olympus E-M10mk3 might be a better value:

-Almost half the price with lens
-The best IBIS system in the world
-Kit lens is much smaller and half a stop brighter
-More lens choices outside of kit
-Much less expensive 1.8 lenses
-Same OLED viewfinder resolution
-Also has Face w/ Eye detect
-Better Wi-Fi/Phone app

The Nikon?
-Slightly bigger chip
-slightly more resolution
-better high ISO
-PDAF

I'm sure the Sony A-sixty-god-knows-what-number-they're-at-now is also a much more fleshed out camera too.. one of them even has pet detection.

Any of the Fuji's are definitely better too, so long as you ignore that jenky trans chip.

I've got a couple Nikons, D3300, D800E, D4, and a couple Oly's, M1.2, M1X, and Nikon still hasn't offered any compelling reason to change what I've been doing.

If they also rolled out bright APS-C lenses for the Z50 (and put IBIS in it), or a Z with the body of the M1X/D4, THAN WE'RE TALKING.

Alex Coleman's picture

There's definitely a lot of tradeoffs within this market segment. I feel that the Z50 is meant to bring over existing APSC users, so I don't think Nikon is as threatened by the smaller sensor competition.

Blake Aghili's picture

Just not a fan of Sony but in otherMirrorless cameras these are my prefrences:
- Full Frame, Lots of Money? Leica SL/SL2
- Full Frame, Normal amount of Money? Nikon Z6/Z7
- APSC: Normal Money: Fuji X-T3
- APSC: Less Money: Fuji X-T30

Alex Coleman's picture

With the price gap between FF and APSC being so narrow, I don't know if I could see committing to a full Fuji system, knowing that you're dead-ended at APSC and Xtrans (or having to jump to medium format).

I had an XT1 for a while, but never had the confidence in the system to commit. While they are great APSC cameras, I felt like they had a number of limitations when viewed as a system.

Blake Aghili's picture

yes me too. Can't commit to them as a "system". But they are so fun and refreshing :D

It is weird for me to read this article because it is the complete opposite of what everybody else is saying. Most people wonder why the Z mount, it looks ridiculous on a small body, and it's a very limited lineup of lenses. F mount lenses are everywhere, for very cheap. So why this camera ? Other critics include the flip down screen, useless for most people, the lack of IBIS (so why not get an X-T3 instead, which has a better lens lineup) and price.

Alex Coleman's picture

While the Z mount is a tougher sell right now, it's perfectly compatible with F mount via FTZ adapter, and importantly preserves the upgrade path to full frame. Splitting the mount even further like Canon's situation is worse, IMO.

Z50 over X-T3 for Nikon lens compatibility, Nikon controls, full frame upgrade path, and no Xtrans sensor would be my guess.

This doesnt make sense to need an adapter to get the good lenses. Also no one buys an apsc hoping to reuse the lenses for when they go full frame honestly. And what's wrong with an xtrans sensor exactly?

Alex Coleman's picture

Never said you need an adapter for "good lenses", on the contrary, the Z lenses appear to be better than their F mount counterparts. It's nice to have access to the large library of F mount lenses via adapter.

The upgrade path for each major manufacturer except Fuji is APSC> full frame. With the same mount, control scheme, and body style, making that upgrade is easier for consumers. Since only a few of the Z lenses are DX, most pieces of your Z kit will be perfectly reusable. This low-friction path is quite different to Canon's approach, for instance.

XTrans has more limited software support, a history of problems with demosaicing in major raw converters, and basically is just different without clear benefit (to the point that even Fuji isn't using it in their new MF cameras). To me, no Xtrans is a plus, but that is definitely a personal preference point.

It is going to be fantastic to see these DX mirrorless using full frame Z glass without issue once Nikon starts making high end telephotos for the Z mount. The thing to get right at this point is the mount compatibility. So yeah, spot on with canon's disjoint disaster of dual mirrorless mounts. Nikon should release a D3/D300 like combo for mirrorless anytime now which will be 100% cross lens compatible. And that's a beautiful thing. Makes total sense to build this from a single mount.

Alex Coleman's picture

The single mount that moves between FX and DX, with excellent backwards compatibility with FTZ, is definitely one of the biggest features. Fuji is stuck at APSC, Canon is split between M, RF, EF.

Looking at it from that perspective, the Z50 is a great mirrorless choice for Nikon users.

Ziggy Stardust's picture

Needs the kind of features that mirrorless makes easy.
Look at the Panasonic G9 - focus point selection from a sequence in the can, Pre Burst, & focus stacking.
Nikon's FF mirrorless are all behind the game.

Alex Coleman's picture

Focus stacking is present in Z7, unsure if it is retained for the Z50. As for those more action-centric features, I think you'll see those in the D5 equivalent mirrorless or maybe in the D500 equivalent mirrorless.

There's a significant difference between what's emphasized in a high-speed MFT action oriented camera and a 45MP FX landscape/studio/portrait camera.

Ziggy Stardust's picture

No sign of action Zs on the horizon though.
And I bet like DX we wont see S supertelephotos. It'll be FX plus adaptor, blowing the optical and size advantages of short-flange mirrorless.
PS Fuji caches bursts - one of the great advantages of mirrorless to action shooters - with c 24 mpx APS-C. The Z6 could've but doesn't.

OH dear, Nikon have done it "yet" again. This camera should have been one with a F mount lens, not the Z mount.

Alex Coleman's picture

I'm not sure the F mount would be the right fit for this camera, especially given the small/light emphasis, video features, and overall direction Nikon is taking with their mirrorless rollout.

What do you feel would be the benefit to this camera having a native F mount over the FTZ adapter and Z mount?

I agree that’s the Z50 will do well. It’s beat the Canon EOS M series becos it shares the same z mount as ff. I only wish they had put a flip out instead of down. They still have a crippled-dumb down attitude in hope that people will fall for it. Nope, there are plenty of choices like the Fuji xa7. The viewfinder is great here. I will be buying it but only hid the price is competitive to the Sony and Fuji.

Anas Rasheed's picture

Currently a Nikon D7200 user since 2017 and looking to switch from SLR's to mirrorless. Would you recommend Z50 or Fuji XT3/30 or Sony a6500/6600.

Alex Coleman's picture

Depends on the lenses and what you're comfortable with. If you already like Nikon's control system, or have a number of F mount lenses, the Z50 is an easy transition. All those cameras mentioned are competent, so it really becomes about controls and lens availability.

Anas Rasheed's picture

Thankyou for your feedback. I usually do portaits/weddings/concerts/automobile and i hope Z50 won't disappoint once i fully switch.