Maybe I’ll Buy into Nikon Mirrorless After All

I just assessed my mirrorless options and Nikon wasn’t included because its autofocus is less advanced than its peers. All isn’t rosy on the other side however – buying into Sony or Canon is pretty expensive given the lenses I’d need to get. Nikon’s high-end flagship has shown that it can close the gap but I’ll be lucky if that tech trickles into my price range this year. That said I still really want to try mirrorless out and see what it’s like, and I’d really like to use my existing lenses. I know I said I wouldn’t buy into Nikon’s mirrorless but I can’t help asking myself — would it really be that bad?

I understand that autofocus isn’t up to par with Sony and Canon, but in certain situations it might allow me to do things I can’t do with my DSLRs. Nikon has eye autofocus, Nikon has subject tracking, Nikon has, animal autofocus. The capabilities are there, they just don’t work as well as Canon and Sony. Adapted lenses focus slower than on a DSLR, but how much slower? I’m really curious to see how Nikon’s mirrorless cameras work and whether I could still find advantages using one.

I want to find out but I don’t intend to keep what I buy into for a very long time. I want to use something temporarily and then sell it when Nikon releases what I want. I could rent a Z6 or Z7 for a week, but I don’t think that I’d have enough time to evaluate. I’d have to take vacation to maximize the value and I’d be screwed if the weather didn’t work out. I’d rather purchase something, use it for months, and sell it off later.

I don’t want to buy something brand new because equipment depreciates so fast. A $1,999 full-frame Z6 II trades in for about $1100 right now so I’d take a $900 bath on my little experiment. I need something used, but the Z6 II only sells for $200 less used than it does new. That’s still quite a loss when I sell it. Nikon has an entry-level full frame mirrorless camera called the Z5 but it still sells for about $1,200 new and doesn’t sell for much less used. Lucky for me, Nikon also has a crop-sensor mirrorless model called the Z50 that sells for about $900 new and $600 used. Bingo.

Enter the Z50

It’s like a tiny Z6!

The Z50 was released in 2019 and is like a mirrorless version of Nikon’s D5000 series and D500. It has the same cropped 20 MP sensor as my D500 and has most of the features of the Z6 and Z7, including eye AF, animal AF, and continuous subject tracking. It has 209 autofocus points covering most of the frame, which is more than the 153 on my D500. It shoots 4K video and can take up to 11 fps bursts of photos. It has an electronic viewfinder and an articulating touch screen. It uses the Z mount and is compatible with Nikon’s FTZ adapter for my existing lenses. Since it is Nikon’s lowest-end mirrorless model, anything in the future would feel like a huge improvement.

The value proposition is pretty good here. The Z50 body sells for about $620 used and trades in for about $340 from MPB. By purchasing used I avoid some of the depreciation from its original $900 price. I’d need to buy an FTZ adapter for it so I can use my existing lenses, and I’d like a native Z mount lens for comparison. I can get the FTZ adapter used for about $185 and the 16 – 50mm DX lens for about $150.

For about $1,000 total I can get a Nikon mirrorless camera to evaluate. I’d eventually sell the body back for $340 and the lens for probably $75. I’d keep the FTZ adapter for my next Nikon mirrorless. At the end of the day my experiment will cost me about $400, which is equivalent to a few equipment / lens rentals. I think that’s pretty good.

It has a “selfie” mode that’s great for hand-holding but gets obscured if it’s on a tripod

After reading up on the Z50 a bit and finding out that it was a pretty capable camera I decided to look for one. I could get the body, the FTZ adapter, and the lens from MPB for a little under $1,000. I hit eBay as well, hoping I could move the price down a bit more. I lucked out and won an auction for the body, the FTZ adapter, the 16 – 50mm lens, and a Nikon F-mount crop sensor lens, for $910 shipped. In this case, my experiment will only cost me around $310 when all is said and done. Not bad.

What to test

I’m pretty excited for this little thing to arrive. It’s actually pretty well reviewed for what it is and it’s a low-risk investment. There are lots of things I want to learn from it, including:

  • How tolerable is the electronic viewfinder? They are much better than they used to be but will I be able to handle seeing everything through another screen?
  • How well does eye focus work? Even if it isn’t super fast it might allow me to get clearer pictures than I usually would. It works for cats and dogs, so I also might get better pictures of the dog if I’m lucky.
  • How slow do F mount lenses really focus? From what I’ve read they take twice as long to rack through the entire focus range, but what about small adjustments? If I’m already mostly focused maybe they can keep up with something that is moving better than I thought.
  • How tolerable is the “slideshow” effect after taking a burst of photos at 11 fps? I won’t be able to see a live view while the buffer empties out.
  • Will having almost 100% frame coverage of autofocus points help me get non-eye focus shots more easily than I do today? Regardless of how many focus points my DSLRs have, I never seem to have enough and they are restricted to the center of the frame on my D750.
  • Will I use the rear screen to compose? It’s bigger and easier to see, but I rarely use it on my DSLR because it focuses so slowly. Mirrorless doesn’t have that problem, so maybe I’ll start using it more.
  • How cool is silent shutter? How much movement can it tolerate before causing straight lines to bend? Can I use it to sneak up on some animals?
  • Will having an exposure preview of what the photo will look like change my workflow? It will certainly make metering easier.
  • Will I actually use it for movies since it won’t be terrible at it?

All in all I think I ended up with a pretty good deal. I’ll have a chance to test out a lot of things, knowing that it doesn’t represent state-of-the-art. When Nikon does trickle its improved autofocus capabilities down the line, I’ll appreciate the improvements even more.

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