My Z50 arrived on Sunday, a day earlier than I expected. The weather hasn’t been as warm as I was hoping, but I’ve had a chance to setup the camera and start taking some photos. I’m going to save my impressions of its autofocus capabilities for a separate post, but these are my first impressions of the rest of the camera.
Design & Ergonomics
- Compared with my D3200 it’s roughly the same size in height and width. The lens mount doesn’t stick out as far since the Z mount isn’t as deep, but the grip comes out about the same. The Z50 is blockier in its design and is generally less bulky feeling. They weigh about the same in my hand.
- A comparison to my D3200 isn’t really fair as the D3000-style DSLRs are entry level DSLRs, but they are about the same relative size and it’s what I’ve got.
- The grip is definitely deeper on the Z50 and I feel like I have a better grip on the camera.
- The Z50 has a front and rear control dial, two function buttons, a dedicated ISO button, two custom settings modes, and lots of customization, putting it more in the D7000 class than the consumer D3000 class. The screen is larger and nicer, and outer case is metal instead of plastic.
- Overall the Z50 looks like a miniaturized Z6 / Z7 without the top OLED display. It looks very nice, somewhat compact, and modern.
- I particularly like the design of the rear control dial – it’s completely exposed on top of the camera instead of embedded within the body. While it stands out from a design perspective it also makes it a bit easier to access since you can hit the side of it with your finger instead of precisely lining it up with the back of the camera.
- Ergonomics are good for a camera of this size. The grip is large enough to hold comfortably but not as deep as a full frame camera. The function buttons by the lens are almost comically tiny and require me to jam my fingertips in to press them, but I’m still glad to have them.
- The ergonomics of the Z50 are good and it is comfortable to hold, but I do love grasping a hefty camera with a deep grip like my D500.
Usability & Customization
- The i menu displays 12 options which can be completely customized – this makes up for not having as many buttons available as a full-frame DSLR. I really like this menu’s interface and customization options. It’s easy to use and clear to interact with and basically the same interface as Sony. What’s that quote about great artists?
- The battery can be charged over USB, which is helpful because mine didn’t come with a charger.
- While the EVF is on the lower-end of resolution (about 1024 x 768 pixels) I think it’s perfectly usable. It’s bright, contrasty, and has enough detail for me to see. It can be used to review images and navigate the menus as well, which is common on mirrorless cameras. I’m not used to that feature yet but I can see the value in some cases.
- The back screen is good, with similar resolution to the screen on my D750. It isn’t as high resolution as my D500, but still looks more crisp than the D750. Unlike my DSLR, the back screen can be used for images any time you take your eye from the viewfinder. I didn’t think I’d use the back screen to do this very often but I’m actually using it a lot because it is easy and large.
- The Z50 has several continuous shooting modes: Low (1 – 4 fps, selectable), High (5 fps), and High+ (9 or 11 fps). You get 11 fps if you are shooting in 12-bit RAW but only 9 fps in 14-bit RAW. If you need the fastest frame rate you have to give up a bit of dynamic range in the 12-bit RAWs. Both rates are on either side of the 10 fps my D500 provides, so it’s nearly indistinguishable anyway. In High+ it reminds me a lot of the D500 in that it’s difficult not to get at least 2 shots each time you press the shutter.
- The buffer can take a bit to clear, at which point things kind of freeze up. I don’t expect a deep buffer from a camera of this price, but it’s annoying that everything freezes, including the view through the EVF. At least on a DSLR you can reframe for your next shot while the buffer clears.
- In High mode you can see a live view, but in Hight+ mode you only see the images that were just taken in the burst until the buffer clears. This is called the “slideshow effect” and is common on all but the highest-end mirrorless cameras. I can deal with it but it makes following a subject difficult because you have to anticipate where they are going since you can’t see a live representation. This makes photos of sports, birds, dogs, and kids challenging.
- Electronic shutter (aka silent shooting) is pretty cool. It’s not actually 100% silent, making a very faint sound that’s only audible when your face is at the camera. Indoors it definitely shows some banding artifacts from the flicker of LED lights, but outdoors it isn’t an issue. I find it very, very cool and will use it when I’m not shooting fast action. There’s something about being able to take photos without people noticing. They know you have a camera but they quickly forget about it when they can’t hear the shutter clicking. It will be good for birds as well.
- On a related note, the mechanical shutter isn’t too loud on its own. It’s quieter than my D750 and much quieter than my D500.
Initial impressions are pretty good. The Z50 is comfortable to hold, customizable, and pretty responsive. It’s mirrorless-specific electronic viewfinder is good and doesn’t bother me the way I thought it would. Continuous shooting has some minor limitations, but it is far faster than I expected at this price. Video is actually a possibility now and silent shooting is really useful. I have a lot to test out with autofocus, but I think I’ll be keeping this one for a while.