The Z50 is Last?

dpreview's Chris Nichols and Jordan Drake this weekend posted a video entitled "High-end APS-C mirrorless camera comparison." Spoiler alert: the Nikon Z50 came in last in their "final rankings." 

bythom dpreview apscvid

Now don't get me wrong, I happen to like Chris and Jordan. A lot. Their views on products are well informed and generally balanced, and it's rare that I disagree with anything they say about how a product handles or performs. We need more well-considered reviewers like Chris and Jordan, not more YouTubers running click bait schemes to get subscribers.

What's wrong with their new video is the premise: that these are all high-end mirrorless cameras. There's a near 2x price differential from bottom to top, which should be a dead giveaway that these aren't all high-end cameras (and hmm, the final rankings correlate almost exactly with price). Moreover, there's the arbitrary "mirrorless" aspect of the comparison, which seems to imply that you'd only want a mirrorless camera if you're considering APS-C, when there are still some remarkably excellent DSLR ones to be had (Canon 90D, Nikon D500, Pentax K3 Mark III). 

Further injury is caused by the process involved: rank each of six areas and then add up the rankings. When you do that, you also find out something interesting: the Canon and Nikon tied with 18 ratings points (higher is worse in this schema). The Sony had 15, the Fujifilm—again, the highest cost camera in the test, and arguably one of only two true "high-end" APS-C cameras—came up with 9. 

So how did the Nikon fall below the Canon in the final ratings if they were tied in points (they also had equal standard deviations)? Apparently Autofocus and Image Quality had (an unspoken) higher weighting than Handling, Displays, Battery Life, and Video. 

I decided to put on my Chris hat for a moment to try to imitate his likely conclusions about a product and test an assumption: that a DSLR might not end up last in such a comparison. Even using Chris's last place ranking for Image Quality (because the Z50 and D500 share an image sensor), a Nikon D500 would seem to be in a pretty clear second place using all the criteria and ranking form in that video. 

Indeed, that's close to where I and others have been pontificating for awhile now: Nikon shot low in APS-C mirrorless, probably because they were trying to preserve their "just upgrade to full frame" strategy as well as some lingering DSLR demand. But Nikon also didn't try to hold onto the D500's uniqueness in the market—I'd still argue that it's the most well-rounded APS-C camera out there—by updating it on schedule or making a mirrorless equivalent. 

Note that I wrote "well-rounded" in the last sentence. Thing is, you can't just compare one camera body to another camera body. Lenses come quickly into play, and that's actually the D500's superpower: third parties filled in some of the key missing DX lenses (buzz, buzz), but the D500 also takes advantage of the Nikkor full frame telephotos with gusto. The Z50 doesn't quite do the same (in either case). 

While it wasn't Chris or Jordan's intention when doing the video, it does point out something important: Nikon has a lot of work cut out for them if DX is to fully survive the transition to mirrorless. No, the Z50 doesn't compete against something like the Fujifilm X-T4 (both in body and lenses). No, the Z50 isn't exactly the body you'd mount the F-mount telephotos onto as there are too many compromises involved (battery to power VR, need for the FTZ, size, and so on). Nikon's also back to starving DX of lenses (buzz, buzz). Finally, 20mp is now the wimpy kid on the block in terms of image sensor. 

The real story is this: Nikon doesn't have a mirrorless product to compete with even the Sony A6600, let alone the X-T4. I still feel like the Z50 was more like sticking a toe in the water to see what the temperature is than anything else. The Z50's not a bad camera at all—for casual use it's become my preferred choice due to small size coupled with the kit lens—but it isn't really a high-end camera in any respect. 

Bottom line: the Nikon Z50 (and Canon M6 Mark II) was added into the dpreview comparison in order to even have a comparison. "Overall Best" is probably the wrong criteria for comparison. The real comparison involving a Z50 would be something more like this: if US$1000 is your budget for camera and lens, what's your best choice (both mirrorless and DSLR)? (Note to Nikon: it still might not be a Z50 ;~).

Looking for other photographic information? Check out our other Web sites:
DSLRS: | mirrorless: | general/technique: | film SLR:

text and images © 2021 Thom Hogan — All Rights Reserved
Follow us on Twitter: @bythom, hashtags #bythom, #zsystemuser