What Do I Want in a Z50 II?

Now that the Zfc has been in the studio long enough for me to do longer side-by-side comparisons, I can now specify the things that the Zfc changed that I'd really like to see in a Z50 II. Plus, of course, there are a few things both cameras miss that I'd like to see added. So today I'm going to define what I want to see in a Z50 II model.

Yes, I know most of you just want to speculate on Z9 features, but most of you aren't buying a Z9, are you? Nikon's sweet spot has always been at about the N80/D70 point, so let's see what they could (probably quite quickly) do to add a Z in that position.

Let's start with the Zfc additions that the Z50 II should add, as they're essentially "no-brainer" engineering at this point:

  • USB charging/power. USB Power Delivery should be a given at this point. It has so much application in so many different scenarios that it's now a requirement.
  • USB-C. This goes along with the above (though isn't necessary to do so), but really is starting to be a requirement for modern connectivity. We don't want Nikon to "cheap out" again and re-use old, less expensive connectors and lower performance ports. 
  • Articulating Rear LCD. Some might argue with me about this one, but for a do-it-all small camera, tilting isn't enough. We're at a price point and size here where selfies and vlogging come into play, and tilt up/down just doesn't suffice. 
  • Focus changes. Nikon probably made more of the focus changes in the Zfc than was warranted. Yes, low-light focus detection got better, as did automatic tracking speeds, but that doesn't make a night-and-day difference, in practice. It's just nice to have, and therefore should make their way over to the next Z50 model. The addition of the Wide-area AF (L-people) mode made more of a difference, and thus it too needs to be in an updated Z50.
  • Shutter speeds to 900 seconds. Nikon added this first to the astrophotography-oriented D810A, and everyone else then said "we want that, too." While it's not a big thing, it would be nice to just make this option systemwide, not dole it out as a marketing check box when another one is needed.
  • Focus shift shooting. Like the extended shutter speeds, Nikon probably added this more as a marketing check box item to be able to promote as new than really think a Zfc user needed it. Nevertheless, it's time to get rid of the paternalistic "camera X only gets Y features" attitude in Nikon engineering. So additions like this need to stay in future models.

Next up, let's add a few of the more subtle things the Zfc changed versus the Z50:

  • Real buttons rather than the faux touch buttons. You can't find the three faux buttons on the Z50 by touch; you can find the real buttons on the Zfc by touch. This makes a big difference in a few use cases, such as magnifying view with your eye at the viewfinder. Big plus for the Zfc approach, with no plus for the Z50 approach. Thus, change the Z50 II to real buttons, please. Moreover, the Zfc buttons all have a little bit more relief than the Z50 ones, which makes them a little easier to find by touch. I'd go a little bit further and add in even a bit more relief than the Zfc provides.
  • The tucked microphones. The Zfc has a better built-in microphone placement (more resistant to weather). I'd go with that over the top-plate position.
  • I can be persuaded to keep the ISO dial of the Zfc, but only if two things apply: (1) we get an Auto ISO (A) position, and (2) we don't lose the extra button behind the shutter release (e.g. change the ISO button to Fn3). Otherwise, I say keep the ISO button and lose the dial.

Things we don't want from the Zfc:

  • No grip. The Z50's grip was correct and appropriate. Keep the Z50's hand grip.
  • No flash. The Z50's little pop-up flash isn't incredible, but it's incredibly useful. Keep the Z50's flash. Bonus points for adding a Commander mode.
  • Lame Command dials. The Z50's Command dials are easier to find and use, and the Rear one far bigger and easier to find and use. Like the button relief, this makes a difference when using the camera with gloves on. Keep the Z50 dials.
  • One Fn button. One is less than Two, and the Z50 was already challenged with button customization options. Don't ditch the second Fn button.
  • Colors. Okay, some of you probably want the different colors of faux grip leather, but that clearly complicated the Zfc launch and availability, and this is something that is probably better done with third-party aftermarket replacement panels than trying to get things right at the factory. I'd rather have a personalize later option than have to pick and then wait for something specific at launch.

Finally, we need to add in things that both the Zfc II and Z50 II will need:

  • Number 1 with a bullet: sensor-based image stabilization. This is particularly true because Nikon isn't building out a full line of lenses with VR in them (and probably shouldn't). The compact 28mm and 40mm really need stabilization on a small body. Ditto the 50mm macro. So what's happened is that the majority of lenses I'd tend to use on the Z50 (and Zfc) have no stabilization. Time to fix that.
  • A faster way of positioning the focus system. The Direction pad is too far down the back, particularly on the Z50. Moreover, pressing a Direction pad multiple times is not the same as a quick positioning device. We need either an active thumb stick or the ability to move focus position via the Rear LCD with your eye at the viewfinder. Bonus if we get both.
  • Time to move beyond 20mp. I have no issues with the current 20mp sensor, but the problem is that 20 is becoming less and less competitive a number in this space, and Nikon needs to be more competitive, not less. Beyond just offering more pixels, there's the issue of faster sensor offload, which might open up things like faster viewfinder refresh and 4:2:2 internal recording, which would be nice additions. While I'd like to see Nikon match Canon's 32mp APS-C sensor, really anything from 24-32mp is fine.
  • Return to Optimal. The Zfc/Z50 both only support Size Priority for JPEG images. I've never understood why every JPEG variation needed an Optimal Priority versus Size Priority option, so I'd just say give us one Optimal option, e.g. JPEG Fine Large ★. Let the rest of the JPEG settings be Size Priority.
  • A more layered menu system. Sony got this right on the A1, and Nikon needs to follow. 32+ things on a scrolling PHOTO SHOOTING menu means too many things are buried and take longer to find/change. We've got room for seven "sub-categories" (e.g. Image/Color, Flash, Focus/Lens, Series Photos [bracketing, multiple exposure, etc.], and so on. Choose a category, choose an option, done. No more scrolling. For this level camera getting to a setting fast is important; you don't want to lose photo opportunities while scrolling through long lists.
  • Actually use UHS-II. The current cameras are limited to about 95Mbps in my testing. This is almost certainly a limitation of the physical card slot mechanism Nikon is using, not a limitation of what EXPEED6 can do. UHS-II on the current cameras is basically a marketing item with no meat on it. Faster image offload would mean bigger buffer, and that would open up the performance from being consumer to prosumer in that respect.
  • Lenses. Okay, I couldn't be consistent in my criticisms without this article repeating my "buzz, buzz" mantra. I don't particularly care if the additional lenses are Nikkors or Viltroxes or Sigmas. But the Z50 (and Zfc) are somewhat crippled by the availability of appropriately-sized lenses. "Sized" is not just physical size, but also focal length. Indeed, it's the combo that's getting Nikon into a bit of trouble. For instance, the 14-30mm f/4 isn't a bad lens for the DX crowd in terms of focal length, but it's physically larger than a Zfc can handle well, and bigger than the 10-20mm f/4-5.6 we all expect for DX. The incredible aspect of the Z50 is how competent the camera is for its very small size. We don't want that blown to smithereens by having to put bigger, heavier lenses on it. Note that adding sensor-based VR really starts to open up the Z50 world to the Viltroxes and Sigmas of the world, so again, I don't care which way we end up building our Z DX lens set, it's just that we need a Z DX lens set.

So, when we take all of the above and put them into an updated camera, what we end up with is a Z50 II whose claim to fame is (1) "all the good things that preceded it", (2) plus an updated image sensor living on a VR platform, (3) coupled with some modest-but--still-notable other changes/additions. Here it is in all it's glory:


You'll note that I didn't need to change much physically, and neither would Nikon. 

Personally, if Nikon made this camera, I'd update in a heartbeat. So would many of you. And a lot of you would get off the fence and embrace Z DX instead of looking to Fujifilm.

_____________________

What did I miss? Let me know. However, don't suggest that we up-level this to a Z90 type camera. That would be a different model for another time. We're talking solely about what a Z50 II update should look like. It still needs to fit into the ~US$1000 slot.

Update: the two things that commonly came up in your responses as additional requests to mine were (1) return the dust shaker mechanism; and (2) add a headphone jack.

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