21 Jan New Nikon Z50 mirrorless camera opens up a whole new world of travel photography
Updated 12/3/2020: To tout the Nikon Z50 mirrorless camera as revolutionary for travel photography sounds like a lot of hype. But it’s not.
For perspective, I’ve been taking photos for 39 years, some of those years professionally. I’ve owned dozens of cameras and traveled the journey from film to digital and now to mirrorless.
Nikon’s new Z50 mirrorless camera improves the way I travel and the quality and creativity of photos that I bring back home. One day I may shuck the camera and shoot exclusively with my phone, but I’m not ready yet.
Switching from a traditional DSLR camera to a mirrorless DSLR was all about size and weight. I want my luggage to be light and compact as feasible for travel and the Z50 reduces weight and bulk by half. The payoff is less luggage and relief from neck and shoulder pain that became an issue when lugging my old gear around for days of travel.
A mirrorless camera has been on my wish list for some time. The features and price point of the new Nikon Z50 make this the right time for me to jump on board. All these are reasons to like a mirrorless camera, but it was the new camera’s new capabilities that started this traveling photographer’s love affair with the Nikon Z50.
Nikon Z50 mirrorless gets my vote for best camera for travel
For years I’ve been pleased with Nikon’s D3400 as my travel camera. I even bought the camera for both my adult kids and have recommended it to Wandering Rose readers. That camera is a sound performer at a great price point, but lacks the capabilities that make the Z50 my pick for best travel camera of the year. Some features I shall discuss are new to the mirrorless camera line, while others already exist on higher level cameras.
I took the new Z50 system on a recent winter trip to Bryce and Zion national parks. Snow scenes can be challenging to photograph for correct color and exposure. Despite barely knowing where the controls are and having to consult the manual on occasion, I was blown away with the image quality and creative control at the camera.
One quick payoff with the Z50 is impressive digital enhancements like focus, exposure and frame stacking. I am still learning how to apply these and when, but it puts this camera in a very elite class and allows photos that would be impossible with traditional gear without using time-consuming post processing computer software.
I notice a big improvement in the auto focusing sensor. Prior to the Z50, I used manual focus in difficult situations, but the Z50 never missed focus on subjects… even an eagle perched among the branches of a dead tree.
Likewise, the exposure system is improved. The Z50 has no problem determining optimal focus, even in difficult backlight or shooting into the sun compositions.
Reasons to love the Nikon Z50 mirrorless camera for travel and beyond
Options for composing are the 3.2 inch rear display, which rotates 180 degrees for selfies, or an electronic viewfinder. I like the option of screen vs. viewfinder, and found the electronic viewfinder to be a delight. It’s actually an additional electronic display screen with the ability to display scenes clearly no matter what the light. Many of the landscapes shown here are intentionally underexposed .5 to 2 stops to enrich the sky avoid blowing out the whites. This is the first time in 39 years of shooting I can capture exactly what I envision without worrying about shadow or highlight details, bracketing exposures and performing lots of post processing to get the desired look.
Beyond focus, exposure and great viewing screens, my next area of delight is shooting in “scene” mode. For disclosure, many better DSLR and point and shoot cameras have long offered this, but it is new to me. Toggling between landscape, sunset or snow/beach gave me access to color controls that previously required time-consumer color temperature adjustments or special lens filters. Since I am just getting to know the Z50, I frequently shoot a scene using several settings so I can compare them later and learn what my preferences are.
Beyond scene mode, there are creative picture controls and special effects I have only glanced at. There is lots more to discover, and we will cover the camera again in future posts.
Nikon users with existing specialty lens for specific tasks (ex: super telephoto for wildlife) can purchase an adapter ring that allows mounting your existing lens on the Z50. I opted to buy a combo kit with the Z50 camera body plus15-50mm and 50-250mm lens designed specifically for the Z50 because of their super compact size.
Nikon Z50 biggest disappointment — Lack of a long telephoto lens
I sorely miss having a longer telephoto lens. That has been my biggest complaint about switching to a mirrorless system. At this time my only option, and that of other seeking a longer telephoto for wildlife, sports and special effect have the option of using a very expensive adapter ring and using an older Nikon lens designed for traditional camera bodies. But that does not work for me because it defeats the purpose of switching camera systems — weight and size. At $250, the adapter ring so I can mount a giant lens to my tiny camera is not an option. Nikon makes a 1.4 magnification teleconverter with a hefty price tag of $600 (gasp). And they have developed a 2.0 magnification teleconverter which should begin shipping soon. The converter retains all the camera’s auto features, including vibration reduction. Much as I hate it, I plan to try the 2x version when it is released. I will write a separate review on that soon.
This article originally published January 2020 and was updated 12/3/2020.