Hours of Idleness-A Photographer's Journey in St. Louis

Nikon D50- It just works

Posted in photography by Jason Gray on March 12, 2010

***2013 update at end of post***

In my camera arsenal, the D50 represents a very important niche for me.  First, it is my secondary (not really back-up) camera on paid shoots, and secondly, it is the primary body that I walk around with when I am out and about.  Both of these factors have a lot to do with how I shoot.  For instance, I prefer to have a second body with a second lens to one body with two lenses; this is because of two reasons- 1. speed, 2. lowered risk of particle contamination to the sensor.  Also, I like the lightweight aspect of the D50 (which means smaller size and therefore less conspicuous).  When you are walking around the city all day, smaller is definitely better, especially if it means that your bigger, heavier, more “professional” equipment stays in the bag because it is cumbersome.  Personally, I like the D50/Nikkor 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G/Nikon sb-400 combination as a walk-around; it makes unwitting subjects less nervous.



In the review of the D300, I pitted it against some of the other models in the Nikon lineup that a likely consumer might be choosing between.  In order to do that with the D50, I think it is important to express where it fits into Nikon’s lineup, versus its contemporary counterpart.  Currently, Nikon has essentially three tiers to their line-up, 1. Professional (D3, D3x, D3s), 2. Pro-sumer (D700, D300s, D300), and 3. Consumer, which can be divided again into a. Advanced (D90) b. Amateur (D5000) and c. Recreational (D3000).  Back in the D50’s days, it would have fit into the Consumer category of Amateur, so that it where I will compare it (ie. Pro was the D2, Pro-S was the D100, Con-Ad was the D70s, and Con-R was the D40).



Features that the D50 has that the D5000 doesn’t.

1. Top LCD screen. (This is significant for me; I don’t want to, and will not unless eventually forced by camera design, set my exposure adjustments through the back LCD screen.  I want the magic to be intimate and not plastered across the billboard on the back of the camera.  Plus, I think that the bigger and brighter screen draws attention to you, when you may want to eliminate your presence from your subject’s awareness.)

2. 1/500 Flash Sync vs. 1/200.

3. EN-EL3(a) vs. smaller scale EN-EL9a battery.

4. CAM 900 with AF-A support vs. CAM 1000 w/o.  (The ability to use Nikon D lenses with their autofocus intact is significant, but getting less so every year.  There are currently lots of G alternatives to the D lenses that are updates, if not outright replacements of the originals.  However, to have to miss out on the key feature of a whole era of Nikon glass is anathema to part of why you buy Nikon in the first place; that is, for access to 50 years of lens making in a single mount.)

Features that the D5000 has over the D50.

1. 12mp CMOS sensor vs. 6mp CCD sensor.

2. ISO 200-3200 in .3EV Stops vs. 200-1600 in 1EV stops.

3. 4 fps vs. 2.5 fps.

4. Much bigger, better LCD screen.

5. Quiet Mode shutter release feature vs. no.

6. Live View vs. no.

7. Positionable LCD screen vs. no.

It is clear that, on paper, the D5000 is the better camera, and might be for most respects.  But, I prefer the ergonomics of the Nikon D50 over its younger brother because they seem to get out of the way faster by being geared more towards the way a photographer using one of the more “professional” bodies behaves when taking pictures.  Also, I like that the D50 tends to “punch up” color saturation in a way that mimics, to a capacity, color transparencies.  Although, the D5000 is the obvious winner in both resolution and dynamic range, both important facets to profitable, modern photography.

For me, the D50 is still a very competent secondary body, and it can be had used for less than $300.  Sadly though, its age is beginning to show, and for me to get the shots that I want for my clients requires more steps and planning (especially in terms of lighting) than it does with my D300.  Also, because I shoot two different types of digital media, problems could potentially emerge (like if one of the camera dies and I am therefore limited only to what the other one offers.)  Nonetheless, I am proud to still be shooting on the D50, and I imagine that I will be until it finally goes kaput!

What can I say, for me, it just works….

All shot with Nikon D300 with Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G.

***2013 Update***
What can I say, I am
still using this camera as a secondary/back-up body. Mostly, this is due to the fact that Nikon has not issued a real replacement for the D300, but I can’t negate the fact that the D50 just works.

That said, now, when I shoot client work, I mostly use the D300. This is not so much because the D300 and D50 are sooo different in terms of their IQ, than it is that the D50’s images are sooo different from those of the D7100, D800, etc. Printing small and shooting at base ISO, the D50 still does a remarkably good job, but shooting images at higher ISOs, ie. in low light, results differently altogether. It should also go without saying that those cameras ultimately resolve better too.

So, should you buy a used D50 in 2013? Answer: depends. If you want to be a professional photographer and are looking to get a used camera to get you started, my answer is: skip to a used D300/D90/D300s. If you are a soccer mom/dad or an otherwise dedicated snap-shooter looking for better pics, my answer is: skip to a new D3200/D5200 or a used D3100/D5100. Who does that leave to buy a used D50? Answer: art student looking for a first DSLR; blogger looking for a cheap DSLR; middle/high school student taking a photography/photo-journalism course; anyone looking to jump into a quality DSLR for under $150 (plus lens).

***2014 Update***

The day the D50 finally died.



13 Responses

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  1. […] Reviews Nikon D300 Nikon D50 Nikon N80 Nikon N65 Nikon N6006 and N8008s Nikon EM Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8G Lens Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 […]

  2. PhotoHop said, on January 3, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    Well I just bought one for 150.00 for a second camera to my D90. I wanted a cheap second camera for use with my older AF-D lenses…this was a fun read. thanks for sharing!

  3. Jason Gray said, on January 7, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    Congrats! That is a great price. I still use mine all the time.

    Thanks for reading.

  4. Stan said, on February 21, 2012 at 2:00 am

    I was looking for this (D50) camera as a second body to my D300, AND a 18-70mm lens as an alternative “stay-on” lens to my 18-200. I picked up a D70s with a “hot pixel” and 18-70 for a song ($150), but intend on flipping it and still getting a D50. I really want something a little more compact and certainly lighter than the D300 as a carry-around and danger camera; especially with the 28-80/f3.3-5.6 attached. Your reviews has convinced me of that even more! Thanks for the help.

  5. Stanley Chen said, on July 14, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    I finally got the D50 I’ve been waiting for on eBay today. Now I just have to drum my fingers anxiously like a new father until it shows up.

  6. Jason Gray said, on July 15, 2012 at 12:03 am

    Congrats Stanley. It is a fantastic camera!

  7. Dmitry said, on December 10, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Sorry to point out but D50 had the original style CCD processor and, as far as I understand, CMOS processors were catching up in quality to CCD…

  8. Jason Gray said, on December 10, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    Hi Dmitry,

    Of course you are right about the CCD, thanks for pointing that out. In terms of the technologies, the switch to CMOS had to do with cost (CCDs were more expensive). Early on, there were some quality issues with the CMOS sensors, but those are long gone.

    Thanks for reading!


  9. Theo said, on January 1, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    The real virtue of the D50 is its tonal quality. There is something magic about the colors and tonal quality that other LATER Nikons just can’t match. The only cameras that come close are the Pentax Pro series like the S3 and S5 but I preferred the colors of the D50 to the S5.

    Sold mine to get a D80 and then gave away the D80 to my brother-in-law to get another D50! One of my favorites.

  10. […] is a sad day, friends. Today, my trusty Nikon D50, pictured above, may have suffered a fatal symptom- the Black Screen of […]

  11. […] Nikon D50 […]

  12. […] that you wanted for the particular type of images you desired to shoot: Casual shooter? Go with the D50. Amateur with aspirations? How about the D70? Pro on a budget? D100. Pro with a genie in the […]

  13. […] a few short years ago, I was rocking my Nikon D50 alongside my more expensive bodies for both personal and professional work, and no one was the […]

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