Seven worry-free scene modes augmented by a serviceable set of manual controls and advanced focusing options make this least-expensive Nikon digital SLR camera a viable alternative to the popular D70s. The family-oriented Nikon D50, which includes a kid-friendly Child mode that brightens colours while retaining accurate skin tones, joins the Pentax *ist DL and the Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D in the 6-megapixel SLR sub-£600 price arena.
Bargain-hunting digital-SLR consumers will find a few features missing from the D70s's array, including a 1/8,000-second top shutter speed, a depth-of-field preview and a second command dial. Also, the kit lens has about 25 per cent less telephoto reach: 27mm to 82.5mm versus 27mm to 105mm (35mm-camera equivalent). But improved image-processing algorithms give the junior Nikon SLR better noise characteristics at ISO settings up to 1600 and offer gentler treatment of highlights. Budding shutterbugs looking for fast operation coupled with useful features such as a robust burst mode, accurate exposure metering and iTTL electronic flash control (both internal and external) will find much to like about this budget digital SLR contender.
Experienced photographers seeking a backup Nikon camera body might be better off spending a few hundred pounds more for the Nikon D70s. The D50's reliance on SD/MMC media instead of CompactFlash requires an investment in two memory card formats, and multiple differences in the control layout, including the absent subcommand dial, a cursor-pad function swap during playback and a lack of backlighting for the control panel, complicate switching back and forth.
Although the bodies of the Nikon D70s and D50 tip the scales within a few dozen grams of each other, the D50's AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18mm-to-55mm f/3.5-to-f/5.6G ED kit lens, furnished without a lens hood, is a featherweight compared to the kit optics of the 18mm-to-70mm D70. It accounts for most of the roughly 280g difference (0.85kg versus 1.13kg) when the duo are each fully loaded with lens, battery and memory card. At 135 by 76 by 104mm, the Nikon D50 is about 8mm narrower and shorter than its pricier stablemate, but roughly the same thickness.
The feel of the D50's moulded plastic body in your hands belies its bargain price. Although it's solid and balanced enough for one-handed shooting, you'll probably hold it like a traditional SLR, supporting the left side of the camera with two fingers curled around the zoom ring while your right hand clasps the grip. With your right index finger poised over the shutter-release button, it's easy to spin the command dial with your thumb.
The control layout can be initially vexing to those who have used other Nikon SLRs. The single command dial's exposure functions change depending on the mode in use, so you'll need to practice switching gears if you're set on shooting with your eye glued to the viewfinder.