D50 or D70?

Since Dru is considering a D50, here is what I wrote a long time ago about the D50.

I read that the D50 is supposed to be more colorful than the the D70. At the time I thought this could be because the default color space is sRGB-IIIa in the D50 and sRGB-III in the D70. This can be set in the custom menu. I set mine to AdobeRGB with the caveat that I have to use sRGB when uploading to the web. In any case, I was wrong. It turned out that Nikon has improved the anti-aliasing filter in front of the CCD. This makes the camera less noisy: according to Popular Photography, the D50 is less noisy than the D70s and the Digital Rebel! One penalty of the new filter is that you can’t do infrared photography with the D50, but since I don’t do IR photography, that’s a non-issue.

Nikon removes the “sub command dial” from the D50? Is that a deal killer? They still have a command dial and an alt key to turn it into a sub command dial—very Canon-like, in my opinion. Maybe if you do bracketing exposures, eyeball depth-of-field, or use gradient ND filters, the D50 seems like too big a compromise. But it takes the same shots as a D70 or a D100 (actually, it performs a little better) and costs less. I can’t say which is best for you.

What would I miss if I had purchased a D50 today instead of a D70 then

In decreasing order of importance:

  • Uncompressed RAW only. I shoot RAW only nowadays because I have a great RAW workflow. This means twice as many shots per card—I don’t often fill up my cards except on events and long hikes, but I appreciate it. It also writes twice as fast to the card since the file is half the size.
  • The BKT button is gone. I use bracketing often. You can do this through the menus in the D70, but I avoid menus. I think every photographer should demand more buttons and dials and less menus in their camera.
  • Front command dial is gone. I like how the D70 dials work the same way as the D2 series. The near identical setup is one reason I got the D70. On the other hand, the main difference in setup is the overloaded ISO, WB, and QUAL buttons which is the main cause of frustration of the D70. In any case, I have explained earlier how this works on the D50.
  • No guide lines in viewfinder. I have a serious trouble knowing what is up. Sort of like many wedding photographers ;-)
  • The Depth of Field button is gone. This is a button on the front that you push on and stops down the aperture so you can eyeball what is in focus. This is not a big deal since I rarely use it—it dims an already dim viewfinder. It’s really useful for gradient ND filters, but I can’t afford them. Instead I bracket a shot (or shoot RAW and push-process two images) and then do digital blending.
  • The shutter speed is a little slower (2.5fps vs 3.0fps). If you shoot JPEG this might be an issue, but isn’t a deal killer by any stretch.
  • There is no AF area selector lock switch in the back. I use this because I’m left eye dominant and my nose sometimes hits the AF selector. I don’t know of anyone else who uses it, most don’t know what it is.

That’s not that much at all. I would have bought a D50 instead of a D70 if I had the choice then.

Other differences:

  • Secure Digital media instead of Compact Flash. It’s a little more expensive but compact consumer digicams use this format: Canon SD, Pentax OptioS, Casio Exilim… and since you should have a compact digicam for when you can’t carry around your D50, this is a plus IMO. Another thing is that since pros have a huge investment in Compact Flash, I think Nikon is encoraging them to spend a little extra on a D70s body instead of a D50. I know nothing about the performance of SD, but one should be careful when reading specs/reviews that they are done with SD cards, and not MMC which is very slow but fits into the same slot.
  • “No Memory Card” warning in the viewfinder of the D50. Okay, I’ll admit that’s pretty cool.
  • The D50 has a better viewfinder eyecup than the D70. I made my own because my cat gnawed off the rubber gasket that counts as a “viewcup” in the D70. I wouldn’t have bothered if I had a D50, but now that I did, I sort of like mine. :-)
  • Better white balance tuning in the D70. I shoot RAW now—in RAW the white balance is just a “suggestion”. Besides, I can’t eyeball a white balance and don’t have the discipline to carry around gray cards.
  • The metering sensor is 420-segment instead of 1005-segment. (And we all know that a bigger number is better right?) Even the 420 is much more than any other vendor I know. To be honest while I love Nikon’s “matrix metering”, I’m not sure the point of so many points. Only Nikon’s engineers know for sure. OTOH, the metering system is “next-gen” on the D50.
  • ISO adjusts in full stops on the D50 instead of 1/3 stops in the D70. The D70 way might be useful for those using ISO the way you would use shutter or aperture (or auto ISO?), but nobody thinks in 1/3 stops for this stuff so it is more cumbersome.
  • Smaller and lighter. It’s in the same ballpark and built to the same quality from the same factory in Singapore. I think that the fact that the front says “D50″ with white print on a black badge instead of “D70″ with black print on a silver badge is probably more significant than this.
  • It cannot take the MS-D70 lithium battery holder nor comes with one (my D70 does). While it doesn’t have nearly as much charge as the EN-EL3(a) batteries that come with the D50/D70(D70s), lithium batteries can last 10 years in storage. The idea is you buy 3 of these at $5 a piece and you have an insurance policy if you forgot to charge your battery. This was the worst $15 dollars I ever spent on my D70 followed closely by the $40 I spent on a spare EN-EL3a—neither of which I ever use.
  • LCD cover is not included in the D50. I use a Hoodman, you can cut up your PDA screen protector (if you don’t have a PDA, find someone who does, they always have a bunch). I did that with my girlfriend’s Casio EX-Z750.
  • Other small differences Rockwell noticed: No ability in the D50 to set the lowest shutter speed used with flash in P(rogram) and A(perture) modes (never used, not sure what the point is); no 1/8000 shutter speed in the D50 (never happened unless my camera was set totally wrong); no custom function for setting the exposure without the compensation button being pressed (never tried it, never will); no custom function to change the diameter of center weighting area (I only use matrix or spot metering. I don’t know anyone who really cares what the diameter of their spot meter is); no custom function for changing bracketing order (I tried this once but I set it back. Too many shots were coming out underexposed because I changed my mind or forgot to press enough times), no custom function to cause your AF selector to wrap AF points (who uses this?); no custom function to turn off the “use flash” in the viewfinder (why would someone need this? Maybe the lightning bolt is too pagan?).

Differences because I own a D70, not a D70s:

  • D50 has a better autofocus system (how?). It also has a AF-A (automatic) focusing mode which means it automatically chooses between AF-S (single) and AF-C (continuos) focusing—this sounds pretty useful but I don’t have it so I can’t comment. (In continuous focusing: the focus tracks when subject moves closer or moves to another AF point and also motion is extrapolated so focusing “predicts” the future distance of the object.)
  • The spot metering circle is larger. What is the importance of this? Probably none it’s just because the metering is different.
  • It has a larger LCD screen. The .2 inch difference is not noticeable, but maybe I’m just rationalizing. The resolution is the same, the only difference is size.
  • It comes with an EN-EL3 battery like the D70 instead of the EN-EL3a battery like the D70s. Is 7% extra battery life worth mentioning?

Insert Obligatory: “You’ll spend more on your lenses” caveat here.

For those of you considering the D50 and need another opinion: everything you need to know about the D50.

Update 2005-12-08: I added some commentary based on comparisons I read in DPReview and on <a href="Ken Rockwell’s site. I didn’t mention the commander flash mode and the AF illuminator button because the comments below cover it.

14 thoughts on “D50 or D70?

  1. Pingback: The Woodwork » Blog Archive » That eternal question: SLR vs. bridge?

  2. Andrew

    The D50 also doesn’t have the D70’s commander mode, so it cannot direct the creative lighting system without an SB800.

    Reply
  3. tychay Post author

    Oh good one. I forgot that one.

    For reference, commander mode allows you to use the pop-up flash on the D70 to direct an off-camera flash. It does this by firing a series of preflashes before the shutter opens. Some pretty cool shots can be obtained by removing the (separately purchased and non too cheap) SB-800 flash, popping up your D70 flash, and handholding or placing the SB-800 off axis.

    Currently, I use commander mode when I do product shots (one less light to set up), but it is much more versatile than that. The solution for a D50 user in that case is to own two SB-800s.

    Reply
  4. tychay Post author

    This discussion points out another feature difference I overlooked: the LCD illuminator button on the D70 is missing on the D50. I use this sometimes when shooting in low light, because readings like the ISO setting are not available through the viewfinder—bad Nikon, bad! I’d put it above the viewfinder in usefulness to me.

    As for where I would put the built in commander flash in usefulness, I’d put it above the LCD illuminator since I already have it. Given the cost of a SB-800 over theSB-600 this sounds like a sizable difference. but it has only one advantage: shots involving a single off-camera flash.

    Also, for multi-flash setups, Nikon has the SU-800 which when paired with SB-600 is, in many ways, superior to wasting your money on SB-800’s.

    Reply
  5. albert

    “The BKT button is gone. I use bracketing often. You can do this through the menus in the D70, but I avoid menus. I think every photographer should demand more buttons and dials and less menus in their camera.”

    I think you mean D50, the D70 _has_ the bkt button and the D50 does not.

    Reply
  6. Pingback: The Woodwork » Blog Archive » Feeding the Canon trolls

  7. Patrick

    I went for the D50, about 6 months ago now, and haven’t regretted it once. My biggest reason for grabbing the D50? It was $100 less for a kit complete with a 70-300mm lens (the one that usually went with the D70s kits) than the D70s body.

    I’ve got a fair amount of use out of the 70-300mm lens – I’ve taken to just throwing it on and going for walks, and getting some nice shots.

    I’ll sacrifice a small amount of convenience for that lens.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: The Woodwork » Blog Archive » Death of the Bridge?

  9. Pingback: The Woodwork » Blog Archive » Considering an entry level camera

  10. Pingback: The Woodwork » Blog Archive » D70 sequel

  11. Pingback: RedOpinion.com

  12. Pingback: The Woodwork » Blog Archive » Lossy RAW compression

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>