The D50 is Nikon's answer to the rapidly growing mid-price SLR (single lens reflex) digicam market, offering 6.1Mp (megapixel) resolution and a 3X zoom lens for £649. As such, it's up against some tough competition from the likes of Canon's EOS-350D, not to mention the forthcoming Pentax *istDL and Konica Minolta Dynax 5D.
The 6.1Mp CCD sensor delivers images with 3,008x2,000 pixels and sufficient detail to make great-looking A4 prints. This may be a lower resolution than some compact cameras can provide but, as with other digital SLRs, the sensor is physically larger than those in consumer models, producing less noise even at higher sensitivities.
As with most digital SLRs, though, the D50's sensor is smaller than a frame of 35mm film, so all lenses effectively have their focal aspect multiplied by 1.5 times. The optionally bundled 18-55mm f3.5~5.6 zoom lens therefore has an effective range of 27-82.5mm.
Nikon has followed Pentax's lead by abandoning CompactFlash in favour of smaller SD memory cards - on the D50, anyway. You must supply your own. There's a choice of recording images at three different Jpeg levels or RAW mode; a RAW plus Jpeg option is also offered, but the Jpeg is recorded using the lowest quality. Best-quality Jpegs measure 2.8MB each.
Available in black or silver, the D50 is unmistakably a Nikon camera. It looks and feels like a solid piece of kit that won't let you down. At 133x102x76mm, it's noticeably smaller than the older D70, but still larger and heavier than Canon's 350D and the Pentax *istDL. Camera size and shape are a matter of personal preference, of course, and some will prefer the tiny Canon and Pentax, while others will find the D50 a bit more comfortable to hold.
The usual Program, Auto, Manual, Shutter and Aperture priority modes are present, along with six scene presets. Exposures range from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds and bulb, while sensitivity runs between 200 and 1,600 ISO. There's a 2in screen, pop-up flash, hotshoe and impressive flash synchronisation up to 1/500. Continuous shooting is a relatively modest 2.5fps, but you can keep firing for ages.
The D50 inherits the D70's virtually instant startup time and is ready for action straight away. The lens, while budget in design, is quieter than the one bundled with the 350D; sadly it, too, has a rotating front element, which is annoying for users of polarising filters.
Quiet is the new loud
Image quality is excellent, with accurate exposures and pleasing colours produced by the camera in automatic modes. There's no 100 ISO mode but noise is virtually absent at 200 ISO, while resolving power is equal to other 6Mp digital SLRs. It may not be a big step forward from the D70 but the bottom line is that the Nikon D50 feels good to use and takes great photos.
Ultimately the D50's biggest problem is the Canon 350D. Feature-wise they're similar but the 350D sports two extra megapixels for only £50 more on the street. But while the 350D records more detail, there's few people who'll regularly exploit its 8Mp - after all, you're looking at making larger-than-A4 prints or tight cropping.
So while it's hard not to be influenced by the numbers, the decision for most people should be more down to which looks and feels better. Whichever you plump for, you won't be disappointed.