For about two years now there has been a race going on between Canon, Pentax, Konica Minolta, Olympus and Nikon to produce the first truly mass-market digital SLR. The price point that they have all been trying to beat is £500 for a camera and a lens, and the competing models all have 6 megapixel sensors. Pentax has come close with the *ist DL plus an 18-55mm lens available for £599. Canon has come closer still, pricing the EOS 350D kit at £579, and Konica Minolta’s Dynax 5D can be found for £524.49 if you shop around. However Nikon has finally done it. You can buy a D50 complete with 18-55mm lens for just £474.94, a price which compares well to the current crop of high-end fixed lens cameras, making the D50 a real low-cost alternative to and an ideal entry-level D-SLR. That £474.94 is the High Street price; if you shop around online you can find the same package for as little as £460, although of course the usual caveats about grey imports and long delivery times apply.
The danger when designing a cut-priced SLR is that it may end up with so many cut corners that it lacks the performance and quality that an SLR photographer is looking for. However Nikon has spent the past 50 years building a reputation for first-class SLR camera design, so one hopes that it’s not about to ruin that record by making such a significant camera as the D50 anything less than excellent.
The model I was sent for review was the silver finish version, although I personally think that black looks better. Like the silver finish on the Canon EOS 300D, it looks cheap and plasticky, while the black version looks far more business-like and professional. The D50 is quite heavy for a basic SLR, weighing 620g compared to 565g for the Pentax *ist DL and 540g for the Canon EOS 350D. However the D50 is also quite a bit larger than either of these rival cameras, so ironically it feels lighter, or at least less dense. That’s not to say that the D50 feels cheap, because as soon as you pick it up and handle it, the familiar Nikon aura of solid handling, excellent design and superb build quality becomes apparent. The D50 may be an entry-level model, but it is an entry into the most widely-used professional camera system in the world. Sorry, Canon owners, but you know it’s true.