Nikon Z50 vs D7500: Should You Buy a DSLR or Go Mirrorless?

It seems that mirrorless cameras like the Nikon Z50 are the future of the medium, but DSLRs will still create amazing images, and some of them are dropping in price.

If you’ve been looking at buying a new camera in the past year or two, you’ve almost certainly been confronted with the dilemma: mirrorless or DSLR? And if you’ve been considering the Nikon D7500, the introduction of the Nikon Z50 should bring that issue to the forefront. They’re both excellent cameras, each with its own advantages. There are two main grounds that should decide the issue for you: camera performance, and the viability of the overall system. Let’s start with performance.

The Basics

Before going on, here’s a look at the basic specs of the two cameras, with the major differences highlighted in green where one camera has an obvious advantage.

 Nikon Z50Nikon D7500
Price (body)
$856.95$796.95
Price With Kit Lens
$997 with 16-50mm VR$1,096.95
Lens MountZ-MountF-Mount
Viewfinder Type2.36 million dot OLED electronic viewfinderOptical Viewfinder (pentaprism)
Viewfinder Coverage100% Frame
1.02x Magnification
100% Frame
.94x Magnification
Body MaterialMagnesium AlloyPlastic Monocoque Body
Dust/Weather Sealed BodyYesYes
Sensor Resolution20.9 Megapixel20.9 Megapixel
Optical Low Pass Filter
(Reduces sharpness, prevents moire)
?NO
ISO Range100 - 51200100 - 51200
Total AF Points20951
AF Light Level Range-2 to +19 EV-3 to +19 EV
Autofocus Fine Tuning
Adjustments
Not NecessaryYES
Shutter Speed Range1/4000th - 30 sec.
+bulb
1/8000th - 30 sec.
+bulb
Max Frame Rate11 fps8 fps
Max RAW Burst
(buffer size)
?50 shots 14-bit compressed
Max JPG Burst
(fine, Large)
?100
Flash Sync Speed1/200th sec.1/250th sec.
Wireless Flash With
Built-in Commander
YesYes
Nikon RADIO Wireless Flash Compatible?YES
Auto FP Flash Mode
(High Speed Sync)
YesYes
Media Slots1 SDXC (UHS-I)1 SDXC (UHS-I)
Quick Access User Modes
(Saved U1, U2 programs)
YESYES
LCD Size3.2"
1,040,000 dots
3.2"
922,000 dots
LCD ArticulatedYESYES
LCD TouchscreenYESYES
BluetoothYES YES
Built-in WiFiYES
(2.4, 5GHz)
YES
Body Weight395g (no battery)
450g (with battery & card)
640g (no battery)
720g (with battery)
Body Size126.5mm x 93.5mm x 60mm135.5mm x 104mm
x 72.5mm
Battery Life300 Shots CIPA Standards
(EN-EL25 Battery)
950 Shots
CIPA Standards
Full Sensor 4K YesNo
Video Resolutions3,840 x 2,160 (4K: 30, 25, 24 fps)
1920 x 1080 (120, 60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps)
1280 x 720 (60, 50 fps)
640 x 424 (30, 25 fps)
3,840 x 2,160 (4K: 30, 25, 24 fps)
1920 x 1080 (60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps)
1280 x 720 (60, 50 fps)
640 x 424 (30, 25 fps)
Headphone JackNoYES
ConnectivityUSB 2.0USB 2.0

The Major Differences

There are two major differences between the cameras that first need to be considered: the lens mount, and the viewfinder.

The “mirrorless” part of the discussion comes from the lack of mirror between the lens and the sensor which normally reflects an image up to the (optical) viewfinder in an SLR1the “R” in SLR stands for “Reflex”, for the reflection of the image up to the viewfinder from a mirror. The mirror allows you to look directly through the lens to compose and focus, but then has to flip up out of the way when you take a picture to allow light to reach the sensor. All of those extra moving parts slow down the camera, introduce vibrations, and increase the risk of camera-failure.

Images by Nikon

With a mirrorless camera like the Nikon Z 50, that mirror is gone. Instead, the light passes through the lens and directly onto the sensor, and the sensor feeds the image to an electronic viewfinder (rather than an optical viewfinder). This also means that the light falling on the sensor is used to focus the lens (while a DSLR uses light reflected from the mirror to focus, and an assumption of how that light will be focused on the sensor when the mirror moves out of the way when the picture is taken).

The electronic viewfinder can give you a very good preview of what your exposure will look like, and it can provide more information than a standard viewfinder, but it does require more battery power.2For more information about the advantages of each type of viewfinder, see my article on the subject, here. Since a mirrorless camera has to constantly power an LCD or OLED monitor, their battery life is often rated at about 1/3rd that of a DSLR. In real use, though, you could get thousands of shots on a single charge if you shot them quickly; the problem comes when you are shooting those shots over a long period of time. If you shoot a lot of long events, you’ll want a battery grip or a couple of spare batteries.

The Nikon Z50 uses the new Nikon Z mount, which is significantly larger than the F mount, and as it is new, there are far fewer lenses made for it (though older lenses can be attached with a Nikon adapter). The larger mount provides the potential for better data transmission between the body and lens and allows for larger maximum apertures (like f/1.2, or even f/0.95) that allow more light to get to the sensor.

It also means that there are only a handful of lenses available for Nikon Z mount right now, and only two specifically designed for DX sensors (though FX lenses can also be used).

The Other Differences

Images by Nikon

Size & Body

Probably the most obvious difference between the cameras will be in their size and weight. Although the Nikon Z50 has a partial magnesium alloy body (like the old D7200) and only looks a bit smaller than the D7500, it weighs about HALF as much (54%, to be precise). This makes the Z50 an excellent camera for travelers, hikers, and street photographers who want to be discreet and lightweight.

Comarison of the magnesium inner frames of the Nikon Z50 and Nikon D7500 cameras
Images by Nikon This illustration shows the magnesium skeleton of the Nikon Z50, which is much more similar to the Nikon D500 than the plastic body of the D7500. The back plate of the Z50 is not metal.

There are also numerous differences in the controls as a result. The Z50 does not have a camera-top LCD screen, and the mode dial has been moved to the right of the viewfinder. However, the dial does retain the U1 and U2 user modes.

Images courtesy of Nikon Back controls the of the Nikon Z50 and D7500

Autofocus

I’ve had a limited amount of time to shoot with the Nikon Z50, but the conditions were good for testing autofocus (ie, poor lighting), and I was favorably impressed with how it performed, though I was not allowed to insert an SD card or keep any images.

Nikon AF Point diagram
Matthew Gore | Light And Matter The Nikon D7500 AF points.

The Nikon Z50 has more than four times the number of autofocus points as the D7500, and they cover a larger portion of the viewfinder3Keep in mind that not all AF points are created equal: many of the D7500’s points are cross-type, which means that they’ll focus on horizontal OR vertical lines (non cross-type points will focus on one or the other). See my video on cross-type points for more info. Of course, even if we count each of the D7500’s as two points, the Z50 has twice as many.. Another advantage of a mirrorless autofocus system is that implementation of eye-detection and subject tracking is much easier4Currently, the Canon 90D is the only DSLR with eye detection, as far as I know. Face and eye-AF is available on the Z50 (but not the D7500), dramatically improving your chances of getting sharp focus on your subject’s eyes.

Nikon Z50 Eye AF Simulation
Matthew Gore | Light And Matter The electronic viewfinder of the Nikon Z50 will track the eye or face of a subject, showing the focus point with a yellow box overlay (simulated here; actually shot on Sony a6600). The triangle next to the yellow box indicates that focus can be switched to the other eye, if desired.

Nikon’s eye detection AF is implemented somewhat differently than Sony’s; in a Sony camera, when you focus the camera (either using the back button or by pressing the shutter button halfway down), the camera starts detecting and tracking the eyes of your subject. On the Nikon, though, as you’re looking through the viewfinder, the camera begins tracking the eyes, but if you press the shutter button halfway, it locks focus at that particular point in the frame, whether or not the eye remains there.

That said, Nikon users will be familiar with the fast, accurate AF performance of their DSLRs like the D7500. Focus is reliable and unquestionably suitable for professional use, even without eye detection.

Speed For Action Photography

While the Z50 is small, it packs a punch, shooting 11 frames per second with autofocus tracking (matching the Sony a6400), besting the action-oriented D7500 by 3 frames per second.

Matthew Gore | Light And Matter

That said, the shutter speed range of the Z50 only extends to 1/4000th second, while the D7500 reaches 1/8000th. Only the most dedicated action photographers will care, though; even 1/1000th sec. is enough to stop the action in most sports. The minor-league baseball shots above were all captured at 1/2000th of a second (with a Sony camera).

Image Quality for Portraits and Landscapes

Image Courtesy of Nikon

Both cameras house a 20.9 megapixel sensor, so RAW shooters should get virtually identical image quality and color. However, the sensors are not identical; the Z50′s sensor includes phase-detection autofocus pixels, and it is unclear whether the Nikon Z50′s sensor uses an optical low-pass filter (the D7500’s does not). If so, the images produced by the D7500 may be nominally sharper, when photographing from a tripod and using impeccable technique. A Nikon representative was unable to tell me whether the Z50 uses the OLPF, so we’ll have to wait for a tear-down, but if there is a difference, it will be minimal.

Video

First: I’m a photographer, and hardly shoot video at all. I recommend that you look elsewhere for a full review if video is one of your main concerns for these cameras. That said…

However, the Nikon Z50 has some very clear advantages when it comes to video. While the Z50 shoots 4K video with the full sensor, the D7500 crops to the central 8 megapixels of the frame, making it very difficult to shoot wide angle.

Nikon D500 4K video area crop
Matthew Gore | Light And Matter 4K Recording Area: The central rectangle is the only recording area available when shooting at 4K resolution with the Nikon D7500 (the 1.3x area is available with some cameras). The Nikon Z50 uses the full frame to record 4K.

Perhaps more importantly, though, is that the D7500 has seriously limited autofocus functionality when shooting video. The D7500 relies on the slow, old system of contrast detection (which requires the sensor to focus slowly to the focal plane, then focus past it, and then return to the point with the best contrast; this is a separate system from the phase detection AF system that it uses for photography, which is excellent, but relies on the mirror to operate.

The Z 50, on the other hand, uses the same phase detection autofocus system to focus photographs and video, which is fast and reliable.

The Overall Systems

Currently, the Nikon Z system is only about a year old, and although older lenses are compatible with adapters, that’s a hassle that not everyone wants to deal with (even if there really is no performance loss with the adapter, which is doubtful), and the lens choices for Nikon Z are still limited.

Image Courtesy of Nikon The Nikon Z system as it stood a few months ago, with only two bodies and a few lenses. The backdrop is made of F-mount lenses.

However, the Nikon Z system is the company’s future. Though they say that they’ll continue to develop DSLRs along side their mirrorless cameras, it’s clear that their focus will be on the Z system, and the Z-mount offers much more room for development. As I’ve said before, the days of DSLRs are limited (and sales of DSLRs have dropped dramatically over the past few years).

Images Courtesy of Nikon While both cameras have articulated rear monitors, only that of the Z50 can flip down far enough to be forward-facing.

Conclusion

If you can do it, this is the time to make the switch to mirrorless.

However, make sure that the lenses exist to meet your needs in the Z-system, or that adapted lenses will be sufficient for you. If you need long telephoto lenses to shoot birds, for example, there are no native Z-lenses available. In my experience with the FTZ adapter, the lenses focus just as quickly as native, but I haven’t tested super telephotos… and the FTZ adapter also doesn’t work very well with Sigma and Tamron lenses, which cuts down your options. To wrap up:

Get the Nikon Z50 if you want:

  • the smallest, lightest camera, with equally good image quality
  • a blazing fast frame rate for shooting sports
  • to get the latest features, such as eye-detection focusing
  • a viewfinder preview of your exposure, and a larger viewfinder image
  • to future-proof your purchase and get into Nikon’s newest camera system
  • If you don’t mind using adapted lenses for those that are not yet made in Z-mount
  • Support my work by ordering from Amazon, Adorama, or B&H : $856.95

Get the Nikon D7500 if:

  • you’re already heavily invested in Nikon F-mount bodies or lenses and you don’t want to use them with an adapter, or want the option to buy less expensive older lenses
  • you absolutely need a to use shutterspeeds that are higher than 1/4000th second
  • you prefer the comfort of a larger camera
  • you prefer an optical viewfinder
  • you need the longest battery life possible
  • Support my work by ordering from Amazon, Adorama, or B&H : $796.95

Still not sure? Just ask!

If you’re having trouble deciding which one to get, feel free to ask me any further questions that you might have in the comment section below. I generally try to respond within a few hours (when I’m not traveling or on a shoot of my own).


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Rudi Zimmerer
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Rudi Zimmerer

I have Nikon the D7200 and Nikon d3400 for the best picture quality (DxO rating 87 and 86)… One camera is too less, changing lenses when traveling needs too long time… I use the d3400 for my Tokina 12-24mm and my D7200 for the Tamron 18-400mm. For traveling is this the best combination… The Z50 has a worse sensor (only 20.900 Mpixel) and bad battery life and even only one SD-card … It never can compete with the D7200… For super-fast focusing and video is the Z50 much better… Honesty, my focus system is good enough for bird photography… I can prove that. Today the new cameras have a super-fast focus system with a bad sensor… That they call progress! The future will show that 50% of the consumer are going to the mirrorless system… and not so the professional… If you can’t carry 200 grams more, even the Sonny full-frame cameras with lenses and battery are heavier than DSLR, I feel very sorry for you!!!

Xavier Coutant
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Xavier Coutant

Very interesting review.
I got a Nikon D7000 and intended to update to a Nikon D7500. Until the Z50 was announced. I’m in doubt : as I’m esssentially into landscape photography (daytime and astro), zoo photography and sports (badminton and gymnastics – my kids :-)), will the Z50 be a wise choice? And the biggest question: will the adapter allow me to use my Sigma and Tamon lenses?
I guess that I will have to rent a Z50 in order to find out.

Tord 55
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Tord 55

I’d jump for the Z50 if it had IBIS, but it doesn’t, and hardly any S lens have VR, so who do you think would like to switch?! Hardly studio guys, as they either got a D850, or Z7 already, The amateur wants sharp images and good anti-shake, and here you are offering nothing, or at most, in some years time, a handful of lenses?!

The E-M5 III is like I had wanted the Z50 to be but I am a Nikon user so not an option.

Sales are falling badly for Canon (was it 56% down in profits?!), lets hope Nikon does a bit better.

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