Z50 Nikon Camera

Nikon Z50 Mirrorless Camera

Introduction to the Z50 Mirrorless Camera from Nikon

This book is a beginners guide to the Nikon Z50 and digital photography. The information below is also applicable to the more recent "retro" style Nikon Z fc. The Z fc has some eye detection autofocus advantages over the Z50 and includes a fast USB Type C port for downloading images. The two cameras are very much alike. This text will help all Nikon mirrorless camera users maximize their experience and productivity. There is a lot here for beginners or practiced users. I also own the Nikon Z 7II. But the Z50 captures my imagination more completely. Little brother always tries harder!

I have written several Kindle books about digital photography and taught digital photography classes for seven years. I have been a Nikon user for 45-years. Several years ago purchased the mirrorless Nikon Z50 with which I am smitten. This book describes my techniques for obtaining outstanding images from the Z50. Unless noted, all images and illustrations in this text were created by the author who updated this book in January 2023.

The author has a BS in Secondary Education from Central Connecticut State University and an MS in Recreation Administration with graduate minors in Business Administration and Public Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For four years, he produced audio-visual programs for the National Park Service and was assigned to photograph Mount Rushmore National Memorial’s boundary. The author retired from the U. S. Department of the Interior. He has received local awards for photography.

When you seek additional or more in-depth technical information, see my recent Kindle book here: Modern Digital Photography and visit my website: www.edruthphoto.com. The Nikon Z50 PDF Manual is available: here.

Although Nikon Z lenses made for the Z50 are excellent, I only buy Z lenses designed for the larger (and heavier) Z6, Z7, Z8, and Z9 series as I also own the Z 7II. The Z 7II is a "full frame" or FX mirrorless camera having a larger 36 x 24mm sensor.

Nikon designed their FX Z lenses to fit all Z camera bodies both DX "half frame" and FX...very smart! Much more about DX vs. FX camera sensors below. Consider, for a modest cost, the Z50 or Z fc allows the user access to modern, technically superior, color aberration and flair corrected, very sharp professional lenses!

The photograph below was taken on Veterans Day 2022 in Bakersfield, California using the Z50 with an exceptional Nikon Z 14-30mm S f/4 zoom lens (at 25mm, 1/800s, f/7.1, ISO 100). This camera (13.9 oz) and lens (17.1 oz) provide a light weight and quite versatile "walking around" or travel combination. By comparison, the Z7II (20 oz), is noticeably heavier especially when using the highly recommended Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S lens (28.4 oz). Alternatively, the Z 50mm S (14.7 oz) or Z 85mm S (16.6 oz) are wonderfully sharp and much lighter travel companions.

The Nikon Z50, what do we have here?

The Z50 lacks a few options found in cameras made for professional sports photographers but has many professional and semi-pro camera features. Additionally, any shortcomings the Z50 may have, if compared to cameras costing three or more times as much, can be overcome with skill and digital imaging savvy. The camera can shoot at 11 frames per second, has 209 focus points, an electronically controlled vertical-travel focal-plane mechanical shutter, electronic front-curtain shutter, or Auto option. The 3.2-inch LCD has 1,040,000 dots. The EVF or electronic viewfinder (2360k dots) is 100% accurate. The Z50 is built around a magnesium alloy frame. Focusing is achieved with "On Sensor Phase Detection." This is advanced gear.

A few things I suggest for your camera. Keep it in a temperature-controlled environment. Hot car interiors are dangerous in more ways than one. Use a sturdy strap but be cautious about that strap being caught on anything. Use Nikon approved batteries. Change lenses in a dust-controlled environment. I keep my camera in a sturdy backpack when moving about and using it intermittently in an urban area. If you read my Kindle book about street photography, you will understand why.

Above, Z50 using Z 50mm S (1320/s, f/2.5, ISO 100).

The Z50 is easy to hold, has conveniently located controls, and is smaller and lighter than many older Nikon cameras. Why? Because the Z50 has no mirror, prism, and associated hardware to provide a through-the-lens view. Also, the Z50 has a smaller “half-frame” or APS-C sensor. While full-frame cameras have a 24 x 36mm sensor, the Z50 has a 15.6 x 23.5mm sensor with 3712 x 5568 pixels or roughly 20.7 megapixels. Half-frame sensors are also called “cropped” sensors. This sensor size is very common. Most of the digital cameras sold on planet Earth have an APS-C cropped sensor.

There is certainly no need to pawn your older Nikon lenses when switching to the Z system. In fact, the precise focus of the Z system "rejuvenates" lenses such as the popular Nikon (F-mount) 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6, zoom lens due to both the precise focus and an advanced sensor. The optional FTZ (F To Z mount) adapter will allow most lenses that fit the Nikon F-mount to be used on the mirrorless Z mount. Full lens functionality is retained. You may be able to find the Z50 body and the FTZ adapter sold together as a kit, saving you a few dollars. The FTZ can be used on any Nikon Z mount camera and comes with a somewhat useless integrated ¼”-20 tripod mount (FTZ II without). I have found the FTZ adapter to be of very high quality.

The image below was taken using the Nikon Z50 and a Nikon 28-300mm lens with a FTZ adapter (at 160mm, 164/s, f/7.1, ISO 200). Notice, highlights are just starting to blow past white point on the pedals at the upper right.

The Z50 camera produces an excellent “native” 12.4 x 18.6-inch enlargement using the industry standard 300 pixels per inch. However, software such as Topaz Studio’s Gigapixel AI can be used to enlarge an image to twice its size with only a trifling loss of detail. In my personal experience, a photo of 18 x 24 inches (50% larger) is excellent and well within the Z50’s capability. A frame for an image of this size, without matting, is easy to find online. If matting, which greatly enhances an image, is desired, do yourself a favor and take your print to a professional framing shop. The Z50’s sensor produces exceptional clarity and color rendering, which also aids any enlargement need. Thankfully, it has no light scattering anti-aliasing (AA) filter, a vestigial handicap from the early years of digital imaging.

All APS-C sensor cameras have advantages and disadvantages when compared to full-frame cameras. But the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Some APS-C sensors do not perform as well in low light as full-frame sensors, but the Nikon mirrorless sensors are an exception. The Z series sensor wiring is at the back of the “photodiode substrate” rather than in front. This “Back-side Illumination” or BSI manufacturing process increases the sensor’s light-gathering power. Additionally, the Z50 uses Nikon’s incredibly bitchen Expeed 6 processor (the Z 7II has two!).

As mentioned above, the Z50 (DX) camera is smaller and lighter than full-frame (FX) Nikon cameras. The cropped sensor also extends the field of view (FOV) of telephoto lenses quite nicely. Because the APS-C sensor is half the full-frame sensor’s size, we multiply any lens used with an APS-C sensor by 1.5 to find the lens’ FOV. So, a lens that has a FOV of 300mm on a full-frame camera has the FOV of 450mm on a half-frame sensor (300 x 1.5 = 450). Nikon DX lenses are made specifically for Nikon cropped sensors cameras. They need only produce an image circle large enough to overlap the smaller sensor. So, the lens can be smaller than required for a full-frame camera. Lenses for the Z50 should be less expensive and lighter, in theory.

A smaller sensor’s disadvantage is that wide-angle lenses have a reduced FOV due to the 1.5 crop factor. When using an APS-C sensor, the popular 35mm lens has a FOV of a 52mm lens, “in 35mm,” as we say. The Z 20mm lens has a FOV of 30mm, not too bad really. The Z 50mm's FOV will be 75mm, quite suitable for portraits! A Nikon APS-C camera was not my first choice for landscape images until the Nikon Z 14-30mm S f/4 lens was made available. Now the only limit is your imagination.

The Z50’s smaller file size and lighter weight make it ideal for panorama shooting. Mount the camera on a tripod, turn it to a “portrait” position, that is, vertical, take three, four, or more shots while panning a landscape, being certain to level the tripod and overlap each image by 15%. You can “stitch” this panorama together in Photoshop effortlessly (File > Automate > Photomerge). Panorama photography greatly extends the versatility of any lens. “Vantage number three!’ said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake.”

It is important to realize that the APS-C sensor has an aspect ratio of 2:3 (or 3:2 if you wish), just as a full-frame sensor. This is significant because the 2:3 aspect ratio is similar to the Golden Ratio, which has quite a history. Other common aspect ratios are 1:1, 4:5, 5:7, or 16:9. But we can’t forget 1:1.37 as in the movies of the 1940s and ’50s. It’s a wonderful life.

Where am I going with all this? I didn’t buy a half-frame sensor to use with DX half-frame lenses. I purchased a half-frame camera to use with my full-frame lenses. Well, specifically, those lenses that work well with a half-frame sensor, such as the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5- 5.6 variable or the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 lens. Why would I do such a thing? The Z50 turns my Nikon 28-300mm lens into a lens with a FOV of 42-450mm. My Sigma 24-35mm now has a FOV of 36-52mm. The Z50 greatly extends the versatility of my lenses. (OK, in truth, I could crop down an image from my Z 7II to the Z50’s size. So, we are not really gaining any lens advantage here. But we adapt to the reality we are in and the Z50 provides a reality of its own design. It’s a show on Broadway or a view from Rockefeller Center, your choice).

Why buy a Z50 DX camera to obtain an APS-C FOV at 20.7 megapixels? Six reasons: to learn more about mirrorless technology without going all in, for a backup camera at events or weddings, lower price, less weight, smaller size, and an interesting technical challenge to squeeze every bit of image perfection from the already excellent sensor. In fact, the information here may well be applied to any Nikon mirrorless camera. While the first five are self-explanatory, the “challenge” is less obvious. I have challenged myself to learn to use the Z50 in such a way that I wring every last bit of image quality from its smaller but exceptional sensor. How do I do this? Read on! This is why I authored the book.

Note: The Z50’s controls are easily understood. In Aperture Priority mode, the Main Command dial (the one at the top right of the camera) controls the aperture. Press the ISO or Exposure Compensation buttons adjacent to the Shutter Button and turn the Main Command dial to make incremental changes to your exposure. The Main Menu and i Menu are navigated using the front “Multi selector” toggle switch. Almost all option selections must be confirmed by pushing the OK button at the center of the toggle.

The Z50 camera body holds no secrets. A description of every feature provides us with no unique insights. It’s a Nikon mirrorless camera. More than that, it’s a scientific instrument that records light. To toss this into your luggage as if it were a bottle of shampoo or a pair of shoes is beyond shameful. Respect this, ounce for ounce it is one of the most remarkable achievements of humankind.

Incrementally, an inquisitive user unravels every nuance of this tool. The mind of this camera can be tinkered with endlessly. We call this mind the menu. It is exhaustive. This book describes many of the menu options we must keep in mind to advance ourselves in the craft. These descriptions include the path to the options written in italics. The menu button is even labeled menu, isn’t that nice. Menu headings are: Playback, Photo Shooting, Movie Shooting, Custom Settings, Setup, Retouch, and My Menu (a place to easily stash your favorite options). Each section has an associated icon. Once you become accustomed to navigating and using the menu, you will conclude that the intellects behind its design should receive a Nobel Prize. Congratulations, you own a Nikon Z50. You have arrived.

Now a listing of things you must master to pass this course. They are all listed in the table of contents so you can look them easily as needed.

1. Know what your subject of interest is

This seems obvious, doesn’t it? Well, buckle-up because it isn’t as obvious as you may think. Imagine yourself on a whale-watching boat. It’s a sunny day, perfect for photographers. You look up transfixed by the seagulls calling and flying overhead. You are glad you bought a 77mm Hoya protective filter for your Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, but a deckhand advises you not to gaze skyward slack jawed. As if by magic, an immense Humpback whale pops to the surface and lingers, studying the humans with great curiosity. The passengers back up, trying to capture the entire whale with their cell phones. Not you. You get amazing shots of the whale’s eyes with your Z50. The eyes are what this whale is all about. The eyes define the whale, offer a link to humanity, reveal its soul. That’s your subject of interest. You have done well!

A photograph without an obvious subject of interest is confusing at best and ridiculous at worst. But what if I photograph the water droplets from a fountain shining in the sun? Right, everyone with a brain can see it’s a photograph of water droplets from a fountain shining in the sun. But the underbelly of a mule at the Grand Canyon will leave us bewildered...hopefully.

2. The Mode dial

It’s that big knob to the right of the flash housing. I often set my Z50 to “A” or Aperture Priority Mode on the Mode dial. I find “A” Mode convenient, as I am always studying the effect of a chosen f-number on my camera’s depth of field (DoF) to be certain that the aperture I have selected will best reveal and communicate my subject of interest. DoF is fancy talk for the distance in front of the lens where stuff is in focus. “A” Mode is not fully manual, but it is manual enough to provide me with the versatility I need to ensure a quality result. In “A” Mode, the camera selects a shutter speed to match my chosen aperture and ISO. Aperture and shutter speed are like two sides of a scale. As one goes up, the other must go down. Absent this, the exposure would be very bad every time. By the way, when you move away from automatic to aperture priority mode or shutter priority mode, a whole bunch of additional options needed by professional photographers appears in the menu. “M” or Manual Mode is best for all instances where you need complete control over exposure. It is excellent for black and white photography and cityscapes or street photography at night.

The Mode dial has two powerful options that, I am ashamed to say, I have not yet used. These are U1 and U2. Make about any adjustment in the menu, except the more complicated stiff such as bracketing or interval shooting, go to Setup Menu (Wrench icon), Save user settings, then toggle right to U1 or U2 and hit OK. Your settings are saved to this mode selection. To reset, go to the nearby Reset user settings. This can save quite a bit of time and allows you to experiment without having to redo every entry.

3. Choose the proper f-stop

The whale surfaces a mere 40 feet from the boat right in front of you. Now you are truly eye to eye. You extend the zoom range to 300mm (even though the effective FOV is 450mm, the lens’ maximum focal length remains 300mm). What is your chosen f-number? Well, your Nikon 28-300mm lens has a sharpness “sweet spot” of f/7.1 to f/8, but at 40 feet, that f-number only gives you a DoF of from 39.2 to 40.9 feet or 1.89 feet, perhaps a bit narrow.

You select f/16. Now the DoF at 40 feet is from 38.2 to 41.98 feet or 3.78 feet deep. That’s much better. As the f-number goes up, the shutter speed goes down, and now your shutter speed is 1/40s. This is way too slow. You press the menu button and select the Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon) and toggle down to find “ISO sensitivity settings.” ISO is simply a measurement of the sensor’s sensitivity to light. Turning up ISO is like turning up the volume of a radio. But there is no free lunch here. At some point, increasing ISO adds a distracting amount of grain (actually noise as in “signal to noise ratio”) to an image. You boost the ISO to 400. That’s quite safe, especially on a sunny day. Alternatively, and more quickly, press the ISO button near the shutter button and turn the Command dial with your thumb to set ISO.

Now your shutter speed is about 1/200s, perhaps a bit more. But at f/16, diffraction begins to occur within the aperture. Smaller apertures simply diffract light in every lens. It makes an image just a tiny bit fuzzy. But, fortunately, your Z50 has a remedy for this in the menu’s Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon) aptly named “Diffraction compensation” that is useful for JPEG (not Raw) shooters using f-numbers greater than f/11. Be certain Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon), Diffraction compensation is ON. Regardless, diffraction is detectable but modest at f/16 anyway. But f/16 to f/18 is probably your best option here. More complex than you imagined, isn’t it? Yes, well, everything is that way these days. The point is that aperture value, as expressed in the f-numbers available in a lens, must be chosen wisely by the photographer if the goal is to obtain the sharpest image and best composition. Generally, a smaller f-number such as f/1.4 or f/1.8 creates a narrower DoF, which is useful for isolating a subject of interest from the background but has a very constricted DoF compared to f/16 or f/22.

It doesn’t take serious photography students long to realize that out of focus areas in an image require as much attention as sharply focused areas. A pleasing bokeh (visually pleasing background) greatly enhances any image, and a well-chosen DoF emphasizes our subject of interest nicely.

Traditional whole f-stops (aperture settings) are f/1, f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6. f/8. f/11, f/16, f/22, and f/32 (OK, sometimes f/64! If you can imagine). Obviously, few lenses have such a complete range of possible apertures, but modern lenses allow more choices between f-numbers such as f/7.1. By the way, focal length (N) / aperture diameter (D) = f-number or N/D = f. If we want a 600mm telephoto lens with a f-number of f/4 (which is quite a bit of light-gathering power for such a lens), we can do the math to find how large the aperture must be, 600/4 = 150mm or 5.9 inches. Quite large. In fact, you can buy such a lens for $12,300. It is 6.45 x 17 inches large and weighs 8.4 pounds. No wonder.

Aperture selection comes much more easily with practice. Over time, we get to know apertures like old friends. In photography, we say, “The first 5000 shots are your most difficult.” Think, always think of the appropriate settings to produce the most compelling capture.

Back on board, you take one photo of the whale’s eye and go below deck to take a nap. No! Not a chance. You have got to “work the scene.” Change that f-number. Is f/22 better? Is the shutter speed too slow at f/22? Should the ISO be higher? How about f/8? Is what that guy said about DoF in the book really true? Maybe I am more skilled than he is! Try as many different settings as your imagination provides! Well, try a dozen anyway. But stay with that whale. Zoom in and zoom out a bit. Take 200 to 300 images. No problem, your 64-gigabyte standard SD SanDisk 90/MBs memory card will hold them all. Sort out the good, bad, and ugly back home.

4. Pay attention!

Now, you have grown a bit tired of photographing the whale’s eye. You want the entire whale. So, you zoom down to 28mm. Not bad really, you can capture the whale now as the boat has drifted to port a bit. But now you have other things to consider—two, in particular, foreground and background. The foreground is an issue. There is a guy in front of you who keeps leaning into your scene. You say, “Excuse me, sir, your arm is extending into my image.” He says, “Oh, how inconsiderate of me. I’ll just jump overboard.” Problem solved. But in the background, another whale watching boat has appeared beyond your whale. No issue really, a small ship to ship missile should discourage such rude behavior. Budding photographers’ greatest composition mistake is failing to examine the foreground, background, and four corners of an image to detect distractions that take away from a viewer’s understanding or appreciation of the subject of interest—the picture’s meaning. In wildland firefighting we learned the mantra, “Look up, look down, look all around,” good advice. Worst case scenario, a photo I took with a palm tree in the background growing out of someone’s head. Remember to give a runner a space to run into, an escaped balloon a sky to rise in, and a toddler on the lose a world to discover.

5. Fill the frame

OK. You charter your own whale watching boat after scheduling a modeling appointment with a whale named Moby. This greatly eases foreground and background issues. You might imagine getting that boat in just the right position would be a snap now, but it isn’t as easy as you may imagine. Fortunately, there are calm seas, but Moby is shy. After a while, you drift in closer to Moby. Excellent. Now Moby “fills the frame.” In the viewfinder, you frame a modest amount of ocean for Moby to “swim into” for the sake of proper composition but trim behind Moby more closely. You are using all the power of your camera’s sensor to capture the subject of interest. “That’s the ticket, laddie!” With a cropped sensor, additional post-production cropping is very counterproductive. Fill that frame whenever possible and appropriate. Get close, then closer. So, what if a bit of the subject spills beyond the edge of the frame. Ain’t no law against it. FILL THE FRAME! However, this does not mean that we must exclude MEANINGFUL elements of composition that help define or emphasize our subject of interest.

6. Hold that camera steady!

This is one skill you have not mastered. While snapping happily away at Moby, your camera is about as free of movement as a cat at a dog show. Holding the camera steady is a thing every photographer must think about on an ongoing basis. Pull in those elbows, hold both the camera AND lens in a comfortable but firm position, study the location of your illuminated focus point(s) in the eyepiece. Steady, steady, press the shutter button with a practiced subtlety. The Nikon 28-300mm has built-in image stabilization, which is excellent, but it won’t work for you if you don’t work with it. Given enough time, I always think and pause a bit just before pressing the shutter.

My problem is "follow-through." I am too quick to draw the camera away from my subject after taking a shot. I do use Custom Setting Menu (pencil icon), d Shooting/display d1 CL mode shooting speed, 3 fps. This is continuous low at 3 frames per second. I found continuous high to be too fast for my taste. This setting aids me with keeping my attention on the complete process. Anticipation of movement IS movement. Exhale, slow down! The i menu holds this and many other shutter release options plus that Self-timer delay you have been searching for. Look for the icon displaying a small square shutter and the number 3. Best they could come up with, I guess.

By the way, a tripod is best practice for photography. You don’t see them as often today as in the past. People are always on “the go.” Perhaps many photographers have bad memories of poorly conceived tripods that endanger equipment and perform poorly. This must discourage their use. But a sturdy tripod and ball head from Manfrotto will restore your faith in the genuine advantages of quality equipment. I use the "3 Legged Thing" bracket to good effect.

7. Understand this!

Some real challenges ahead but we will move slowly! You must become familiar with navigating through the main Menu and using the LCD’s “i” Menu options to maximize this camera’s potential. The i menu is a greatly abbreviated main Menu and a great time saver. It can be accessed by pushing the i button at the front of the camera next to the Menu button. The i Menu can be used in touch mode or by using the camera’s toggle switch. I prefer the toggle as the touch screen seems to be best used when the camera is on a tripod rather than subject to unnoticed touching when handheld. The more you learn about menu selections, the more functionality you can draw from the camera. Much more below.

The Z50 is no lightweight. It has many possibilities. The idea that the Z50 is a “beginners” camera is laughable in the extreme unless you stick with the Scene Mode options. Probably the most challenging choices involve focus point and focus mode selections. It is easy to confuse focus point options with autofocus mode options. You select focus points to direct the camera’s attention to a smaller or larger area within your scene. You choose focus modes to control how the lens will focus using the focus points you have chosen.

In the text below, autofocus mode options are underlined to help distinguish them from focus point options.

8. Focus points.

You can find your Z50’s six focus point options in the i menu or main menu within the Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon) at “AF-area mode.” AF-area mode includes Pinpoint AF, Single-Point AF, Wide-area AF (S), Wide-area AF (L), Auto-area AF, and Dynamic-area AF.

1. Pinpoint AF mode promises a precise focus point. It is useful for macro photography. Pinpoint can be noticeably slower than other options AF-S Single AF must be selected as a autofocus mode for Pinpoint AF to be used).

2. Single-point AF is fundamental. All you need to focus any camera is one focus point (correctly placed). I frequently use Single-point AF for fine art, street photography, event photography, weddings, and portraiture. Almost everything I shoot is not moving or moving very slowly. I like the control over composition one focus point gives me because I can aim my camera at anything within my scene, press the shutter halfway to lock in focus, recompose the image, and shoot. When I use one focus point, I can toggle the focus point anywhere in the scene using the multi selector. If I have a scene with a number of objects near and far, I can move my focus point over any object to obtain more complete focus control as needed. I can use the touch screen for this easily… Setup Menu (Wrench icon), Touch controls, enable/disable.

3. According to Nikon, Wide-area AF (S) is, “for photographing stationary or moving subjects; moving subjects that are hard to keep framed using a single point. Use this for areas wider than Single-Point AF.” Understand that if you are using Wide-area AF(S) for a small subject what you think is in focus and what is actually in focus may well be two different things.

4. Wide-area AF (L) is used for “capturing stationary or moving subjects; moving subjects that are hard to keep framed using a single point. Use this for areas wider than Wide-Area AF (S).” Think landscapes here.

5. Auto-area AF has automatic face recognition and tracking. Animal detection is also a menu option. Auto-area AF will follow your model’s eyes, within reason. Choose options under Custom Settings Menu (Pencil icon) “a Autofocus” “a2 Auto-area AF face/eye detection,” to activate a feature.

6. Dynamic-area AF is useful for sports photographers and other larger moving subjects. Either AF mode auto-switch or Continuous AF must be selected as a focus mode for Dynamic-area AF to be visible for selection.

We don’t have to search for our favorite focus options in the menu. On the Z50, we can also use the LED touchscreen i Menu. The i touch screen menu is activated by pushing the i button to the left of the menu button at the camera’s front. This menu has twelve boxes that allow us to select options from among twelve categories. This is a very convenient touchscreen menu solution. Modify the i Menu choices to make them work for you. Open the main menu, and under the Custom Shooting Menu (Pencil Icon), choose “f Controls,” “f1 Customize i Menu.” Now you can alter the i Menu to hold those options you want to have literally at your fingertips. I include both AF-Area Mode options and Auto Focus options in my custom i Menu. In the i Menu, AF-Area Mode uses icons for each of the five focus point options mentioned above. Note: you cannot find Dynamic-area AF in any menu unless you have first selected AF-C Continuous AF.

In all focus area options with a tracking feature, you may need to follow a moving subject with the camera to better lock in focus.

To lock focus point and exposure when pushing the shutter halfway, you must activate the option in Custom Settings Menu (Pencil icon) “a Autofocus” “a4 AF activation” ON. Also, under the Custom Settings Menu (Pencil icon) under “a” Autofocus, a6 “Focus point options,” you will find an option to turn

ON focus point illumination. This illuminates focus points the camera is using in the viewfinder or LED screen. The focus point or points turn from red to green as the camera’s focus locks on. I like this a lot. Precisely choosing your focus point is essential in fine art photography and, most of the time, in all other photography. To center a focus point in Live View, hit OK in the center of the toggle switch.

9. Focus and focus area modes

Find Focus mode in: Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon), Focus mode. Focus modes control an electric motor or “servo” in your (modern) lens that moves lens elements back and forth to obtain a focus. Nikon reports that the Z series focus system utilizes “phase detect autofocus placed directly on the imaging sensor and contrast detect autofocus (which is used when the camera deems it necessary to switch).” In the Z series cameras, AF-S is for Single Servo. Here the lens’ servo motor stops over the selected focus area and will not search further for a focus point. In AF-C or Continuous Servo, the lens will continue to find a point of focus as your subject of interest moves.

There are four choices. AF-A AF mode auto-switch, AF-S Single AF, AF-C Continuous AF, and MF Manual focus. For most of my slow-moving photography venues, I use the Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon) Focus Mode, AF-S Single AF so that my lens does not continuously search for the best focus but stays where I locate it.

1. AF-A AF mode auto-switch calls upon the camera to discern stationary and moving objects and switch as necessary to follow the action.

2. AF-S Single AF will not hunt but stay where it is at when you push the shutter button halfway.

3. AF-C Continuous AF will help you track a moving subject continuously once the shutter is pressed halfway.

4. Lastly, MF Manual focus activates “Focus peaking” if turned on in the menu: Custom Setting Menu (Pencil icon), Shooting/display, d( Peeking highlights. Manual focus is always an option, and there are guides in the viewfinder or LED to aid this process. Don’t forget, if you choose to use manual focus, you must also select M manual focusing on the lens. Some, older cameras may be damaged if both camera and lens are not in manual focusing mode.

The i Menu does not use icons for focus mode choices, but abbreviations, AF-A, AF-S, AF-C, and MF. Auto Focus options can also be selected by pushing the small button to the lens mount’s lower right while simultaneously turning the rear or “Main Command Dial.” But this is a feat of dexterity.

Focus points can’t work alone. Each needs a focusing mode. I may use Single Point AF for a slow-moving subject of interest with “Focus mode” “AF-S Continuous AF,” so the lens continues to focus as my subject moves. If I find that the lens “hunts” too much for a focus, I switch back to AF-S Single AF. For fast-moving things or sports photography, I use “AF-area mode” “Dynamic-area AF” and “Focus mode” “AF-C Continuous AF.”

The small but very functional “AE-L/AF-L” button in the front of the camera will lock in the camera’s exposure and focus in the selected area of your scene. This allows you to take multiple shots using your choice of focus and exposure in a scene. This works very well when using Spot or Center-Weighted metering. Look for these metering options in the i Menu box displaying undiscernible icons within brackets [ ]. I use Center-weighted metering for portraits and for scenes where the lighting does not favor or flatter my subject of interest. Spot metering is good for very challenging lighting environments. Perhaps use it just below the eye for portraits. See Exposure Modes in the Contents menu for more information.

Within the Custom Setting Menu (Pencil icon), we find at d9 “Peaking highlights.” This manual focus option provides an outline around objects within the focus range to aid your decision making. I find this useful. By the way, nearby at d8 is the “Framing grid display.” This places “rule of thirds” lines in the eyepiece or LED to remind us of some basic composition ideas. I also use these lines to help maintain a level shot. Lastly, if you are at your wit’s end, you can reset everything by selecting the “Reset photo shooting menu” option under the Photo Shooting Menu. It’s right on top of this menu, which should tell us something.

If you scroll all the way up on the left side of the menu to the triangle in a box icon (Playback Menu), you will find the “Image Review” option. The default setting provides a review of every photograph you have taken in the LCD or EVF. I find this very annoying and select OFF. Also, under “Playback display options,” I select “Exposure info,” “RGB histogram,” and “Shooting data.” Digital imagery is about information. I like to have a lot of information available, and the histogram is indispensable. Much more about histograms below.

10. Even MORE stuff, you must know

There are a few more menu options that you must master. These are Image quality, ISO, Set Picture Control, Color space, and White balance. Fortunately, these are easy to find in the menu under the Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon), just scroll down, down, and down to find them.

“Image quality” allows you to choose from among Raw and JPEG (Fine, Normal, Basic) options. If I were a JPEG shooter, I would select “JPEG fine” and “Image Size” “Large” to provide the greatest resolution. All JPEG images are compressed, but large, fine JPEGs are compressed the least. You can always reduce an image’s size in post-production and save it as a compressed JPEG to use online or for publications such as this Kindle book. You may have read that resaving a JPEG image degrades image quality. I have not found this to be a problem when resizing a JPEG image, perhaps to 1700 pixels wide, and saving at 90% compression to create a 900Kb (900 kilobits or about 1 Megabyte) file for an email. An image of -that size looks really nice on any PC monitor and is easy to send as an email attachment.

In post-production, I often save images as a TIFF (.tif) file. This retains the original size of the image unless compression options are chosen. Photographers and graphic artists universally recognize Adobe Corporation’s TIFF (Tagged Image File Format). If I use TIFF, I save the file in 16-bit (color depth) mode. More bit depth results in far more tonal detail throughout an image including highlights and shadows. This is why we generally set he Z50 to the available 14-bit depth rather than 12-bit depth except, in some circumstances, in Movie Mode. All JPEGs are output as 8-bit files. While a JPEG image has the same dynamic range as the Raw file, some tonal data is sacrificed in the JPEG to produce a smaller file size. This is why we may experience banding when adjusting a JPEG image in post-production. Tones may fragment to keep up with our handiwork. See: Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon), NEF (RAW) recording, 14-bit.

Sometimes photographers mistake dynamic range for bit depth. An image may range from black point to white point. You cannot obtain greater dynamic range than this. There is no blacker Black or whiter White to venture into. But bit depth allows for a greater range of transitions within the dynamic range. Think of an 8-bit image as a piano keyboard with 256 keys whereas a 16-bit keyboard has 65536 keys.

I shoot Raw, but sometimes I select Raw and JPEG to look at what the camera has done. JPEG images are finished products, while Raw files are not finished products at all. A Nikon Raw file has a .NEF file extension (Nikon Electronic Format). Raw isn’t even an image file but a collection of sensor data. I process all my images individually in DXO PhotoLab 6 Elite, Adobe Camera Raw 15, and Photoshop (Camera Raw 15 comes with a Photoshop CC subscription). So, I do post-production on every image I decide to keep.

Investigate the menu settings of your Z50 to be certain they are set correctly and productively. When I teach digital photography to a group, I often find that some of my students have inadvertently chosen settings that degrade image quality. If you are not certain what a menu option is all about, press the almost invisible question mark at the LED screen’s right-center. This will provide some information.

11. White balance in a nutshell

Find White Balance options at: Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon), White Balance. White balance is found in the i menu as well. Your camera must be “told” the color of the light that dominates your scene. A proper white balance makes white objects white. That is, free of any color casts. If white is truly white in an image, odds are that the other colors will also be correctly portrayed. Under the Photo Shooting Menu, “White balance,” the Z50 menus allow the selection of AUTO 0 (reduce warm colors), AUTO 1 (Keep overall atmosphere), or AUTO 2 (Keep warm lighting colors). You may also select from among the Z50’s white balance presets. These are Direct Sunlight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, Fluorescent, or flash. For example, Incandescent light (2700K) brings with it a warm color cast. Choosing a white balance of Incandescent eliminates this cast from your scene. But, of course, you now have a somewhat emotionless image. But this is better than explaining to a disappointed bride exactly why her dress isn’t white in your wedding photographs.

Lord William Kelvin (1824 – 1907) described and defined “color temperature.” A blacksmith may heat a horseshoe to work the soft hot metal on an anvil. It glows a dull red. It has a color temperature of about 2000K. So, 2000K is both the horseshoe’s color temperature and Kelvin temperature. Could we illuminate an entire photographic studio using horseshoes glowing at 2000K? Impractical but, yes, we could. Would that cast a 2000K reddish hue onto every object in our scene that would be most apparent on white things? Yes. If we set our camera’s white balance to 2000K, would our white items now look white?

Yes, they would. Is that how a camera’s white balance works? Yes, it is.

The Kelvin scale starts at absolute zero and proceeds into infinity. A blue infinity. Some blue giant stars have a Kelvin temperature of 40,000K. As color temperature increases beyond 10000K, changes in blue hue become much less obvious. Things can only get so blue...to human eyes. For our purposes, the color temperature scale ranges from amber 1000K to blue 10,000K (i menu K). Artificial lighting and outdoor lighting also vary from amber to white (5500K - 6500K) and blue 8000K plus. As I shoot Raw, I set my white balance to the Z50’s AUTO2 “Keep warm lighting colors.” But this may not work for you at a wedding.

White Balance presets can also be used. In the i menu use the toggle to White Balance then toggle right to PRE1. PRE1 tells us the custom white balance is at Preset1. Toggle down to one of six available presets (d-1, d-2, etc.). Let’s say you chose d-4, press OK, this brings you back to PRE but now it says PRE4, hold OK, a box appears, set box over your target or gray card, press OK, the camera will tell you “Data Acquired.” Excellent, now or at some future time going to PRE, pressing OK and toggling back to d-4, will set the White Balance using your target. Don’t even think about setting a White Balance preset with the camera plugged into its power source. It will not work.

With the Z50, you can also manually choose a Kelvin color temperature between 2500K and 10000K. Shade may tint a subject of interest with 8000K bluishness, while a northern deep blue sky may cast a 10000K hue, and 10000K is our uppermost limit in photography for all practical purposes.

White balance can be changed effortlessly in a Raw file. Not so with a JPEG, here, the white balance is tied to the file more tightly than in a Raw file. A Raw file’s white balance setting is called a “sidecar” because it is a sidecar. White balance is a distinct attachment to a Raw file, not mixed in, as with a JPEG file. I can make the Raw file warmer (towards amber) or cooler (towards blue) without sacrificing image quality. Such is not the case with a JPEG file where the white balance is integrated into the file. Of course, JPEG images can be successfully edited, but Raw data allows greater latitude for change without compromising an image’s tonal values. Less tonal information

is lost when altering a Raw file than is the case with a JPEG file. In either case, overzealous post-production can sacrifice tones in an image and cause it to “posterize,” that is, lose so much tonal information that the picture looks more like a poster than a continuous tone image.

The essence of white balance is that we humans feel color temperatures at an emotional level. Amber is warm and friendly. Your coffeecake is amber. Nice, isn’t it? Blue is cool and formal, aloof really, almost condescending. Imagine the queen sentencing you to a beheading wearing a light blue gown. Some portrait photographers move the white balance toward amber a smidgen so that their customers see the warm human being they know they are. So, after all this, white balance is ultimately either a post-production choice or a pox for the unschooled. But if you want white things to be white in your scene, you must apply the correct white balance in the camera or use Photoshop’s Raw Plugin (using the conveniently located eyedropper). Leave the white balance setting on AUTO if you are a forgetful JPEG shooter; else, pick it to fit your scene. About 85% of undesirable color casts in an image can be attributed to an incorrect white balance setting. So, get with it!

12. Picture Control

See: Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon), Set Picture Control. Set Picture Control allows the user to choose from among nine presets that determine how the camera processes images for output. Auto seems to favor those who like softer portraits. Standard is what I have always used. It is “well balanced.” Neutral is a minimalist’s choice that anticipates post-production shenanigans. Vivid satisfies the Vincent van Gogh in all of us, emphasizing “contrast and saturation.” Monochrome is an adequate black and white alternative for those who are not inclined toward post-production. Portrait provides more life-like skin tones while promising “a bit more pop in color.” Landscape adds saturation but not as much as Vivid. Flat preserves tonal details in anticipation of post-production. Creative offers a host of imaginative alterations that you may find entertaining if sentenced to solitary.

Picture Control is a powerful tool that can be used for Video, Raw (Only if choosing NX Studio), TIFF (NX Studio output), and JPEG images. In fact, Nikon shooters are always using Picture Control, like it or not. But this is not limiting, a picture must start somewhere, and, in a Nikon, it starts with picture Control. Picture Control is a particular blessing for JPEG shooters who do not want to adjust images in post-production. Adjustments such as Sharpening, Contrast, Clarity, and Saturation made in Picture Control do not alter a JPEG image, they ARE the JPEG image, no degradation of JPEG tones is experienced as may be the case after a JPEG is “baked” and stored in your memory card then brought into a post-production program. In fact, if you download Nikon’s free Picture Control Utility 2, you can create custom profiles that can be loaded into the Manage Picture Control option and chosen in Set Picture Control.

For Raw shooters, Picture Control will not be a part of the image file unless saved from within Nikon’s free NX Studio program to a JPEG or TIFF file. This largely defeats the purpose for Raw shooters. However, we can still use DxO or Photoshop to complete processing of JPEG and TIFF images taken using whatever Picture Control adjustments suit us. This is really somewhat amazing. If you shoot Raw and use Nikon Transfer 2 and NX Studio, you can export the image as a TIFF file at 16-bits. A TIFF file at 16-bits has all the functionality of a Photoshop (.psd) file.

The combination of Picture Control, Nikon Transfer, and NX Studio is quite powerful and probably overlooked by most JPEG shooters. An example, I use Picture Control Utility 2 to create a custom Picture Control I intend to use for a wedding at the pier in Santa Monica. I save this to my Nikon Z50’s Set Picture Control, I select this custom Picture Control in Set Picture Control at the shoot, I shoot in Raw not JPEG, I take 300 photographs, download them using Nikon Transfer 2, DX Studio opens automatically, I can make changes as needed even batch process, I export my images as TIFF, JPEG or both. In Photoshop I batch process to resize and apply an output color space. I save as JPEG for the customer. I do not resize and don’t need to change the color space or resize when I save a TIFF for my printer in Pasadena, done. Given time and experience, I can automate much of the detail work in my images. I must still think carefully about exposure, white balance, noise issues, ISO, focus, exposure composition, and composition at the shoot but much of my after-camera work is done.

Of all presets, Standard is default and probably your best choice to begin experimenting. Picture Control allows the user to alter sharpness, clarity, contrast, saturation, hue, brightness, and color filter effects for any shooting environment. Picture Control changes affect video, Raw (see above), and JPEG images produced by the camera. The extent to which you may select a range of options for any imaginable need is truly amazing, and you should explore these possibilities.

When I shoot JPEG, or more likely, NEF (RAW) + JPEG Fine, I often use the “Standard” Picture Control with the “Sharpness” option set to +1. I also increase Clarity by +1 (quite conservative). I do not like a Picture Control of Monochrome as a substitute for black and white photography. For black and white images, I start with a color image and adjust red, green, yellow, cyan, blue, and magenta saturation in Photoshop’s Black and White adjustment layer. This provides much greater creative freedom and control.

Manage Picture Control allows us to save individually crafted options and name these. You can also assign a space in the i menu to Set Picture Control, Settings Menu (Pencil icon) f1: Customize i Menu. Toggle down to set individual options within the chosen preset. For JPEG shooters, Picture Control options are hardwired into the file. For Raw shooters, download NX studio (the latest version of NX) to process and save NEF Raw files including Picture Control options and all image options such as Vignetting control. Other Raw interpreters (these are all proprietary) may not recognize Picture Control selections. NX allows the user to alter Picture Control variables. Picture Control is a must for JPEG shooters and a powerful tool for Raw shooters. Nikon is best at rendering intents for Nikon output…I assume. Anyway, Picture Control is a powerful tool. Open NX studio by typing NX in the Windows app search bar.

13. Color space

Find Color space options at: Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon), Color space. The Color space option allows you to use Adobe RGB or sRGB as your image “color space.” A color space is a subset of the ten-million colors the human eye can see. A camera simply isn’t there yet. I use Adobe RGB as a “working” color space because it is 50% larger than the sRGB color space. When performing post-production, more is always better. So, I use Adobe RGB (or sometimes ProPhoto RGB) in 16-bit Mode for Photoshop adjustments but select sRGB as an output color space for inexpensive printers and the Internet. sRGB is the color space of the Internet, but some browsers have become Adobe RGB aware. However, almost all “consumer” monitors use the sRGB color space. Many less than 100% of that space. If I send an Adobe RGB color space file to an inexpensive printer, some colors may print “out of gamut,” and the print will look bad. If you always shoot JPEG and always print to a $100 printer or send images to the Internet, sRGB is fine. Photo stock agencies may require Adobe RGB or sRGB as the color space of images submitted for sale. Photoshop > Edit > Convert to Profile solves all my color space issues. I can always convert (down-sample really) an Adobe RGB image to the sRGB color space, but the reverse is simply deception. We cannot add color to a photograph by converting it to a larger color space.

Note: A color space is not endemic to any particular file type. A JPEG may be in the sRGB, Adobe RGB, or any one of a myriad of color spaces. To save any file for print, media, or publication after post-production without being certain that it has an appropriate color space assigned is counterproductive. Not owning a professional monitor that is properly color calibrated anticipates less than professional results.

Above is illustrated the sRGB and Adobe RGB color spaces set against a background of all the pretty colors we can see. By combination of possibilities, Adobe RGB is twice the size of sRGB. I have largely forsaken sRGB and use Adobe RGB for about everything. However, sRGB is still the designated color space for the Internet. "D65" refers to the D65 (6500K) illuminant. An illuminant is a source of illumination. Many studios use lighting within the range of this illuminant. This is basically daylight.

RGB illustration credit: (sRGB & Adobe RGB image, wikimedia.org creative commons Author: Mbearnstein37 December 3, 2013. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_Commons).

14. Image Size and JPEG

Not everyone shoots Raw. Many photographers need a JPEG image that is as near to perfect as can be had right out of the camera. And who can blame them? If you are a professional photographer, time is money, and you need to move from one assignment to another to eat! With practice, skill, and an in-depth understanding of menu options it is possible to output an exceptional JPEG image from this camera. The hardest part for some may be keeping the horizon horizontal. While viewing the lower right of the LCD, tap the almost invisible DISP option to scroll to an artificial horizon. The Retouch Menu has a Straighten, Red-Eye Correction, and more for your convenience. SCN (Scene Modes) may also aid this effort.

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) is a compressed file format. All .jpg image files are compressed to some degree. Photoshop offers ten JPEG compression settings (1 to 10) with 10 being almost “lossless.” The Z50, and many other cameras, offer JPEG fine, JPEG normal, and JPEG basic for compression options with fine being the most lossless. What happens as “loss” occurs? Both fine detail and tonal transitions are compromised, and compression “artifacts” or nasty blotches appear. Tonal transitions refer to “continuous tone” image areas, such as the sky. Using basic compression, these may start to display banding and posterization, especially if altered using post-production software. Bear in mind that a finished JPEG’s size is increased somewhat as an image becomes increasingly complex or is sharpened.

In the Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon), Image quality and Image size are found all options related to JPEG quality or JPEG size. The Z50 offers, in pixel dimensions, DX 24 x 16mm (3:2 image aspect ratio) sizes of: Large 5568 x 3712, Medium 4176 x 2784, Small 2784 x 1856. In 16 x 16mm (1:1) sizes of: Large 3712 x 3712, Medium 2784 x 2784, Small 1856 x 1856. In 24x14mm (16:9) sizes of: Large 5568 x 3128, Medium 4176 x 2344, Small 2784 x 1560.

To bring some reality to these numbers, let’s take a JPEG Small image at an aspect ratio of 3:2 and a compression quality setting of normal. We cannot get smaller than this using the Z50 camera. Our 2784 x 1560 image in basic compression is still 2784 x 1560 pixels, of course, but the image size is about two megabytes (1 MB = 1000KB). Basic compression has not changed pixel dimensions only how JPEG “decoding” interprets output for an image of these pixel dimensions when highly compressed.

Overall, I was very impressed with how the images looked on my computer monitor. The detail was wonderful. A 11x17 inch print (an unfair test really) turned out to be quite good given 2MB but only after I added some rather experienced touches in Camera Raw and Photoshop Layers. As my inkjet is rather ordinary, I suspect a more impressive (8 to 12 ink) printer given a file commiserate with JPEG Large Fine would be stelar. When it comes to printing an image that will be scrutinized for quality, more information is always better.

Some professionals select an option in Image Quality that saves an image to both Raw and JPEG. This gives them an image to show the customer immediately, on a laptop for example, and a Raw file for perfecting a print as time permits.

The Z50 allows Raw + fine, normal, or basic to be saved to memory. A Large Fine JPEG will print well but Raw is far more forgiving of alteration. In truth, the majority of photographers send their images to be professionally printed and a Large Fine JPEG is quite adequate for that. Some print professionals will color correct and otherwise enhance as needed for their customers. But it is best to learn basic post-production and send a high-quality file out for printing. The Z50’s 20.9-megapixel sensor doesn’t limit my thinking at all. I could print a billboard if asked. But I am being a tad too clever here. Viewing distance greatly effects visual perceptions of resolution.

In sum, the Z50 has image size and compression options to suit every imaginable need.

All JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) or .jpg images are compressed using high, normal, or basic compression within a digital camera. Interestingly enough, even if we shoot Raw, a small JPEG “thumbnail” is attached to the image. This is what you see if you preview a Raw file in the camera.

All JPEG images are 8-bit images having 8-bit “color depth.” In our computers, 8-bits (or one byte) offers 256 color options, (2 x 2 x2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x2) = 256. In a JPEG image, 8-bits of information are used to describe shades of color in each of the three Red, Green, and Blue color channels. This is also called 24-bit as 8 x 3 = 24. The math goes like this: Red (256 x 256 x 256) x Green (256 x 256 x 256) x Blue (256 x 256 x 256) or 16 million colors (actually 16777216). We call this True Color.

In the past digital cameras offered TIFF files as an output but this is not very common anymore. Instead, photographers save their output as a Raw file and convert that to a TIFF file to use in post-production. A TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) or .tif image file is much different, a .tif image may be saved in 8-bit or 16-bit format. Almost every photographer chooses 16-bits here. A 16-bit .tif file uses 16-bits to describe shades of color within each of the three Red, Green, and Blue color channels. Using 16 bits per color channel produces 281,474,976,710,656 possible colors, sometimes called 48-bit depth as 16 x 3 = 48.

We may wish to output a .tif file as a .jpg file. Using Photoshop, we resize the image and choose from twelve JPEG compression options with 12 being the least (or “lossless”) amount of compression. The more an image is compressed, the more tonal information (dynamic range from black point to white point) is lost.

NOW, human beings can only distinguish about 1,000,000 colors, so what’s the big deal with 16-bit color?

We really have to suspend belief here. Color depth is actually color power. The more bit depth we have available in post-production, the more we can alter an image without losing color tones. Think of bit depth as rubber bands that hold tonal (color) information. A 16-bit rubber band is vastly longer than an 8-bit rubber band. In post-production we “stretch” these rubber bands. For example, we may change contrast, white balance, or color saturation. All of these assault the tonal range of an image. The greater our bit depth (the longer our rubber band), the less tonal information we lose as we proceed with our “improvements” in post-production.

15. Exposure and ISO

In the Z50 we adjust aperture and shutter speed using the Command and Sub-command dials as applicable to a particular Mode. For example, in Shutter priority “S” Mode, we use a dial to select the default shutter speed only.

Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are the three sides of the “Exposure Triangle.” Exposure is very important. An inadequate exposure detracts from an image in two ways. First, it causes a photograph to be too bright or too dark. Second, it results in a poorly defined black point or a poorly defined white point, or both. This causes an image to look like it was taken in a fog. A properly exposed image ranges from the black point, shadows, to ¾ tones, midpoint (50% brightness), to ¼ tones, highlights, and finally, to the white point. A splash of black and a dab of white serves as a visual calibration for our color perception. Look at magazine covers. They almost all have black and white space along with color. By the way, for an image I intend to print, I set Photoshop’s Levels adjustment layer’s “Output Levels” to 250 (from 255) to prevent white areas from displaying a sheen if illuminated from the side.

Your camera tries its best in poor lighting, but the result may be disappointing…garbage in garbage out, as they say. Light is power for digital cameras. The sensor is like a solar panel. But instead of producing consumer electricity, it produces current that is measured and converted into RGB colors. A sensor supplies tonal information, less light, less information, more light, more in formation. A sensor produces ¾ of its tonal information from midtones to white point.

The camera evaluates an exposure based upon the assumption that the chosen subject of interest reflects 18% of the light striking it. There is a small button next to almost every digital camera’s shutter button. It is typically labeled +/-. This button is the exposure compensation button. Press it and turn the front command dial towards plus (+) for a bright subject of interest, such as a snowman, and toward minus (-) for a light-absorbing subject of interest such as a steam locomotive or a whale (Much more in the Exposure Compensation chapter).

After taking an image in difficult lighting, reference the Z50’s built-in histogram to evaluate your exposure. Press the playback button, then toggle down using the multi-selector, and a luminosity and RGB (red channel, green channel, and blue channel) histograms appear. Typically, I reference the luminosity (brightness) histogram most often. A luminosity histogram compensates for perceptions of brightness. For example, we see green as brighter than blue, even when both receive an equal measure of light. So, let’s say we have a red thing, a green something, and a blue item on stage, all similarly illuminated. If the total luminance (brightness perception) is defined as 1, then red = 0.3, green = 0.59, and blue = 0.11.

If a histogram does not stretch from the black point on the left to the white point on the right, something is rotten in Denmark. Occasionally, poor quality ambient light, such as an overcast sky or fog, may create a scene devoid of contrast. A change of position relative to dominant light may help or add a flash or other artificial lighting (incident light) or hope to remedy shortcomings in post-production. You may decide to keep things just as they are…whatever best communicates your story.

ISO settings are found in the menu within the Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon), ISO sensitivity settings. I choose an ISO to match my shooting environment. If I want a faster shutter speed to be certain that I am stopping motion in any scene, I increase the ISO to 200 or 400 without giving it too much thought. Grain does increase as ISO is increased, but the Z50 handles this effortlessly at 200 or 400 ISO. And the brighter a scene, the less grain is recorded as ISO is increased. Z50 ISO options include individual selections ranging from ISO 100 to ISO 51200, Hi 1, and Hi 2. Auto provides a very useful alternative. I select “Auto ISO sensitivity control” but tamper with such enthusiasm by selecting “Maximum sensitivity,” which I set to ISO 800 for routine work.

The above image shot using the Z50 and Z 85mm f/1.8 S lens (1/20s, f/4.5, ISO 800). Yes, you can shoot at 1/20s or even 1/15s. Concentration & technique = success. By the way, ISO 800 is a slice of pie for the Z50. I use DxO PhotoLab Elite in post-production and the DeepPRIME XD noise function is state of the art.

When I shoot, I glance through the information at the bottom of the viewfinder to check the ISO. If I don’t like or need what Auto ISO has chosen, I select the ISO I want using the ISO button or i Menu, very efficient. But I have found that Auto ISO makes some very good ISO choices. Specifically, it keeps my shutter speed reasonably fast. A higher shutter speed aids image quality by minimizing the effect of camera motion.

I try to keep my shutter speed up around 1/250s or faster, I love 1/500s or more, but this isn’t always possible. True, many of my lenses have image stabilization, but I want every advantage, not just one. ISO 100 is the “native” ISO, a strange way of saying it’s best to use this, but hey if you NEED more shutter speed, turn ISO up and worry about introducing grain later. The fact that the Z50 does not have VR (vibration reduction) built-in has never hindered me. If I want VR for that camera, I buy a lens with VR.

But this brings up a point of contention, at or above 1/500s (perhaps lower), vibration reduction should not be necessary and may be counterproductive. Some photographers report that VR actually degrades image quality in such cases. The old saying in photography is that minimum shutter speed should mirror the focal length of the lens. A 50mm lens, in this theory, will work just fine at 1/50s unless the taverns open early. A 500mm lens should work well at 1/500s. Obviously, a telephoto lens covers an arc of movement much faster than a wide-angle lens. Finally, DO turn off any VR when the camera is mounted on a tripod. Some VR systems can sense a tripod and respond accordingly but don’t trust this. And why use battery life unnecessarily? Oh, with some lenses I have discovered that I must give VR time to “kick in.” In sum, VR is something to think about, not to turn on and ignore.

Unless you are shooting on a sunny day, artificial lighting is always an asset. Traditional flash units are powerful, and many LED lights that can attach to the flash bracket or “accessory shoe” on your camera provide excellent “fill light” when needed. More light equals more information, to a point. More information translates into a greater range of digital photography tones, which simply makes an image look better to our discerning eyes.

16. Exposure Modes

17. Why use histograms.

Your Z50 can display high-quality histograms on the LCD or in the EVF when you preview an image. A histogram is a graph showing the distribution of brightness in your photo. Histograms have an X-axis with a black point on the left and a white point on the right. Any particular image may or may not actually have tones that extend to these points, but every image fits somewhere between the black point and the white point along the X-axis. A histogram’s Y-axis shows us the relative number of pixels in any tonal area.

What are “tones,” exactly? Tones are a name we give to a specific measurement of brightness in any particular image area. Like keys on a piano, tones have a place within a gamut from deepest blacks to brightest whites. In a properly exposed color or black and white photograph or the histogram of a properly exposed photograph, tones extend from a black point, to shadows, ¾ tones, midtones, ¼ tones, highlights, to a white point. This is not philosophy. When experienced photographers refer to “highlights” in an image, other experienced photographers know exactly what is being discussed. It isn’t a vague notion but an identifiable tonal description. I use the above model most frequently when I evaluate image tones. Some black and white photographers use a “Zone System” of eleven zones from black to white with midtones being in, of course, the middle at 50% brightness. Attempting to distinguish more than eleven tonal areas is probably impractical.

Beginning photographers may be confused by the histogram, believing that it is some kind of picture of their picture. The histogram is no reflection of what an image is about; it simply gives us a view of image tones. Imagine the histogram as a long hallway with 256 mailboxes addressed by tone from absolute black to absolute

white. The postal service (computer) sorts all shades between black and white in an image into the appropriate mailbox. Some mailboxes become fuller, which is higher along the Y-axis, than others. Why 256? The original PCs were 8-bit machines capable of displaying only 256 colors in an image or 256 of about anything else at a time. 8-bits is one byte (2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x2 x 2 x 2 x 2) =256. Your Z50, by the way, produces Raw files with a bit depth of 14-bits providing a quite acceptable wide “dynamic range,” which is another way of saying a range of tones.

A “U” shaped histogram suggests an image with considerable contrast. Here the majority of the tones are distinctly darker or brighter with fewer midtones. Conversely, a histogram that peaks over midtones suggests a more well-balanced image where midtones dominate blacks and whites. It occurs to me that tones should actually be considered in a three-dimensional context. The brightness and location of tones in the foreground and background have a considerable impact on composition.

In digital photography, colors are created from a mosaic of red, green, and blue pixels. Each pixel has one and only one color. If, by magic, we could pop a camera into existence that copied our scene so precisely that every pixel was the correct color, all our issues with inaccurate exposure, motion blur, and high ISO noise would disappear. But wouldn’t our photographs be dull if we couldn’t darken one tonal area or brighten another to better reveal our subject of interest? The traditional stage spotlight is a very good illustration of our ability to alter tones. A spotlight, or spotlights, may be adjusted to add just the right amount of brightness needed here or there for emphasis or to create a mood for a photograph or an audience.

There is no such thing as a “correct” or “perfect” histogram. A histogram cannot predict how an image will be received by a discerning observer. However, we ignore the camera-generated histograms when viewing our work on the camera’s LCD at our peril. Histograms communicate quite a lot about exposure. A histogram displaying a flat line at the black point, white point, or both reveals an exposure disaster about to happen. A histogram shifted toward black shows a possible underexposure. If toward white, the histogram suggests oversaturated or “blown” highlights.

During post-production in Photoshop CC, I always use the Levels adjustment layer’s luminance histogram as a guide to adjust or accept the black point and white point of an image. Then I use a Curves adjustment layer’s eyedropper to select a white point for the purpose of color correction as needed. A separate Curves layer enhances contrast, also if needed. But I only perform one function in any adjustment layer in case I want to delete the layer as unproductive. Using an adjustment layer for only one function also allows that function to be limited using the Opacity slider. So, I use three adjustment layers just to firm up some basic issues.

After studying the histogram of many images, you will read a histogram like an Oxford scholar reads hieroglyphics. I reference the red channel, green channel, and blue channel histograms but especially favor the black and white luminance histogram. A luminance histogram reveals tones while compensating for perceived brightness variations in red, green, and blue. In fact, luminance is perceived brightness. Touch the “DISP” area to the lower right of the Z50’s LCD to scroll through several possible screens to the one that displays a histogram. A 24/7 histogram may drive you nuts, but it can be quite educational also.

You will learn to see quite handy in histograms where the black and white points are located, and which tonal areas dominate the scene. And, while you do not have to suffer to make great photographic art, you must think, study, plan, and see, truly see the light and shadow in your scene. For example, we know that in aperture priority mode or shutter priority mode, moving exposure compensation toward + will reveal greater detail in shadows. I have often seen photography texts suggest that additional detail in shadows is somehow axiomatic to good composition. It isn’t. It is a choice made by deciding if greater detail in that tonal area will, in fact, contribute to a viewer’s understanding of our subject of interest.

Some of you wish to switch to Manual Mode and totally control exposure. For you, aperture and shutter speed are your most vital variables. In Manual Mode, the Z50’s sub-command dial controls aperture, and the command dial (front) controls shutter speed…easy! Referencing and using the exposure meter at the bottom of the Z50’s viewfinder is also easy. But take it with a grain of salt. In Manual Mode, you are the real meter, especially in darker venues. A histogram is very useful in black and white or low light photography as a guide to exposure as you preview an image. But Manual Mode may not be practical in a fast passed shooting environment. The camera’s meter must be eyed with suspicion if you take black & white images in reduced light. It tries to turn your scene into daylight, demolishing the mood. In all cases, it is best to determine white balance and ISO first.

Good photography favors a prepared mind and camera. When contemplating a composition, think about foreground and background, moving closer or further, and observe such fundamentals as a steady hand on the camera and lens. But nothing should dominate your cranium more than the range of tones before you and how best to capture them to communicate the subject of interest most fully. Both in the camera and in post-production, we shape tones to our satisfaction, and hopefully, our audience’s delight as well. We perfect our expression using a histogram, experience, and knowledge as guides. In sum, a histogram is a tool that will help you communicate ideas using the medium of photography.

As you become accustomed to studying the histogram in your viewfinder, it is important to keep a salient point in mind. A digital camera's sensor is like a solar panel in that it functions best in the light...the more abundant the light the better. An imaging sensor is similar. It gathers information (pixel color data) best when the lighting is adequate. Absent adequate lighting, of course, we turn up the ISO or "open up" the aperture. But there are limits, noise accumulates as ISO increases. Three-quarters of our digital information is gathered from midtones to white point, while only one-quarter is obtained from black point to midtones. Because of this, we are mindful of where the right side of our histogram is located. Under many circumstances we want to "push highlights" or expose to the right ETTR…being cautious not to blow highlights.

Consequently, we reference the histogram to be certain we are not losing too much data because of an underexposure. One exception to this is when using Manual "M" mode in reduced light. Here a light meter tries to turn every image into what it would look like in daylight. If you shoot at night DO use manual mode. Else, you will lose those subtle shadows.

Below an illustration of information gathering by our sensor.

Below, detail added in DxO PhotoLab 6, Contrast, Fine contrast. Exceptional Z 50 mm f/1.8, 160s, f/3.5, ISO 200.

18. Exposure Compensation

A modern digital camera has a small button near the shutter with a small plus and minus sign (+/-) for Nikon or (Av +/-) for Canon on it. Pushing this button triggers exposure compensation (or exposure bias value) options. As with many camera buttons, the exposure compensation button works in conjunction with the main command dial. Exposure compensation adjusts exposure toward underexposure –EV (Black Point) or toward overexposure +EV (White Point). For direct control of exposure, professionals frequently use exposure compensation. So frequently, that we almost always find the exposure compensation button very near the shutter button. Exposure compensation “pushes” an image’s histogram toward black point or white point as needed for a more accurate exposure.

Why would you want to use exposure compensation to alter exposure? A camera’s light meter works almost flawlessly when photographing a soccer match in the sunshine. On a sunny day, green grass reflects about 18% of the light striking it. Such a lighting scene makes your camera’s light meter joyful. A camera’s light meter “sees”

light reflected at 18% as properly exposed. Yes, we live in an 18% reflected light world, generally. However, if your subject of interest is bright and highly reflective such as snow or a skier set against a background of snow, the light meter underexposes the image. The photograph has a gray cast. If you are photographing a dark, light-absorbing object, such as a steam locomotive in a railway station at night, the light meter overexposes an image. Blacks have a gray cast. Frequently under such circumstances, you must help the light meter “see” real-world luminance as it is. This requires the use of exposure compensation.

Recall that before the modern era, cameras had no light meter. Have we become dependent upon an imperfect instrument? An experienced photographer may choose manual mode to make an educated assessment of light and set the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO accordingly. Exposure compensation is similar to setting your camera to Manual “M” mode and using experience, and good judgment to determine exposure. The light meter visible in the camera’s viewfinder aids this process. But Manual mode adjustments are not fast enough for action photography. Exposure compensation is necessary when using Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority in a variety of lighting circumstances.

A camera’s light meter measures reflected light and functions well when the photograph’s subject of interest is reflecting 18% of the light striking it. This occurs when the photographer exposes the camera’s light meter to a gray card. The gray card reflects 18% of the light striking it. Middle gray is halfway between black and white or 50% brightness. A gray card is also a middle gray card. If you took all the blacks, shadows, midtones, highlights, and whites of a flower garden on a sunny day, put them in a color blender, and push “blend,” the result would be a midtone very close to middle gray (actually a bland green midtone). Your camera should meter a middle gray object in ample lighting perfectly and not underexpose or overexpose the image. When we move away from middle gray toward a scene dominated by bright whites or dull blacks, the meter may become confused. It “runs home to mama” or middle gray. This results in an improper exposure with bright reflective objects or light-absorbing objects in the photograph displaying a grayish cast.

A gray card should be spectrally neutral, that is, reflect all frequencies of light equally. It doesn’t favor one color over another. It is strictly neutral in matters of red, green, and blue. If a gray card is spectrally neutral, then it is a neutral, middle gray card. But, most often, gray cards are simply called gray cards whether they are neutral or not. Three tones that should be “solid” in photography are black, middle gray, and white. This makes sense. When we say “black” we mean black not black with a hint of red. When we say “gray” we mean gray like a battleship not a green-tinted battleship shunned by true sailors and laughed at in battle. When we say “white” we mean white not white with a tint of blue. Any colorcast in these areas indicates a problem. If middle gray is absent colorcast issues, usually, the entire image falls into line.

It is not the amount of incident light (luminance) falling on the surface of our subject of interest that deceives a camera’s light meter. It is the amount of light reflected toward the meter from the surface of our subject of interest. If you look around your SOHO apartment at this very moment, you will probably agree that much of the interior reflects light within a range + or – of 18% gray. Perhaps not, you may have a white marble Venus of Arles at one side of your room and a 16-ton iron meteorite at the other end under identical spotlights. Both will “meter” differently because both reflect light very differently. Neither is even close to middle gray. Both require exposure compensation to obtain correct exposure. Start by using +0.7 EV for Venus and -0.3 EV for the space rock. Look at the image and its histogram. Adjust exposure compensation to bring Venus toward the white point and the rock closer to the black point without clipping shadows or highlights.

The term “middle gray” may bring to mind zone systems used by some photographers. The zones range from black to white, with a middle gray in the middle. Each zone refers to a certain amount of reflected light. In one system, Zone zero (0) is the ultimate black (Camera EV -5) with no visible detail, Zone five (5) is middle gray (Camera EV 0), and Zone ten (10) is ultimate white (Camera EV +5) with no visible detail. Zone values are also brightness values. Zone 5, or middle gray, has a brightness of 50% and reflects 18% of the light reaching it. A more perceptual way of understanding zones is to view them as tones. For example, Zone 1, has a tone that is not pure black, but there is no texture to see. Zone 5, middle gray, is similar to a foot-worn wooden boardwalk. Zone 9 is very much like bright snow with little texture but not quite pure white either.

The zone system may help to make you more aware of the black point, midtones (especially middle gray) and white point. Thinking of a scene in zones may help you to visualize tonal values and help you make a wise decision concerning exposure compensation. When using exposure compensation, you select a + EV or - EV (exposure value) setting for your light meter. Common adjustments may include -2EV, -1.7 EV, -1.3 EV, -1 EV, -0.75 EV, -0.3 EV, + 0.3 EV, +0.75 EV, +1 EV, +1.3 EV, +1.7 EV, +2 EV.

Imagine you are working on a factory assembly line calibrating camera light meters (no, sorry, lunchtime isn’t for another two hours). Instructions call for you to calibrate the camera meters using the 18% standard. Nevertheless, you are an eccentric factory worker, and you love photographing your black cat in a coal mine. You adjust all the meters to -0.3 EV to give everyone a ballpark exposure for a light-absorbing black cat. An accurate exposure for the cat in a coal mine produces a black cat, not a gray-black cat. However, most people do not photograph their black cat in a coal mine so, due to many complaints, the boss fires you!

Your replacement is also a nonconformist and enjoys photographing snowmen against a white fence in the sunshine. This worker adjusts all light meters to +0.75 EV. Now all the snowmen are white as snow and not gray. However, few people photograph snowmen against a white fence and those who do simply look at the gray snow and realize something is wrong but don’t know what it is. Photographs taken at the soccer match on a sunny day using the +0.75 EV camera are overexposed. Consequently, this poor fellow must find a new job as well.

Rather than speculate concerning which misguided employee calibrated your camera, you can use the exposure compensation button to adjust the tones of your image. This has many benefits; a photograph that has truly black blacks, and truly white whites is well on the way to being color correct. These days, generally, professional photography is about color, and by this, I mean near-perfect color, not close enough color. Even black and white images excel when blacks are truly black, shadows and highlights preserved, and whites are truly white.

As an important aside, we need to look at the word “tone” more closely. In photography, tone is the degree of brightness within any area of a photograph. Some

Above image Z50, Z 85mm S, 1/250s, f/7.1, ISO 400. The Z50 and the 85mm are a great combination. Equivalent field of view is 128mm...real nice.

of these areas include shadows that we expect to have darker tones, midtones that visually moderate brightness extremes, and highlights where tones are delicate and easily lost if overexposed. There is nothing that says we can’t divide a photograph into many tonal areas. This is, essentially, what the histogram of a photograph illustrates.

Tone: “degree of lightness or darkness.” A photograph that has large areas with little tonal information may still be pleasing, even exceptional, if skillfully created. However, at some point, a lack of tonal information makes an image indecipherable to viewers. Perhaps we simply wish to create a black-and-white checkered graphic using a drawing program such as Adobe Illustrator, hang it on a wall and call it art. There is very little tonal information in this art. Still, people dutifully stop in front of the image in a museum and pause for a moment, wondering how long they must linger to appear sophisticated. When we say “tonal quality” in photography, we are referring to more than random shades of light and dark. We could accomplish this even without a lens on the camera. Tones are an aesthetic quality that emphasizes our subject of interest. A well-placed shadow here and a highlight there creates a mood or trigger an emotion.

For traditional black and white photography and publishing, middle gray reflects 18% of the light reaching it. For digital cameras, middle gray is somewhat darker. Some say digital camera exposure meters are actually calibrated for 12% - 13% reflectance. The difference between 18% reflectance and 13% reflectance is about one-half stop or 0.5 EV. That is, if you used a gray card that reflects 18% of the incident light, you would need to increase the exposure by one-half stop (+0.5 EV) to obtain the same exposure as using a unique gray card that reflects 13% of ambient light. This makes sense because traditional black and white film photographers and publishers championed the 18% standard to deepen contrast and avoid blown-out highlights, while digital cameras push highlights to obtain the maximum amount of information from digital imaging sensors. Many well-respected photographers contend that those who believe middle gray is darker for digital cameras do not know how to hold the 18% gray card correctly. Whatever the truth may be, digital camera meters provide optimal performance when facing middle gray that is, I assure you, somewhere near the middle.

In review, camera meters work well until the reflected light they are measuring becomes increasingly bright and reflective or dark and light absorbing. A white building may reflect 36% of the light striking it while a black cat may reflect only 9% of the light striking its furry coat. Under such conditions, a camera’s light meter does not function optimally. Its small brain needs a little help. The white building needs a +EV and the cat a -EV. The exact amount is quite situational but easy to evaluate by looking at the image’s histogram. When using exposure compensation, we are adjusting exposure by “tuning” the light meter to the immediate reflected light situation in front of the camera. Handheld light meters do not have this issue as they are capable of measuring incident light directly rather than only reflected light. We hold a light meter on or, perhaps, immediately adjacent to a subject of interest. A meter’s white dome faces the camera.

Photographing a cityscape that has shadowy streets and an overcast sky requires some experimentation with exposure compensation (start by using -0.3 EV) to save blacks from a gray cast. With proper exposure, an image stretches through the full range of tones from the black point through shadow, three-quarter tones, midtones, quartertones, highlights, and white point. Exposure compensation helps you to capture this full range of tonal values, by setting the light meter to produce acceptable results given the nature of the light in our scene. “A dark surface under a bright light can reflect the same amount of light as a light surface under dim light. The human eye would perceive the two as being very different, but a light meter would measure only the amount of light reflected.” Credit: Wikipedia, See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zone_System#Zones_as_ tone_and_texture

If your subject of interest is dominated by light-absorbing green vegetation, try a -2/3 EV setting, and see if you obtain a better result. How would you know? Push that arrow button and look at the image in the camera’s display, then view the image’s histogram.

Do some tones touch the black point to the left of the histogram? Good. Do some tones touch the white point to the right of the histogram? Also, good. Do the tones run past the black point and the white point? This may be unpreventable. The dynamic range or range of tones from black to white in your scene may exceed the ability of the camera to record accurately. Lastly, an image may contain so little contrast that its histogram peaks in midtones but reaches neither black point nor the white point. Exposure compensation is not a magic wand but use it to obtain the best exposure you can. This does not mean that every shot requires exposure compensation just that this is a tool in your bag of tricks. Add all the tricks together, and you become adept at capturing tones others do not. An expert is someone who has mastered the basics and combines them creatively.

In some exposure situations, such as with snow, you may find that metering off a blue sky and holding that exposure using the camera’s exposure lock button often provides a correct exposure. If you are using an ISO of 2,000 or more, try increasing exposure compensation by about +0.75 EV to +2.0 EV. This may help increase saturation and reduce noise in low light. Some photographers prefer to use center-weighted metering when dealing with reflective or light-absorbing scenes. Experimentation builds experience.

Use the exposure compensation button for bracketing exposures. A difference of as little as one-third of a stop (-0.35 EV or +0.35 EV) can have a dramatic effect on the camera’s ability to capture subtle colors. So, bracketing that potential prize-winning photograph is a good idea. Just don’t forget to return the exposure compensation to zero when you leave the circumstances that caused you to change it. However, there are exceptions. I have a camera that consistently produces better exposures when its exposure compensation is +0.35 EV. This pushes the exposure closer to the white point and, in this particular camera, produces good results. Once again, concerning all camera adjustments, a change left forgotten affects all future photographs for good or ill. Cameras that have an LCD at the top right shows the amount of exposure compensation presently in use.

Knowledge of the exposure compensation function is useful. A salesclerk in a Manhattan camera store once showed me a lens priced at $1,300. I had never seen or read of the make or model of the lens. Oddly, the lens had no optical coating and came in a small wooden box lined in green felt and engraved with a red and blue dragon!

To demonstrate the amazing qualities of the lens, the salesclerk selected a camera that had an “ordinary” lens. I watched as he covertly pushed the camera’s exposure compensation button and turned the camera’s main command dial to underexpose the next image. He then took a photograph and rotated the camera to show me the dark image from the ordinary lens on the camera’s LCD screen.

The salesclerk then attached the pricey lens but, once again, deftly pushed the exposure compensation button and rotated the camera’s main command dial in the opposite direction to overexpose the next image, just a smidgen. He took a photograph and showed me the dramatic change the lens had produced. There it was. The miraculous lens with the dragon tattoo produced a brilliant image on the camera’s screen. Presto- chango! Perhaps I would like some snake oil to sweeten the deal. I was somewhat shocked by this sleight of hand as a sales technique. Fortunately, I understood the technical details of cameras and lenses sufficiently to recognize fraud when I saw it. I have visited enough traveling circuses to recognize a carnie in action. Buyers beware.

19. Post-production

I use DXO’s PhotoLab Elite and Adobe Photoshop CC to perform my post-production work on Raw images. These are relatively inexpensive software tools but require long study to be used effectively. Some ideas, 1) Buy DXO PhotoLab 6 first. I recommend the Elite version. There is no ongoing fee. It is a remarkable program. DXO has analyzed almost every camera and lens combination to develop a very sophisticated database used in the program. There is lots of online documentation. 2) Experiment; no harm can come from playing with the sliders and options. All major post-production programs are “non-destructive” in that they will not alter your original file unless you decide to do that. I avoid such issues by taking a fair number of shots in every compelling scene and by backing up important images in case something goes wrong. 3) Once you start to get the hang of it, seek another’s opinion. An objective observer may see things you do not. I occasionally create a color Godzilla by oversaturating and over-sharpening an image. Recently, before I became aware of my error, the beast had obliterated half of Burbank! At times, our changes to an image in post-production incrementally lead us toward an illusion of great accomplishment! Beware the ego. 4) You can’t learn this stuff in three weeks. You have to see the world as a collection of images ready to be captured, study the elements of design and art, think in terms of pixels and composition, conceptualize what you plan to achieve during any assignment or job, and test all ideas that pop into your mind against the hard cold anvil of reality. Yet, you may well become famous! Remember, to become famous, you must cultivate a singular style.

Some factoids, if you see the acronym EVF, it stands for Electronic View Finder, which you have. When you review an image in the EVF or LCD, it is a JEPG “thumbnail” of the actual image, not the actual image itself.

I strongly recommend you download the Nikon Transfer and NX Studio programs from Nikon’s website and install them. You will then not have to remove the battery to charge it or remove the memory card to upload your pictures. Be certain the camera is off, plug the USB cable into the top receptacle under the cover at the camera’s left side to charge the battery. Then, turning on the camera with the USB cable inserted allows images in the memory card to be transferred to your computer. Nikon Transfer may not launch automatically. Launch it, wait for the program to recognize the Nikon camera, select the proper memory card (the Z50 has only one slot so no worries here), then click “Begin Transfer” in the lower right corner of the program to begin the transfer. Once the transfer is completed, turn the camera off, and battery charging will resume.

Be very cautious when inserting the USB cable plug. It is very small and only goes in one way. Once downloading is complete, Nikon’s NX Studio launches itself. I like NX Studio because it shows me where my focus points are located in an image. I can send a chosen photo from NX Studio to DXO PhotoLab 4. NX Studio does offer some options worth saving, but you have to “Output > Convert Files” and save to retain such alterations.

By the way, the Z50 has a useful feature that deals with vignetting, or darkening at the corners of an image, caused by a round lens projected onto a rectangular sensor. Find: Photo Shooting Menu, Vignette control, High. This setting has worked well for me. My compulsion to use full-frame lenses on my half-frame Z50 eliminates much lens edge distortion and vignetting but I still need vignette control with some lenses. Else deal with vignetting easily in post-production or use some oval matting over your images to mask vignetting as they did in the old days of photography. This worked well for portraits as it seemed to channel the eye to the person.

20. Interval Shooting Timer

Interval shooting is something all photographers think about but rather few actually try. Why? It seems complex. But it isn’t really! First determine that your camera is set to the accurate date and time. Use The Setup Menu (Wrench icon), Time Zone and Date. Don’t forget to hit “OK” at the center of the camera’s Toggle Switch to affirm all menu choices. A tripod may be best for interval shooting but you can place the camera on a tabletop or tree stump if you wish. Note: You cannot use the camera’s Self-timer while using the Interval shooting timer function. Custom Settings Menu (Pencil icon), C Timers/AE Lock, C2 Self-timer. Self-timer is a truncated interval timer in its own way.

1. Options for the Interval shooting timer are located in: Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon), Interval shooting timer. Interval shooting timer is near the bottom of the lengthy Photo Shooting Menu list, a few options past Auto Bracketing, so it is easier to toggle up rather than down to find it.

2. The Interval shooting options are: Start, Chose start day/time, Interval, Intervalsxshots/interval, Exposure smoothing, Silent photography, Interval priority, and Starting storage folder.

3. Start asks us what date and time we wish the process to start. Select “Now” if you don’t want to enter some future date and time. If you have selected Now, and entered your choices in Interval and Intervalsxshots/interval, selecting Start again will initiate the interval shooting process. If you interrupt the interval shooting process, selecting Start will offer you three choices: Restart, Off, and Choose start day/time.

Interval is the length of time between planned shooting sequences, I selected five seconds for my first experiment. Intervalxshots/interval is simply how many times you want the interval to occur x times how many shots for each interval. I chose 4x3 (four sets of three shots) for a total of 12 shots.

If you plan to use “Long exposure noise reduction” (LENR), Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon), Long exposure NR, On; then allow a very generous time for this function to be completed in your calculations. A general rule is twice the exposure time, but this cuts things a little tight. LENR is very useful in astronomical photography as the camera records an image of sensor noise (dark frame) and uses it as a reference to remove errant pixels from the primary image file. You see, in a lengthy exposure, heat will encourage “thermal noise.” These are of two kinds, luminance noise (static) or luma and chrominance noise (wrong color pixels) or chroma. Everything electrical wishes it was at absolute zero.

4. The Exposure smoothing option matches the exposure to the previous shot but in M (manual mode) exposure smoothing will only work if ISO sensitivity control is On. See: Photo Shooting Menu or Camera icon, ISO sensitivity settings, Auto ISO sensitivity control, On. On opens a set of choices for ISO settings. Exposure smoothing may require some experimentation to fit your needs. I suspect it is intended for more rapid sequences. If exposure is not satisfactory, try lengthening the interval time. In fact, a host of issues emerge if the interval time is too short. Flash or selecting Silent photography as an option during Interval shooting also lengthens processing time.

Third, Interval priority. What is your priority, a properly exposed image or a strictly maintained timing interval? The “Off” setting will prioritize exposure. You can interrupt an interval at any time by pushing the Menu button but don’t expect an instant response. If you totally lose control, turn the camera off then on.

21. More about ISO

ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is a company in Geneva that helps us sort things out according to a commonsense standardization recommendation. In the Z50, ISO menu options are mainly located in the Photo Shooting menu (Camera icon), ISO sensitivity settings and High ISO NR. There is also an ISO setting in Custom Settings Menu (Pencil icon), Shooting/display, e4 Auto ISO sensitivity control for managing the flash while using auto ISO sensitivity control.

First, ISO Sensitivity Settings is listed in Photo Shooting menu, ISO Sensitivity Settings. At the top we see the ISO sensitivity selections to scroll through beginning with ISO 100 and extending through the highest “Native ISO” of 51200, then Hi 1 (ISO 102400) and Hi 2 (ISO 204800). But I hope you do not go to the menu to select ISO when there is an ISO button just below the Shutter button…push and turn the Command dial of course (front dial on the same side as the eyepiece).

The second option to be found here is the Auto ISO sensitivity control. This can be quite handy for action shooters. Maybe, I am a Photojournalist and photographing a huge demonstration in the late evening. Lighting conditions change constantly as I duck down an alley or shoot a police line illuminated by patrol vehicle headlights. Perhaps I am using Aperture priority mode as things are just changing too fast for Manual mode. My Z50 with the Z 14-30mm lens is handy as it is light and captures a wide perspective. I can always crop quite a lot, as most all my images will appear in tomorrow’s newspaper or online. I really don’t need an image file larger than three megabytes for a finished product. I am shooting at f/4 and set my Auto ISO variable to a Maximum sensitivity of ISO 20000. Here I also set a Minimum shutter speed of 1/125s. But this variable will be overruled if things get too dark. I ran some tests, and the results exceeded my expectations by far. I am not going to use the flash ISO options as I will not be using a flash. I don’t want to draw too much attention to myself. By the way, you can set the camera to Auto ISO at any time by pushing the ISO button and turning the Sub-command dial simultaneously…which is a test of dexterity.

Second, High ISO NR (Noise Reduction). The higher our ISO, the more noise we get…especially as our scene gets dimmer. High ISO NR is to be found under Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon), High ISO NR right below Long exposure NR, appropriately enough. In High ISO NR we have High, Normal, Low, or Off for options. In the above scenario I would turn NR On. But I also use DxO PhotoLab Elite to reduce noise or, sometimes, Topaz DeNoise AI. Software noise reduction is quite good and likely to evolve faster than in-camera NR. Do not confuse High ISO NR with Long exposure NR. The latter can take a while to finish while the former does not.

I have discovered that at ISO 51200, when using High ISO NR set at High, and post-processing using DxO PhotoLab’s DeepPRIME XD, the Z50 can produce a very acceptable image. Using High ISO NR set to High alone does not compare favorably. Using an additional noise reduction software package “over” DxO produces very marginal additional benefit even in practiced hands. At such high ISOs, even a little additional light makes a difference.

Active D-Lighting Photo Shooting Menu (preserves highlights in high dynamic range scenes like a wedding couple) does not work in ISO H1 or H2. As might be expected, in P Mode, aperture size is limited by ISO setting. For example, at ISO 3200, the smallest aperture (largest f-number) that may be used is f/10.

While using Auto Bracketing (also in the Photo Shooting menu), Auto ISO sensitivity control will be in effect for modes P, S, and A, if Auto ISO sensitivity control “ON” is selected.

21. Items available for display in the i LED menu.

Open the main menu, and under the Custom Shooting Menu (Pencil Icon), choose “f Controls,” “f1 Customize i Menu.” Now you can alter the i Menu to hold those options you want to have literally at your fingertips. Choose image area, Image quality, Image size, Exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity settings, White balance, Set Picture Control, Color space, Active D-Lighting, Long exposure NR, High ISO NR, Metering, Flash mode, Flash compensation, Focus mode, Optical VR, Auto bracketing, Multiple exposure, HDR, Silent photography, Release mode, Custom controls (shooting), Exposure delay mode, Shutter type, Apply settings to live view, Peaking highlights, Bluetooth connection, Wi-Fi connection, Wireless remote connection.

22. Firmware Update

There is nothing to dread about a firmware update but attention to detail is very important. If a firmware update is interrupted, the service cost may be upsetting. Cameras, lenses, printers, even computer hard disks have firmware that may need or benefit from a firmware update. Firmware is stored within the device on a memory chip. You must be at least comfortable with Windows Explorer or other operating system file management software to complete this. If you are not comfortable STOP, get a Geek and proceed.

First, be certain your camera’s battery is fully charged. Some cameras cannot be updated absent a fully charged battery. Be certain to download important images to your computer.

Second, navigate to Setup Menu (Wrench icon), Firmware version. Make a note of the number of the existing firmware version (C for camera, and LF lens). Toggle down to Setup Menu (Wrench icon), Format memory card choose Yes. Turn off camera. Remove memory card.

Third, Create a folder on your computer that you can find again. Name it Firmware Z50. Go to Nikon USA, Software, Firmware Updates, Download Center, Search by Product Category, Mirrorless Cameras, etc. Download the latest firmware file, F-Z50-V230W.exe in my case (this is an executable .exe file), to your Downloads folder. The file is about 27MB large. Copy this file to your FirmwareZ50 folder. Click on the download and it will execute to create the firmware (.bin) file.

Using a card reader copy the firmware.bin file to your memory card. The memory card must be a memory card formatter in the camera. Remember, memory cards almost always go in so that the trademark label can be seen.

Note: There may be a DCIM and NIKON.DSC file on the memory card. Ignore this. It is created during in camera formatting. Copy the BIN (or .bin) file to the memory card. Be certain the file is in the “root” of the card and not inside some other folder or failure will result. Right click the card and choose Eject. A small popup window will advise that it is now safe to remove the memory card, but I always disconnect the USB cable first, then remove the card.

Fifth, Be certain the camera is off. Insert the memory card. Turn the camera on. Navigate to: Setup Menu (Wrench icon), Firmware version. The camera will recognize the BIN file and ask if you wish to update. The update process will take a while. There is a progress bar visible to give you hope.

Once complete, the camera will tell you to turn the camera off. Do it. Then remove the memory card. Turn the camera on and confirm the new firmware, If the firmware has not been update, something is really, really wrong.

Sixth, Turn the camera off. Insert the memory card. Navigate to Setup Menu (Wrench icon), Format memory card. Format it. Be certain it is formatted. Delete the update files from your computer so they will not confuse you in the future. Empty Recycle Bin. Get a cold drink.

22. Worthy menu items not yet talked-up

We could fill volumes with details concerning menu options. To a beginner, menu options look like a foreign language. I will review a few that jump out at me as an illustration of how to better dissect such options in the next update….

Playback Menu:

Playback display options

Photo Shooting Menu:

Flash compensation, -3.0 - +1.0

Release mode

Custom Setting Menu:

Autofocus, a8 Built-in AF-assist illuminator. If you grip your camera securely and point the back towards you so that the lens points towards you. To the upper right is found a tiny window that projects a beam of light to assist the camera’s focus in low light environments. Seems innocent enough, doesn’t it? While inside the Louvre, $36 by the way, I saw an inexperienced tourist using a flash, one shudders! A guard politely but firmly advised that a flash could not be used in the Louvre. The tourist politely acknowledged the reprimand and brought the camera’s flash under control. Perhaps the camera was one of those having a flash that automatically pops up in low light. I once had a flash like that, and I wanted to nail it down using my framing hammer. A moment later the tourist uses the camera again. The guard, now at some distance, sees a flash in his peripheral vision and assumes that, once again, the errant tourist has violated the sacred law. He seems a tad ill tempered this time. What happened? The novice photographer had neglected to turn off the built-in AF-assist illuminator tourist trap. In the guard’s peripheral vision, the illuminator appeared to be a flash. Or, perhaps, they don’t like that tiny flash any more than its unschooled big brother. I don’t miss the thing and have always managed to find a focus in low light even if I had to search a bit to find a spot of contrast for the mechanism to work.

f2 Custom controls (shooting)

Setup Menu:

Connect to smart device

Connect to PC

Wireless remote (ML-L7) options

Firmware version


I hope you have found this brief text useful. I really like the Nikon Z50. It has personality. Remember, photography is a never-ending voyage of exploration and learning. The art is in the image, but the art is in the photographer as well! Cheers!!

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Pablo Picasso

Legal Disclaimer

This book provides a basic to intermediate introduction to digital photography, cameras, and Adobe Photoshop. This work is sold with the understanding that the author is not rendering or providing any professional service or services. No warranties of service or products are expressed or implied. If assistance is required to implement any technical procedure safely and properly, technique, example, or anything else described in this book, the services of a properly educated, experienced, and licensed professional should be obtained. I vigorously, sincerely, and completely recommend that you hire a competent, certified technician to clean image sensors, update firmware, or any adjustment to your camera that could, even with the best of intentions, result in damage to the camera or parts of the camera.

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