With the compact camera market essentially dead due to smartphone cameras, traditional camera makers are switching up their game plan, targeting the likes of video bloggers, live streamers and content creators. As a result, the Nikon Z 30 interchangeable-lens mirrorless camera was born.
The Z 30 shares many similarities with its older brother, the Z 50, with a 21-megapixel APS-C (or DX-format) image sensor, 4K video shooting up to 30 frames per second (fps) and 11fps stills.
However, it loses some features deemed unnecessary for this target group of users, such as the electronic viewfinder (EVF). Instead, the Z 30 gains a fully-articulated touchscreen LCD. This 3-inch 1.04-million-dot display can be flipped out to one side and rotated 180 degrees to face the front. Something content creators will no doubt prefer.
And to ensure content creators' faces are always in sharp focus during video recording, the Z 30 comes with full autofocusing (AF), which automatically chooses the AF point, and eye-detection AF.
In other words, video bloggers and content creators looking to upgrade from their smartphones to mirrorless cameras, for better image quality, faster AF and the flexibility of changing lenses, can look at the Z 30.
In truth, if you look at the specifications of Z 30 closely, they closely mirror that of Sony's content-creator-centric ZV-E10 released last year. While this review is not a direct comparison, we will touch a bit on its similarities and differences with ZV-E10 along the way.
For this review, we used the Z 30 with the Z 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR lens during testing. This body + kit lens combo retails at S$1,309.
Nikon also sent us the Nikon ML-L7 Remote (S$45) with a Smallrig Tripod (S$45, exclusive at Nikon Experience Hub in Funan), which we used a lot during this review.
DESIGN AND HANDLING
In terms of design, the Z 30 looks pretty much like any conventional mirrorless camera, apart from the lack of an EVF. It has Nikon's design ethos through and through.
In other words, you get the shooting mode dial, a large video-recording button and a command dial on the top right of the camera. At its rear, there is the four-way directional/OK combo button where your thumb will rest while holding the camera.
The left side of the camera houses a microphone-in audio port, a micro-HDMI port and a USB-C power delivery port protected by rubber flaps. There are dedicated buttons for ISO and exposure compensation sited just behind the shutter release button, which is situated on top of the rubberised grip.
There are two built-in microphones sitting on both sides of the hot shoe for supposedly better voice recording. You can put an official third-party deadcat windscreen on these microphones, but you lose the hot shoe.
This well-thought button layout might delight long-time Nikon users, but we suspect the multitude of buttons might confuse beginners.
By comparison, the Sony ZV-E10 does not have a Mode dial. Instead, it just has a single button for users to toggle through Still mode, Video mode and S&Q (high speed video) mode. This might be easier for beginners, instead of wondering what ‘A’ and ‘S’ on the Mode dial means.
But beginners and veterans alike will have no complaints about the solid grip. It has been ergonomically sculpted to ensure a nice and firm grasp of the camera, even when used reverse for selfies.
For those with bigger palms, the grip might not be large enough to accommodate all your fingers. However, it should still be comfortable to hold with one hand due to its light weight (350g, body only).
Not to mention, the Z 16-50mm VR lens does not weigh much either and offers a great counterbalance to the body. As such, anyone can easily hold the camera with one hand even if you are doing selfie videos.
Talking about selfies, the Z 30 will automatically switch to portrait mode when rotating the monitor to face the front. This portrait mode will enable a 2-second timer, so you have time to get ready for the selfie shot. You can also select its 10-second timer and take up to 9 continuous selfies if desired.
In addition, a video-recording indicator light – located below the front Nikon logo and beside the flipped-out display – will light up when video recording is in progress. This is something that the Sony ZV-E10 has too.
On the downside, we missed the EVF. The display is just not bright enough during bright sunlight. For instance, we were at the National Day Parade Preview and struggled to point the Z 30 at the sky to photograph the Red Lions parachute team using its display. An EVF would have been really useful in this situation.
But on the bright side, Z 30's touchscreen display is super responsive like a smartphone display. You can easily tap on the menu and get to the options you want. You can also tap on the LCD to focus on a point and take a photo.
It also lets you pinch to zoom in on a picture you have taken, when most cameras only allow you to do so by pressing Zoom in/out buttons. You can also swipe left or right to browse through the photos you shot.
However, the Sony ZV-E10 has an upper hand with its zoom lever and power zoom lens. This is something sorely lacking in the Z 30. With Z 30, you have to turn the lens zoom ring while videoing yourself thereby increasing the chance of blocking your face. But with the ZV-E10, you can do so with the zoom lever.
Operation of the Z 30 is swift. It takes around 1.5 seconds for both start-up and shutdown, which is similar to Sony ZV-E10. This is a tad quicker than the two-second start-up and shutdown times of most mirrorless cameras.
Using an SD card with a writing speed rated at 95MB per second, the Z 30 took 38 RAW images in 4.2 seconds before the buffer ran out. This translates to roughly 9fps. While it might be slightly less than its advertised 11fps, it can be considered very good for its class.
Furthermore, its AF speed is really fast considering this is a kit lens in use. The Z 30 is always quick to lock into a focus almost immediately under good lighting conditions. Even in dim lighting conditions, it takes at most a second for it to get the focus sharp.
During selfie shots, the camera’s AF is very quick in locking onto my face and eyes, even when I am moving about in the frame.
In addition, the AF is “smart” enough to know when to quickly change focus to the “main face”. For example, during an event when I was videoing myself in the venue, the Z 30 initially focused on the person behind me as my face was too near. But when I panned the camera, the Z 30 was quick to focus on my face again.
For stills, the AF is equally superb. It was able to capture multiple members of the Red Lions parachute team in sharp focus, as they came down from the sky during the NDP Preview. As mentioned earlier, we were shooting blind and just pointing the camera to the sky in hopes of capturing this. And the camera did it.
As you can see from the photo below, the still image quality is superb with good dynamic range. Photos look sharp and vivid, with large amount of detail, even in the darker areas.
Noise performance is excellent as well. We saw very little noise artefacts even at ISO 3,200, as evident in the self-portrait below.
But at ISO 6,400, noise artefacts started to become visible, but there was little detail loss and only slight blurring. Only at ISO 12,800 and above did the detail loss become really evident.
The maximum ISO 51,200 is not recommended unless you are desperate. As you can see from the photo below, the photo almost becomes “water-colourish” due to the significant amount of chromatic noise artefacts.
Video quality, whether it is full HD or 4K, is excellent with great detail and sharpness. However, the audio recording is a bit of a let down. Granted that this is on a busy street in Bangkok, I can hardly hear myself because the built-in microphones pick up a lot of wind noise.
Even when I was recording myself talking in a quiet room, you can still hear much ambient noise. Furthermore, the Z 30 lacks a headphone output port. So, you cannot hear what you have just recorded, which is frustrating.
Not to mention, despite having the lens' IS turned on, the videos recorded while walking look visibly shaky as you can see from below. You might have better video stabilitsation with some flagship smartphones.
Battery life is rated at 300 still shots on a full charge. In my tests, the battery level was still at 66 per cent after shooting 300 frames and 20 videos. Still, this is considered average battery life for a mirrorless camera.
Conclusion and additional shots
The Nikon Z 30 offers an alternative to the Sony ZV-E10. They are similar but yet different. Both have fast AF as well as great image quality in both stills and videos.
While the Z 30 offers responsive display, light weight and good handling, the ZV-E10 has power zoom lever and simpler controls. It is tough to say which is better. But the Z 30 doubles up better as a still camera.
But if you compare the price, the ZV-E10 with a 16-50mm power zoom kit lens cost S$999 while the Z 30 with the Z 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR kit lens retails at S$1,309. As such, the Nikon Z 30 is S$400 more expensive.
Granted that the Z 30 is newer, it is still hard to convince new mirrorless camera adopters that the Z 30 might be a better choice. This is especially so when these adopters probably have no lens baggage.
Nevertheless, the Nikon Z 30 is still a great tool for video bloggers and content creators.
MORE SAMPLE IMAGES AND VIDEOS