How much do you need a viewfinder?
The newest and smallest addition to the Nikon Z family of MILCs (that’s mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras), the Z30 does away with the viewfinder - and the IBIS - to create a video-centred vlogging camera that offers superb image quality. It also represents the cheapest way in to the Z system and its excellent, if eye-wateringly expensive, lenses.
With an APS-C sensor packing 20.9 megapixels, a maximum burst rate of 11FPS, and Nikon’s 209-point hybrid AF system (featuring eye detection and subject tracking), the Z30 is well equipped for stills shooting as well as video.
It’s a remarkably small and light camera, especially when combined with the Nikkor 16-50mm DX lens, a collapsible pancake-zoom that provides a useful 24-75mm full frame equivalent focal length.
It’s a sharp little thing, and while it features VR its maximum aperture is slow, shifting from f/3.5 at the wide end to f/6.3 at the other. Other lens kits are also available, including a double zoom kit for those who want telephoto reach.
Specs at a glance
Sensor: 20.9MP APS-C CMOS
Processor: EXPEED 6
AF system: 209-point hybrid AF
ISO range: 100-51,200 (expandable to ISO 204,800)
Video: 4K up to 30p, 1080p up to 120p
Max burst: 11fps
Size: 128 x 73.5 x 59.5mm
Weight: 350g body only
Video-centric features include a large internal microphone on the top of the body, a touchscreen that flips all the way round so it can be seen from the front of the camera, and a red light that tells you when it’s recording.
A microphone input sits behind a cover on the left-hand side, neatly positioned to connect to a mic positioned in the camera’s hot shoe, but there’s no headphone socket for monitoring audio, sadly. Full in-body image stabilisation is missing, relying on the lens VR and an electronic system that stabilises video at the cost of a 1.3x crop.
Movie mode is engaged with a flick of a thumbswitch rather than as an option on the PASM dial, a rare clunky feature that does have the benefit of making it very clear which mode you want, and which also opens up the shooting of video in fully manual mode, or aperture priority to control depth of field. There are three user-defined modes on the mode dial too, for saving your favourite settings. A new autofocus mode, AF-F, constantly refreshes the AF lock to track the movements of your subjects as you film them, and Active D-Lighting automatically balances your exposures if speed is of the essence.
Look and feel
In the hand, the Z30 is wonderfully compact. It can take a moment to get set up, folding out the screen, turning it on, and extending the pancake zoom lens, if fitted, before you can take a picture, but once it’s going we found it to be responsive.
The tap-to-focus on the touchscreen is particularly good, and shoots a frame when it achieves focus. And while there are fewer buttons and dials on the body than on other mirrorless cameras, the large mode dial and rear thumb dial proved to be all it needs. The video recording button is perhaps tucked a bit too deeply in a recess on the top of the camera, far back from the shutter release which sits under the index finger more naturally, but this does at least prevent it being pressed accidentally.
Elsewhere, you’ll find HDMI and USB-C ports under rubber covers. The USB port is the only way to charge the camera battery - there’s no charger in the box - but it’s a common enough connection that you can use a phone or laptop charger.
Lenses may be the Z30’s weak point, for now at least. Getting yourself in the frame with a background means wide angles, and going wider than 16mm will cost you a lot of money in the form of Nikon’s full-frame FX Z lenses, which only gain you a few mm, or turning to manual focus lenses such as those from Samyang or Laowa. Something like Sony’s recent 11mm APS-C G lens would be a good addition.
Thankfully, the Z30’s video modes all use the full width of the sensor (unless using stabilisation), so no more cropping is involved.
Where to buy - stockists
The Z30 is everything you’d want in a vlogging camera, as long as what you want doesn’t include a viewfinder or headphone socket. Anyone used to composing shots on their smartphone screen will be right at home, however, and it functions well as a stills camera too.
Mostly, however, the camera is an affordable way into the world of mirrorless cameras, producing better stills and video than a smartphone ever could, and allowing vloggers and other content creators to operate simply and quickly.