Nikon’s Z30 Vlogging Camera Is a Great Mirrorless Starter Pick

Nikon’s Z30 Vlogging Camera Is a Great Mirrorless Starter Pick


Photo: John Bogna / Gizmodo

I’ve been a Nikon shooter since I picked up my first DSLR, the entry level D3300, in 2016. At the time, it came down to price: Canon and Nikon were about the same quality as far as still images went, and mine was the cheaper kit. But I liked the ease of the menu system and the results I got from the camera, so I kept on using Nikon cameras. I’ve since upgraded to the D750, and loved it for the past few years.

Fast forward to now and the Nikon mirrorless system. The company’s new Z30 is a compact, crop-sensor mirrorless camera body—basically a better version of my D3300 from back in the day. With its size and available accessories, it’s immediately apparent who Nikon wants to sell this camera to: aspiring content creators looking for a relatively cheap way into the YouTube/TikTok sphere.The last time I had anything like it was when I used a Sony point-and-shoot digital camera with around eight megapixels of resolution, so I was curious to see if the Z30 could win me over.

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I tested this camera in multiple scenarios, from street shooting to nature photography, and in a variety of lighting conditions. Most of the time, the camera was set to manual mode with auto-ISO, meaning I controlled the aperture and shutter speed and the camera decided which ISO setting to use—unless I wanted to achieve a certain look, then I controlled the ISO sensitivity myself.

I shot my still images on the highest quality setting, RAW files. I also shot video at the highest possible quality for this camera, which is 4K at 30 frames per second (fps). I was very impressed with both.

For its target audience of beginning content creators, I’d say it delivers: right now, you can get a two-lens “creator kit” from Nikon for around $1,000.00, which includes the camera body, two decent lenses, a tripod, Rode external mic, and remote. That’s just a little more expensive than single-lens kits for the Sony ZV-E10 or Canon R 10. If you’re buying just the body and kit lens, though, the price is almost the same across the spectrum for this category of camera—all of them cost around $800.

Design

Mirrorless camera controls

The ergonomics of the Z30 are typical Nikon. It’s got a deep grip you can hold onto that feels good in the hand, the shutter button and on/off switch are where you’d expect them to be, and relevant buttons/dials are usually within range of your thumb and index finger.

Despite its size, this camera feels substantial. It’s got a good weight in the hand and the included neck strap is just fine for carrying it around. I didn’t find it getting in my way too much when out and about shooting, though if I were keeping it for the long haul, I’d probably invest in a wrist strap.

One thing about this camera some people probably won’t like is that it has no viewfinder. Instead, you use the back LCD screen. That’s normal for a mirrorless setup, but if you’ve only ever shot with a DSLR, it’s like always using live view to shoot. It took some getting used to, but I didn’t mind it, especially since I know I’d never use this camera to shoot more than personal photos for fun or videos for social media.

The back LCD screen tilts all the way out and flips around, perfect for vlogging. Out of the box, it’s set to enter “self-portrait mode,” which is when you flip the screen around to see yourself while holding the camera. It uses eye autofocus to find its subject, and you can either press the shutter or tap the screen to take a photo with a three-second timer. Of the test selfies I took with this mode on, most of them were in focus and sharp, though the camera did miss focus a couple of times.

As a DSLR shooter, I primarily used the manual d-pad to navigate the camera menu, but slowly got used to the touchscreen controls and was using them both by the end of my time with it. You can set the autofocus to off, tap-to-focus, or focus-and-shoot, all with a tap of the LCD screen. Aperture and ISO can also be changed via touchscreen, too. I found it quicker and more efficient to just use the click-wheel for those, but by the time I finished with this camera, I was using a balance of manual buttons and the touchscreen and had zero problem with it. Later model DSLRs like the Canon 5D Mk IV and D850 already had touchscreens, albeit not as sensitive, so this seemed like a natural progression.

There’s a hot shoe on top—a bracket that allows you to attach external, battery-powered accessories to the camera—for attaching accessories like a flash or high-end mic, something you don’t often see on APS-C cameras. The Z30 comes with a built-in stereo mic that sounds surprisingly good. You can configure it a few different ways to filter out some ambient noise and focus more on the range of your voice. It’s not the same as a fancy studio mic, but more than adequate for beginners looking for a run-and-gun vlog camera they can set to auto and use right away. For a look (and listen) at how every setting with the Z30’s internal mic sounds, check out this video from Noel Guevara.

You also get the standard mic input jack on the side, as well as a mini HDMI port and USB-C connection for charging. The battery compartment is also the memory card compartment, with space for a single SD card.

There’s also a tally light on the front of the camera body to let you know when video is recording, a must if you’re filming yourself.

Stills

The Z30 is a mirrorless APS-C camera, meaning it has a smaller sensor than more expensive, feature-rich offerings like the Z6II, Z7II, and Z9. But that doesn’t mean the image quality is bad.

The 21-megapixel sensor is just slightly lower resolution than my 24.6-megapixel full-frame DSLR, the Nikon D750. Its autofocus is, without a doubt, superior to the D750’s, which isn’t surprising as it was just released in 2022 and the D750 came out in 2014.

Images were sharp and detailed, with dynamic range slightly surpassing my D750 even in lower light scenarios. I was sent the camera body with Nikon’s 15-50mm kit zoom lens, among the most basic lenses they have, and the quality of what I shot was still on par with my D750.

I was a bit limited by the aperture range of the lens—3.5 at the wide end of 15mm to 6.3 at the closer range of 50mm—so my ISO had to crank higher in certain scenarios than if I were using a faster lens with a wider aperture like f/1.8 or f/1.4. That said, images up to around 1000 ISO were still eminently usable, especially once I took down the noise in Lightroom. Noise was still present, but looked more like film grain than digital noise. If I’d had, say, a Nikkor 35mm 1.8 Z lens attached to this body, I think the results would’ve been top notch. The image below was shot at 1000 ISO and cleaned up in post:

Photo of a car

Everything about shooting with the Z30 reminded me of an upgraded version of my trusty D3300. Color reproduction was good, and sharpness was more than what I expected to get from a cheaper kit lens.

There’s even an option for time-lapse photography that I unfortunately didn’t get to use, but sounds fun to mess with, especially for shooting something like a waterfall landscape or star trails.

Subject tracking for photos was adequate, though I wouldn’t suggest using this camera for sports or fast action. Selfies were mostly sharp, and a bee perched on a plant stayed mostly in focus when I took a few rapid burst shots as the plant blew in the wind. Truly silent shooting was also something that was great to have when I took this camera out on the street to take photos, though I found myself wanting a faster lens so I could let more light in to crank my shutter speed higher and better freeze the action of the people walking by.

The wide-angle end of the kit lens makes it amazing for architectural photography, though, and I got some great shots walking through downtown Houston. The Z30’s battery also held up very well, with hardly a dent after around an hour of shooting on a full charge.

Parking sign in front of a building

All in all, a very respectable still camera, especially for the price point, that can perform above its weight class when paired with a good prime lens.

Video

The video files from this camera look great. I recorded a bunch of clips in 4K while out and about and they look crisp, with good color. While slow-mo isn’t an option in 4K, you can record slowed clips that still look plenty good in 1080p. As video isn’t my forte, I kept the camera in auto mode most of the time I was recording—and the clips still looked great on social media.

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Indoors at night, some noise did start showing up in the footage at higher ISO settings, but that’s more because of the lens I was using. If I had something that went to f/1.8 or higher, I don’t think low light recording would’ve been as difficult. Nikon’s standard 35mm f/1.8 lens ($699) or third party lenses like the Viltrox 14mm 1.4 ($329) would both be great options for that.

Eye-tracking autofocus was spot on in video mode, locking onto my eye and never losing focus when the camera was pointed my way despite me moving it around pretty erratically and zooming in and out with the kit lens while focus was locked on my eye.

The Z30 doesn’t have in-body image stabilization (IBIS), using digital stabilization similar to your smartphone camera instead. However, the kit lens I paired it with did have vibration reduction (VR), and with the two of them together, the footage was pretty smooth.

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If you prefer to color grade your footage, you can set video recording to the “flat” color profile in the video recording menu, but the more cinematic log profiles of fancier cameras aren’t available at this price point. Again, auto mode is more than accurate the majority of the time, but this camera can certainly be used as a budget indoor studio cam for YouTube videos and the like.

For an idea of what it looks like to use this camera with a good lens, pro lighting, and a better mic, check out this video from photographer and YouTuber Jared Polin, where he tests a pre-production version of this camera in his studio.

I recorded everything in the max resolution of 4K at 30fps while testing this camera. 25 and 24 fps are also available, and you can record slow-mo footage in 1080p at 120 fps, which still looks great on Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube. The better your lens, the crisper your footage will look, but the kit lens held up well.

Drawbacks

As I said above, I would’ve liked an electronic viewfinder with this camera. It’s definitely not a dealbreaker, but does take some getting used-to.

Some of the controls felt clunky at times. To switch back and forth from auto ISO mode, for example, you have to hold down the ISO button on the top of the camera and turn the front click-wheel at the same time, which felt awkward. I found myself accidentally pressing buttons when picking up the camera; luckily, it was pretty much always off when that happened.

Charging the camera was also a little annoying. It doesn’t come with a wall wart, just a USB cable, so you’re stuck relying on something like a computer if you don’t have a spare sitting around. But the cable stopped transferring power anytime my computer went to sleep, so I couldn’t leave it connected overnight for a long charge. I ended up using the charger from my Android phone, which has the same USB-C connector, and that worked fine.

There’s also no percentage readout for the battery, so you’re left guessing a bit as to how much power you’ve got left. There’s just a three-bar battery symbol on the LCD screen, which has a tendency to go from mostly full to mostly empty pretty quickly. Nikon estimates around 75 minutes of shooting time at 4K 30fps, and DPReview got 65 minutes in the wild, so that seems to track.

The first time I took this camera out, it got low very quickly. The battery read full but dissipated after less than an hour of shooting stills and video. However, when I carried this camera around shooting stills for over an hour on a full charge, it didn’t seem to put a dent in the battery, so I’d estimate you can get two-three hours of photo time out of this camera easily.

Nikon Z30 Mirrorless Camera

Should I buy the Nikon Z30 Mirrorless Camera?

All in all, I couldn’t find much not to like about this camera. It’s very entry-level, but can stretch beyond that with the right tools. Will this be your go-to wedding photography shooter? No. But as long as you take it for what it is—a fun camera that’s main strength is run-and-gun video—you won’t be disappointed. In fact, you might be pleasantly surprised. It has a couple advantages over its closes competition, the Sony ZV-E10, that would make me choose it over the Sony if I wanted a vlogging camera: the ability to record 4K at 30fps without a crop, and the simplified “flat” color profile that makes footage easier to grade later on.

This camera’s strength is its ability to deliver a lot of quality for the price point in an easy-to-use package. I’d recommend it as a vlogging camera for a beginning YouTuber, or if you’re looking for something cheap to take traveling, or if you want to try out mirrorless without spending a ton of cash.

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