BlackBerry Z30 review: Against the odds

Hristo Zlatanov, 6 November 2013.

A decent 8MP camera

The BlackBerry Z30 comes with an 8MP main camera with an LED flash and a secondary 2MP camera. Both cameras can shoot HD video, 1080p for the main camera and 720p for the front-facing one.

The interface looks pretty familiar at first - not too different than an Android camera - but much like the rest of the interface, the camera app has some handy tricks up its sleeve.

Blackberry Z30 Blackberry Z30
Blackberry Z30 Blackberry Z30
Blackberry Z30 Blackberry Z30
The camera interface

The BlackBerry Z30 offers three shooting models - Stills, Video and Time shift, the mode toggle is in the top right corner. Below that is the Menu key, which offers several settings including a front/back camera switch, flash mode and aspect ratio (4:3 or 16:9, there's no resolution setting).

Also here is the Scene mode toggle (Auto, Action, Whiteboard, Night, Beach and Snow) and the Shooting mode toggle. The still camera can just snap pics, do digital image stabilization or enable burst shot. Burst shot photos are snapped at 6MP resolution.

You get some more settings for the camera if you swipe down - where to put photos and videos (internal storage or microSD card) and geo-tagging.

Photos are taken by just tapping the screen, long press to trigger the auto-focus before taking the shot. If burst shot is enabled, then the camera will snap pics in quick succession while you have your finger on the screen.

There's also touch focus on board, though you have to drag the focus point to where you want the focus to be. It can take some getting used to if you're used to just tapping to move the focus point. Digital zoom is available too, it's done through pinch zooming.

The BlackBerry Z30 camera UI has two handy shortcuts. A thumbnail of the last photo you've taken is in the lower left corner and you can tap it to go to the gallery. Better still, you can swipe it to enlarge that photo for a quick view of how it turned out, it goes back to thumbnail when you lift your finger.

Blackberry Z30
Expanding the last photo taken

The second shortcut appears in the upper left corner when flash mode is not set to auto. Tap the shortcut to get back to auto flash mode.

The camera also has a feature called Time Shift, which is hardly unique to BlackBerry. It snaps several photos in quick succession with just one tap at the screen and automatically selects the best one. It also detects faces in the photo (which can take several seconds, depending on how many faces there are).

Blackberry Z30 Blackberry Z30
Time Shift in action

Once that's done, Time Shift allows you to tweak the photo - pick a different photo from the 11 that were captured and for each individual face that was detected, you also get to choose from 11 snaps, so 11 different facial expressions.

The BlackBerry Z30 has the company's 8MP camera and we were pleasantly surprised by the image quality. There is plenty of fine detail and not too much sharpening going around. There's a bit of noise in the uniform areas of sky, but that's not too much of an issue.

Exposure and contrast are good, though the phone does slightly underexpose shadows. With backlit subjects, there is some purple fringing going on.

Just like on the BlackBerry Z10, the Z30's camera outputs oversaturated colors. We know consumer cameras typically boost the colors to make images appear livelier but BlackBerry went too far here and we suspect the oversaturation is at least partly responsible for the noise. We wish BlackBerry put finer image controls in the camera interface, so you can go for more natural colors if you prefer.

Blackberry Z30 Blackberry Z30 Blackberry Z30
Blackberry Z30 Blackberry Z30 Blackberry Z30
BlackBerry Z30 camera samples

Still, it's a very good camera, one of the best 8MP shooters right now. Given BlackBerry's past record with still cameras, we would have been happy with anything that produces usable images, but the Z30 actually came way better than that.

We also took HDR photos with the BlackBerry Z30. Below, you can see the comparison between a regular shot and an HDR one.

Blackberry Z30 Blackberry Z30
BlackBerry Z30 HDR samples

Check out a macro sample too.

Blackberry Z30
BlackBerry Z30 macro sample

Photo quality comparison

The BlackBerry Z30 challenges the best 8MP shooters in town and you can head over to our Photo quality comparison tool to see how it did.

Photo Compare Tool Photo Compare Tool Photo Compare Tool
BlackBerry Z30 in our Photo quality comparison tool

Video camera

Switching the camera to video mode doesn't affect the user interface, it just changes the options available from the Menu key. You can still enable digital image stabilization and pick from the preset scenes.

Blackberry Z30 Blackberry Z30
Blackberry Z30 Blackberry Z30
The camcorder interface

During recording, you can move the focus point around (again by dragging not tapping) and you can toggle the video light on and off. There's no way to capture photos during video recording though.

The main camera can shoot 1080p or 720p videos (720p is picked by default), while the front-facing camera can do only 720p.

1080p videos are stored in MP4 files with 16.1Mbps total bitrate. The sound is recorded in stereo and better still using 192Kbps bitrate and 48kHz sampling rate.

In terms of image quality, video recording is on the high level set by the still camera - the clips produced are smooth at a consistent 30fps and with plenty of fine detail. Colors are again oversaturated but there's no visible noise. To our delight, the video packs a great amount of detail without looking oversharpened.

Here's a sample video recorded with the BlackBerry Z30 that we uploaded to YouTube.

You can also download this sample that hasn't gone through YouTube compression.

Video quality comparison

The 1080p video recording quality of the BlackBerry Z30 is comparable to the top end Android dogs. Here's a look at how it stacks up against some of the best.

Video Compare Tool Video Compare Tool Video Compare Tool
BlackBerry Z30 in our Video quality comparison tool