Here, the large scale synthesis of nanocrystalline ZnO spheres and tetrapods in the size range of 8-40 nm by chemical vapor synthesis using zinc metal as precursor is described. A detailed study of the effect of experimental parameters on the morphology and yield is presented. High-resolution transmission electron microscopy images of the tetrapods show that they are formed by the self assembly of four nanorods in the vapor phase. The tetrapods have optical absorption coefficients that are one order of magnitude greater than the spheres and show intense UV luminescence whereas the spheres show only the green emission. The observed differences in the optical properties are related to the presence of surface defects present in the nanospheres. The tetrapods have increased efficiencies for application in dye sensitized solar cells when compared to spheres.