We used phase contrast radiography to study the electro-deposition of Zn in real time and with high lateral resolution. Using unmonochromatic synchrotron X-rays and an optics-less imaging setup, we were able to obtain real-time radiographs of the electro-deposition in situ with gm resolution. A detailed analysis of the microstructure evolution relates the different growth parameters - such as the electric current density, the voltage bias, the pH value and the ion concentration - to very different growth morphology, ranging from film, porous, whisker and dendrite deposition. This link is both global and local. Local variations of the metal ion concentration in the electrolyte were also successfully imaged and the density profile is used to compare with the standard theory to explain the phenomenon of metal ion depletion near the electrode. The potential application of this technique to study growth with micropatterned electrodes and pulsed electric current is evaluated. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.