Pulsed laser ablation in liquids is a hierarchical multi-step process to produce pure inorganic nanoparticle colloids. Controlling this process is hampered by the partial understanding of individual steps and structure formation. In situ X-ray methods are employed to resolve macroscopic dynamics of nanosecond PLAL as well to analyse the distribution and speciation of ablated species with a microsecond time resolution. High time resolution can be achieved by synchrotron-based methods that are capable of ‘single-shot’ acquisition. X-ray multicontrast imaging by a Shack–Hartmann setup (XHI) and small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) resolve evolving nanoparticles inside the transient cavitation bubble, while X-ray absorption spectroscopy in dispersive mode opens access to the total material yield and the chemical state of the ejecta. It is confirmed that during ablation nanoparticles are produced directly as well as reactive material is detected, which is identified in the early stage as Zn atoms. Nanoparticles within the cavitation bubble show a metal signature, which prevails for milliseconds, before gradual oxidation sets in. Ablation is described by a phase explosion of the target coexisting with full evaporation. ... mehrOxidation occurs only as a later step to already formed nanoparticles.