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What is Optical Zoom vs Digital Zoom

Updated on December 23, 2013

Digital Zoom vs Optical Zoom

Why do we need to zoom digitally or optically anyway?

Even as a beginner photographer, while framing the subject to take a picture, the desire to be just a little closer to the subject will inevitably dance through your mind; you are not along in this desire. The first photographers began realizing the potential of photography and the importance of being able to sneak-up on a subject without being detected. This has become more of a mandatory requirement over time, and so the market for a zooming lens began.

Today the paparazzi live and die by this one simple concept, closer is better. Thus, the design for a camera lens that could "zoom-in" on a subject had to be devised and modified for snap reactions in a fast paced commercial as well as private image business. Thankfully, we now have special lenses that are manufactured to zoom-in on such finite subjects as a single cell, and as vast and far away as the moon and beyond.

Zooming-in on Zooming-in

Zooming allows you to focus on a smaller portion of an image giving the viewer the effect of moving closer to that subject. Just about every digital camera these days has either optical zoom or digital zoom, with some offering both. The power of a zoom is measured by how many times it can enlarge a portion of the image— a "3x" zoom gives the effect of tripling the size of an object.

By having a zoom function on your digital camera it gives you the freedom to move in close to your subject or action, primarily when you can't physically move any closer to that subject. A Zoom function also allows you to bring more creativity to your pictures when you are framing them, helping you avoid the need for major editing later in the image making process.

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The Difference An Optical Zoom can Make!

 Zoom differences are simulated using image editing software and are designed as only an example of the intense differences between types of zooms for beginners. copyright IndiaDee 2011
Zoom differences are simulated using image editing software and are designed as only an example of the intense differences between types of zooms for beginners. copyright IndiaDee 2011

The Beauty of Optical Zoom

If given a choice, always choose Optical Zoom!

When digital photography first took off, most zoom features on cameras were designed to simply enlarge a cropped area of pixels to simulate the effect of a zoom lens. An optical zoom lens functions by physically adjusting the distance between the camera lens within the camera.

What this means is that you can zoom in as much or as little as you need within the limitations of your lens' ability. Although it is good to keep in mind that the larger you zoom, the less light is going to reach the charged coupled device (CCD)—this reacts to light, just like film does, but instead of storing the image chemically, it converts the light into a digital form.

Nikon Optical Zoom Digital Camera

The modern digital photographer has found many uses for the optical zoom feature of a digital camera. Instead of twisting lens rings to zoom in or out, the cameras of today have a simple zoom button that takes your framing techniques to a new level. Press, stop; press, stop; until you have found the perfect framing for the image you desire to shoot. Electronic zooms are a wonderful addition to the functions of digital cameras. With new technology comes new restraints though; electronic optical zooming does use up your battery power at a very quick pace.

The Truth about Digital Zoom

Stay away from Digital Zoom!

Digital zoom is in fact a handy tool for Internet images only! Otherwise the quality of the picture is far to low. As discussed earlier, the optical zoom enlarges an image by magnifying a part of the subject like a regular camera, and the same effect can be had by digital zoom, only by using a smaller portion of the entire subject. You will find that most digital cameras have a higher power rating for digital zoom than for optical zoom. The quality of your image taken while using digital zoom will be far less than with optical zoom. And the more you digitally zoom, the worst your image quality becomes.

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And here's why, whereas an optical zoom focuses one selected part of the subject on the entire CCD and records more information about this smaller section, the digital zoom gives you a small part of the total subject without recording more data about it. Consider what happens to a 35mm film image when you crop in to a small section of the picture; it becomes blurry and breaks apart. The more you zoom in on a subject, the less information there is to use, and this results in poor image quality or a low resolution image.

In my opinion, which is also the general consensus, digital zoom is not a very helpful tool for anything other than Internet imaging. This type of zoom drastically compromises image quality to such a vast degree that you'd probably get better results by taking the image without zoom, increase the image file size, and then crop to the section of the picture you find most important with the help of image-editing software.

Digital Zoom vs Optical Zoom YouTube Video Lesson. (1 min. 52 sec.)

Comments for "What is Optical or Digital Zoom, Beginner Digital Photography"

Submit a Comment

  • DpsDave profile image

    David Orr 

    6 years ago from Oregon, USA

    I agree that digital zoom is useless. I wonder why manufacturers include it at all?

  • travel-O-grapher profile image


    6 years ago from Dhaka, Bangladesh

    hmm... optical zoom is always better than digital zoom, which basically crops up the image for getting closer and the quality of the photograph also suffers

  • BobbiRant profile image


    7 years ago from New York

    I'm such a beginner and am having fun with our new digital camera and this information is very useful. I bookmarked this useful hub. Thanks so much.

  • Minnetonka Twin profile image

    Linda Rogers 

    7 years ago from Minnesota

    Thanks for the great tips my friend. I am getting into photography these last couple years and I can use tips. Isn't taking pictures fun and relaxing? I just love it, especially taking pics of the birds out my kitchen window.

  • K9keystrokes profile imageAUTHOR

    India Arnold 

    7 years ago from Northern, California

    Just Ask Susan~ I know just what you mean, the old 35mm SLR was always a true friend in the field. We get spoiled by our digital breeds these days. I have, on occasion, dug out my old Nikon SLR and meter to see if I still remember all those lighting ratios. Own a couple Fuji's myself and just love them! The first generation (Fuji S2 pro) was a bit sluggish in trigger to shutter response, but Fuji has since remedied the issue and these workhorses are durable and quick in the trenches! Thank you for stopping by today and I wish for you a perfect photo-op day! Hub Hugs~


  • Just Ask Susan profile image

    Susan Zutautas 

    7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Great Hub K9. I learned photography on an old fuji 35 ml oh how I miss using that camera. I should for fun dig it out one of these days. I do like the digital fuji that I have now though.


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