Use Optical Rather Than Digital Zoom

Use Optical Rather Than Digital Zoom

When it comes to zooming and cameras, there are two options… optical and digital. The catch is, one is more “authentic” than the other, and this can confuse people as to which is better. Before you read on, can you guess which one is better and why?

Optical Illusion or the Real Deal?

It turns out that optical is better, and here’s why. Although some cameras have both Optical Zoom and Digital Zoom capabilities, optical is the better zoom. The reason being is that optical zoom uses the lens of the camera; in other words, the optics, to zoom in on your subject. I’ll explain digital in a moment, but first let’s look closer (pun intended) at optical.

Optical zooming uses the actual lens to telephoto in and out to bring you closer or further away from your subject. As you’ll see in a moment, digital plays tricks by overriding this feature. Let’s say you are using the optical lens to zoom in on a tiger in the zoo. You will actually see or hear your lens at work to bring that tiger closer so you can capture. Now for the trickery…

Digital Zooming Deal-breaker

The way digital zoom works is much like “cropping” in Photoshop or Lightroom in that it blows up and then gets rid of the unnecessary data surrounding. So, in essence, it’s simulating optical zoom within the camera rather than using the lens to zoom in on the subject. The thing is, as you probably concluded by now, digital zooming really isn’t a ‘zoom’ feature. It basically enlarges the image and lets you use that part of the original image.

The downside to this is that whenever you crop and expand on an image, you lose quality because it’s like the enlargement process of blowing up an image. Suddenly all those pixels are much more visible!

Since you can get the same results by using image editing software on your computer, you’re actually better off doing so. Cropping and enlarging your image lets you decide exactly what part of the image to enlarge, and how much to enlarge by. This gives you complete creative control.

Clarity Matters

The biggest reason clarity matters is because if you want to print an image with any decent quality… i.e. not fuzzy… then you want it to be as clear as possible. Use optical zoom if you even think you might want to print the image and just to keep in the better habit of the two options.

I like to tell beginning photographers that the best zoom lens they’ll ever have is their own two feet! When you can use them, do! So, if for some reason you can’t use your optical zoom, and when possible, try walking up closer to your subject. The photographer in the above image managed to walk in quite close to his subject. (As well as switching to macro mode)

Disabling Digital Zoom

Although cameras can vary in this feature, when you zoom in with your lens, the camera will start to use the optical zoom, but at some point the digital zoom will kick in if you keep getting closer to your subject. You should be able to set your camera to signal you when digital zoom takes over. It’s also possible to disable digital zoom entirely with a setting on your camera, and I recommend you do this so you’ll never have to worry about the different zoom types.

DSLR cameras: If you have a DSLR camera, you won’t be able to find the Digital Zoom option because the higher quality DSLRs don’t need the digital zoom trickery. That means your camera always uses optical zoom.

Camera Phones: Your camera phone almost always uses digital zoom. There is no moving lens inside the phone to create an optical zoom. In these cases, I always recommending moving closer with your feet rather than zooming in using the camera.

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