Digital vs. Optical Zoom

People are always asking, “Is There Any Difference Between Digital And Optical Zoom?”

There certainly is. Today’s first question should really be,” When Is A Zoom Not A Zoom?” because that’s practically what it amounts to when it comes to digital vs. optical zoom. Let me explain…

There’s a HUGE difference. Digital zoom isn’t a true zoom -it just electronically enlarges the elements in the center of the frame to look like you’ve zoomed in. In other words, it really just magnifies the image, something like a magnifying glass would do.

It produces a grainy looking picture because there are no more pixels in the picture than when you started. Most of the time, you can get the same results with photo software. But to be fair, a digital zoom can sometimes come in handy to “crop” your pictures as you’re taking them. Especially if you’re going to email them or print them right after taking them.

An optical zoom, however, IS a true zoom. It works the same way that a film camera zoom works — by actually zooming in mechanically. A good optical zoom lens produces sharp, clear images with lots of detail in your camera’s maximum resolution.

An optical zoom allows you to get closer to the subject without moving. A camera lens with a 2X zoom range won’t bring you in as “close” to a subject as a 4X zoom lens. So if you like to get closer shots, get more zoom. It’s especially important if you’re taking sports or macro photos, or doing portraits.

Zoom ranges on digital cameras vary from 3X to 12X. Most cameras are in the 3X or 4X range. Higher zoom ranges, such as 10X are great for nature and sports photography, but need to be steadied with a tripod to avoid blurry pictures.

One of my pet peeves are the frequently advertised phrases —” total zoom,” “complete zoom” or “seamless zoom.” These terms are totally misleading. The advertisers simply take the digital zoom and either add it or multiply it against the optical zoom and call that the “total zoom.”

It’s a clever trick but nothing could be further from the truth. There’s no way the digital zoom can multiply or even enhance the distance of the optical zoom. Only pay attention to the optical zoom because that’s the only zoom that will be of real use to you in bringing your subject up close effectively.

Anyone who starts using a digital camera soon realizes how important batteries are. They’re a necessity you can’t get away from. In the next lesson, we’ll cover a few important points about digital camera batteries you need to know.

Written by Rufina James


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