For anyone wanting to get into photography the sheer volume of choices of products and accessories seems to be endless. One of those choices is whether to buy a digital zoom camera or an optical zoom one. Whilst they might sound the same, these two types of zoom features offer vastly different results that can have a huge impact on your photos. So to make sure you make the right choice here is a quick guide to the difference between digital zoom and optical zoom and which might be right for you.
Before helping you decide which type of zoom is going to be right for you it’s worth understanding a little bit about what the difference between the two types of zoom is. There is no doubt about it that the zoom function on cameras and lenses is a fundamental aspect of photography. Without the zoom function, you would physically have to move closer or further away from your subject to be able to capture the photo that you want. Whilst this will help you actually become a better photographer as you have to move around rather than relying on zooming in, sometimes it’s not feasible or safe to do so.
Anyone who has used a 35 mm camera will be aware of optical zoom. This is where you use the optics of the lens to bring the subject closer. Digital zoom, on the other hand, is something that has only been invented with digital video cameras and isn’t zoom in the traditional sense such as in optical zoom.
Whilst optical zoom works by bringing the subject closer using the optics the lens, digital zoom technically does not actually use a zoom function. That is to say that with a digital zoom you’re not actually zooming into the scene by bringing it closer. What happens with digital zoom is that the camera crops into the image and then expands the remaining image to fit the original size (i.e. stretch it out). So essentially what is happening is that the camera is doing the same thing as you could do in a post-processing software Such as photoshop or Adobe Lightroom. In fact, in this situation, you will be better off not zooming in at all and instead cropping in using the editing software. The reason being that if you edit in post-processing you can still always return to the original photo size. You are also much more flexible in being able to decide the exact amount of zoom. But if you zoom in using a digital zoom the parts of the image that have been cropped will be lost forever.
Digital zoom or optical zoom?
The big difference between these two zoom formats comes down to the quality of the photo or in other words the resolution. For example, let’s say you have a 20-megapixel camera. If you take a photo using a 24-70 mm lens, then your photo will be 20 megapixels regardless of if you take the photo at 24 mm of 70 mm. But if you use a digital zoom then the more you zoom into the image the lower the quality will become. Because your original image which was 20 megapixels has been cropped and so you have lost a whole load of pixels. Now the remaining pixels are being stretched out over a bigger area.
So when it comes to comparison between the two there really is one winner. If you want the best quality photos then optical zoom wins every time.
What’s the point of digital zoom then?
This doesn’t mean that you should completely disregard digital zoom cameras. For one, often digital zoom cameras will be cheaper than optical zoom cameras. Also, unless you are wanting to capture images a high quality then digital zoom will do just fine. For example, if you are just looking to photograph for yourself or to share on social media or to print at small sizes such as 6 x 4 or 7 x 5 then in the vast majority of times you’ll find that a digital zoom camera will be sufficient. But if you do want to capture better quality photos and want to have more control in being able to zoom in then optical zoom is what you will need.
So there you have it a quick guide to the differences between optical zoom and digital zoom. Hopefully, this will help you decide which is going to be right for you. The key here is to buy something that is going to serve your needs now but also going forward. So take your time and do some research and be sure to buy the right thing for you. So what’s it going to be digital zoom or optical zoom?
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.