Digital vs Optical Zoom


Many times when purchasing a digital camera you will hear reference to two different zoom types, digital zoom and optical zoom. In short you should never even look at the digital zoom number. That’s right, it will only cause you a headache in the end wondering why your photos always turn out so poorly.

Let’s take a look at what each term means and the difference.

The dark side: Digital zoom

Digital zoom is exactly what it says, it digitally zooms into your photo. For example let’s say you are photographing a soccer game and you are standing at midfield taking photos of the goalie.  Digital zoom will start to magnify your image more and more as you zoom in closer. This will make your photo pixilated, because your photo is made up of very small pixels, and the more you zoom in using your digital zoom the larger these pixels become. The larger the pixels become the more blocky and blurry your final photo will be.

There really is no need to use your digital zoom anyway, as you can do the exact same thing on your computer after you have taken the shot. To achieve a similar result, just crop in on your photo and then resize it back to the original dimensions. The only difference is that you are doing the digital zoom rather than your camera.

So how can you avoid this? Simply turn it off. Many cameras have the ability to tell it not to use the digital zoom at all. This can be found in  your cameras menu. Many times you can also tell when your camera switches from optical to digital. If you have digital zoom enabled, try and zoom in on something as tight as you can. You may notice a slight pause somewhere in between the start to the end. That slight pause is when the camera is actually turning on the digital zoom and using it instead of the optical.

Optical zoom is always better

In contrast to digital zoom, optical zoom is actually physically moving your parts of your lens to zoom in or out. In doing this you do not lose any quality no matter how far you zoom into your subject. You might think of this as a magnifying glass. You can look at something very close, but you don’t lose any quality while doing so.

If for some reason you are not able to zoom in as far as you would like with the optical zoom on your camera, I would suggest you either take the shot as is and crop later, or if possible, get closer to your athlete of interest.

ProPix Photography

The Sports Photography Professionals

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