Optical vs. Digital Zoom: Choosing a Digital Camera (part 3)
by Andrea Steed (Nov 26, 2004)
Digital camera advertisements will boast about both optical and digital zoom. However, these are very different and the numbers can be misleading, so it’s important to know which zoom will really give you quality results.
Optical zoom lenses actually “move” you closer to the subject of the photograph without sacrificing quality. The higher the optical zoom rating on a camera, the farther away you can be to take a photograph and still get a clear, close-up image. The concept of optical zoom essentially the same as the zoom on a film (non-digital) camera. Optical zoom is the number you want to pay close attention to--it’s the zoom that will give you the quality results you want.
Digital zoom on the other hand is not bringing you closer to the item. Rather, the camera crops the entire image, and then digitally enlarges to the size of the viewfinder the portion you want to zoom in on. This results in a loss of quality, and is no different than cropping and enlarging an image with editing software. The benefit of using image-editing software instead of the digital zoom on a camera is that you can decide how much to crop, and how much to enlarge the image to where the quality is acceptable to you. When you use digital zoom on the camera, the image quality is irreversibly lost.
The camera’s zoom capabilities can make a difference as to how much cropping you will need to do in the editing stage. You may be happy with a lower megapixel rating but higher optical zoom if you compose your photos with the zoom lens first, then print the photos as-is. On the other hand, if you like to crop and edit your photos after the fact, a higher megapixel rating and lower optical zoom capability will still allow you to “zoom” with your editing program and compose a photo that can be printed at the size you desire (keeping in mind the minimum pixel sizes for various sized prints). Your style and comfort level of photography and photo editing will help decide which is more important to you.
The bottom line: Compare optical zoom and ignore digital zoom. Optical zoom capabilities make all the difference in the final product. The higher the optical zoom, the farther away from the subject you can be and still get a great, clear, crisp quality shot.
Point-and-Shoot vs. SLR (part 4)