Difference Between Digital Zoom and Optical Zoom

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: September 30, 2023

       

Difference Between Digital Zoom and Optical Zoom

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Introduction

People often hear the words optical zoom and digital zoom and get frustrated. What do they mean, and how do they differ? Well, remember how some photographers ask people to smile and start fiddling with their camera lenses to get a close shot of them? They were adjusting their lenses to optically zoom in and get a better shot. Seen a teenager around lately making a sort of widening gesture on his smartphone? He was probably using digital zoom to photograph whatever caught his attention.

Digital zoom is handy when people need to snap a picture at a moment’s notice. Some parents spend most of their time clicking away photos of their children to preserve the memories. Using cameras with optical zoom lenses is possible but not the most practical option in such circumstances. However, people wishing to show off their photographic skills must choose optical zoom over digital zoom.

Digital Zoom Vs. Optical Zoom

Optical zoom refers to the zooming method in which the camera lens is adjusted to get a closer shot of the subject without stepping forward to close the distance. On the other hand, digital zoom crops and magnifies the portion of the image that needs to be enlarged.

Difference Between Digital Zoom And Optical Zoom In Tabular Form

Parameters of ComparisonDigital ZoomOptical Zoom
QualityDigital zoom cuts down on the megapixels, resulting in lower-quality images compared to optical zoomed images.Optical zoom results in higher-quality images.
Camera typesDigital zooming is possible in film and digital cameras.Only film cameras (with zoom lenses) allow optical zooming.
Used byWho does not use digital zoom? Every kid with a smartphone exploits this feature several times a day.Most professionals prefer the optical zoom method. They use photo-editing software to crop and enlarge the image if required.
Usable whenPeople can use digital zoom regardless of their distance from the subject.Optical zoom is possible only when the photographer is somewhat close to the subject.
SuperiorityThe more people zoom in, the lesser the resolution will be. The reason is that the image is cropped and stretched to fit the original size. Therefore, digital zoom is not on the same level as optical zoom.Optical zoom is the superior zooming method. It does not matter how much people zoom in on the subject, the resolution will be the same.

What Is Digital Zoom?

Digital zoom is a zooming method in which a camera makes it look like the lens is zooming in. In reality, digital zooming is like photo-editing software; people are cropping and blowing up an image to the regular size when using digital zoom. The beauty of digital zoom is that it makes it seem as if no resolution loss occurs. However, people will lose certain details when using digital zoom in addition to getting a lower image quality. Digital zoom is common in lower-end and point-and-shoot cameras.

Digital zoom interpolates (adds made-up pixels in relation to the original pixels nearby using the camera’s internal software) to return the image to the original resolution. This technique works when the image size is small. Details will be lost, and the image may become fuzzy if people try to zoom in too much or print out large-size photos.

That is why professionals stick to optical zoom despite it taking some time for the eye to see the changes optically zooming in makes to the image. Digitally zooming in is a breeze compared to adjusting the lenses to capture/shoot an image/ video. How many videos do teens shoot on average in a day? Think they have the time to adjust camera lenses to get the perfect shot? Absolutely not, and they will probably snap at people for suggesting it. People must ask themselves whether they are willing to compromise quality for ease of use to decide between digital and optical zoom.

Smartphone users have no other choice than settling for digital zoom. Some models have an optical zoom feature but work only up to a certain point. The smartphone will switch to digital zooming if people want to zoom in more. The best people can do is purchase cameras or smartphones with high-resolution sensors so they will not have to zoom more.

Other ways to get around this low-resolution problem is to crop the image after shooting in the device (camera or smartphone) itself or by using photo-editing software. Though the result will not be on par with a photo shot using an optical lens, it will be better than using digital zoom to shoot in the first place.

Moreover, the optical zoom feature in smartphones does not truly zoom in. It is similar to switching prime lenses for increasing the focal length rather than using zoom lenses with variable focal lengths. The size constraints of smartphones make it impossible for them to have a true optical zoom feature.

If digital zooming results in the loss of an image’s quality, why is it still popular? Probably because using it is not as befuddling as using optical zoom. While zoom lenses used for optical zooming offer better magnification and resolution, people beginning to learn photography will have no clue as to what to do with it. They could stand around fiddling with their lenses praying their shot turns out well, but what good will that do?

On the other hand, digital zooming immediately shows how the photo will turn out. People can use digital zoom to make the shot seem candid rather than a carefully planned one. Travel zoom cameras are a great option if people do not want to deal with zoom or prime lenses. These point-and-shoot cameras have fixed-length superzoom lenses.

People can retract the lens into the camera’s body when not using it. This feature ensures these cameras are pocketable, making them different from bridge cameras. People are essentially choosing digital zooming over optical zooming if they choose these cameras, but who cares? All is well if it fulfills their need.

Perfectionists will have a hard time using digital zoom, and as a result, will not meet the standards they set. They need cameras that will help them capture every detail even if they are not gearing up to shoot a film. That means they need a camera with an optical zoom feature. Ultimately, people should stick with optical zoom rather than digital zoom and manually select the zoom lens that best suits their needs to get higher-quality images (if they are using cameras. Smartphone users are doomed for now.).

What Is Optical Zoom?

Zoom lenses have variable focal lengths, making it possible for people to use optical zoom. People have to increase the focal length (move the lens away from the camera sensor) to capture a closer shot of the subject. The greatest advantage of optical zoom is that the lens maintains focus (no resolution loss occurs) when the focal length changes. Therefore, optical zoom aids people in capturing perfect-resolution photographs. Typically, a 4x zoom lens is enough for people. Zoom lenses with more than 5x zoom are termed superzoom lenses.

Professional TV camera lenses may have up to 300x zoom and have so many optical elements that people not striving to become professional photographers cannot begin to fathom. Cameras with high zoom ratios weigh more than 25 kg (it looks like camera operators can stop going to the gym. Why would they need to exercise their arms when they are handling such heavy equipment?). Some zoom lenses may be long-focus lenses (they have longer focal lengths than normal) or wide-angle lenses (have smaller focal lengths but cover a wider area).

Zoom and superzoom lenses are used in cameras (still, video, and motion picture), microscopes, telescopes (who would not be thrilled at the prospect of seeing the stars up close?), and other optical instruments (devices that process light waves). However, people must be careful not to buy varifocal lenses marketed as zoom lenses. A varifocal lens’ focus changes with a change in focal length, whereas zoom lenses are parfocal.

Different cameras have varying focal lengths; the longer the focal length, the greater the magnification power. So, people must select a lens based on what type of photography they are involved in (a landscape photographer will be better off with a wide-angle lens, whereas a wildlife photographer will have better luck with a long-focus lens). The lens’s weight matters unless people shoot using a stable tripod; people may not be able to work their best if they find it awkward to handle the camera due to the lens’s bulkiness.

Size is another factor to consider when searching for the ideal zoom lens. Bigger lenses may seem like a good choice; however, smaller lenses are much more discreet and can be packed without any issues quickly while traveling. Sometimes, it is better to stick with prime lenses instead of opting for zoom lenses. Prime lenses have fixed focal lengths but offer superior optical quality (even better than a zoom lens!).

Zoom lenses have a greater chance of creating optical aberration (refers to the spreading of light instead of focusing on a specific region or space, causing the image to be blurred or distorted) issues than prime lenses. Moreover, the prime lenses have larger apertures (holes or openings through which light travels), meaning people can use them to photograph in low-lit areas.

Want to capture how a friend looks lit up by a candlelight? Digital zooming will ruin the memory, and optical zooming may distort it. Choose a camera with a prime lens to freeze the memory in time forever. Lenses with tilt or shift function are a great option for people bent on experimenting with every type of photography known to man.

Prime lenses with different focal lengths can be used to capture higher-quality images (that is why professional photographers prefer them). However, most people prefer using the single zoom lens with variable focal length, as they do not have the patience to keep switching lenses as and when required. Nevertheless, prime lenses are compact compared to zoom lenses, which is something that works in its favor (some people do not like handling bulky lenses. They can opt for prime lenses or use different cameras with prime and zoom lenses if they wish).

Main Difference Between Digital Zoom And Optical Zoom in Points

  • Digital Zoom is good enough if people are only looking to capture personal memories. The resolution will be good enough if they print 6 × 4s. On the other hand, optical zoom is the best option for photographing landscapes, wildlife, or other professional photographic interests.
  • Optical zoom offers a better zoom ratio. Need a 3x, 10x, 30x, or more zoom ratio? Cameras with zoom lenses have got it covered. Advancements in digital zooming technology have not been enough to match the zoom ratio of optical zooming (though some people expect this issue will be resolved sometime in the future).
  • Hybrid cameras with optical and digital zoom options are reducing the lesser-resolution problem of digital zooming. The resolution loss in such cameras is not nearly as high as when using digital zoom in regular cameras. This is because the cameras use optical zoom up to a certain point and shift to digital zoom beyond it. Therefore, digital zooming is more popular among people.
  • Digital zoom is much more common in beginner and intermediate cameras, whereas optical zoom is a standard feature in professional/high-end cameras.
  • Cameras with optical zoom features are more expensive than budget-friendly cameras with digital zoom.

Conclusion

In short, people will not be disappointed with digital zoom unless they are professionals looking for their big break. Using digital zoom is often non-complex, whereas the same cannot be said for optical zoom. However, an optical zoom lens is the better option for those wishing to capture moments in high resolution. Technological advances may improve digital zooming and make it a worthy alternative to optical zoom in the future. At present, optical zoom lenses are the ones worth every penny. The only lens that can beat a zoom lens in producing sharp and high-quality images is the prime lens (if people do not mind switching lenses).

References

  • https://www.masterclass.com/articles/whats-the-difference-between-optical-zoom-and-digital-zoom
  • https://www.adorama.com/alc/optical-zoom-vs-digital-zoom/
  • https://expertphotography.com/optical-vs-digital-zoom/
  • https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/what-is-optical-zoom-vs-digital-zoom/
  • https://www.tomsguide.com/face-off/optical-zoom-vs-digital-zoom
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_zoom
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoom_lens
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prime_lens
  • https://www.adorama.com/alc/prime-vs-zoom-lens-which-one-is-right-for-you/
  • https://shuttermuse.com/glossary/digital-zoom/
  • https://www.digitaltrends.com/photography/optical-vs-digital-zoom/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_superzoom_compact_cameras

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"Difference Between Digital Zoom and Optical Zoom." Diffzy.com, 2024. Thu. 29 Feb. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-digital-zoom-and-optical-zoom>.



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