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Optical Zoom vs. Digital Zoom

The zoom feature on your digital camera allows you to increase the size of the subject you're trying to capture. The number associated with optical zoom or digital zoom refers to how many times your camera can magnify your subject, e.g., 7x optical zoom and 8x optical zoom magnifies your subject seven or eight times true to their size. The number associated with your zoom feature essentially tells you how large you can increase your subject. Don't just look at the number of times a camera can magnify; make sure to consider the type of zoom. Optical zoom or true zoom magnifies the image, while digital zoom simply enlarges the subject.

Optical Zoom

Digital Zoom

Quality

Takes high-quality pictures at a distanceZooming decreases the quality of the picture

Function

Magnifies the imageEnlarges the pixels

Resolution

Zooming does not have an effect on the resolutionIncreasing the size of your subject decreases the resolution

Optical Zoom

Advantages of optical zoom

  • High-quality Images - Optical zoom maintains the quality and sharpness of the image as you increase the size of the subject matter.
  • Increased magnification - Zooming with an optical zoom lens brings you closer to the subject instead of increasing the size of the pixels.
  • Better resolution - The resolution of the image stays the same when you use optical zoom.
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Limitations of optical zoom

  • Expensive - Optical zoom is more costly because it offers true magnification instead of increasing pixel size like a digital zoom lens.
  • Bulky - An optical zoom camera requires a lens that extends from the camera body, increasing the overall size of the camera.
  • Fragile - Cameras with this feature contain many small pieces of glass, tiny motors and little screws, making the lens less durable.
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Digital Zoom

Advantages of digital zoom

  • Less expensive - The overall cost of a camera with digital zoom is less expensive than a camera with optical zoom.
  • Distance - Digital zoom allows you to get closer to your subject by cropping the image and enlarging that area.
  • Durability - Since the camera has less parts and glass, it's durable and can handle some roughhousing.  
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Limitations of digital zoom

  • Lesser quality - Once you start to increase your zoom, you'll notice a decrease in the quality of the picture. This is because instead of magnifying, digital zoom simply crops the original image. As you start to enlarge that cropped image you'll notice a decrease in resolution, which produces an unclear image.
  • Distorted images - Quality is reduced in comparison to the original image because digital zoom crops and enlarges a portion of an image, resulting in a slightly distorted image.
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