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What Is the Difference Between Digital and Optical Zoom?


Zooming in with a camera refers to bringing the image closer, or enlarging it in the camera's viewfinder, without physically moving closer. Zoom functions have undergone a variety of advancements in recent years.

How Optical Zoom Functions

Optical zoom works by bringing the subject in the viewfinder closer, using moving parts within the camera. This is done by pressing a button to zoom in or out, which extends or retracts the lens with a motor.

How Digital Zoom Functions

Digital zoom is originally a function of video cameras that has crossed over to still cameras. Technically not a "zoom" function, digital zoom simulates optical zoom by enlarging part of an image electronically, rather than with moving parts.

Enlargement with Digital Zoom

An image enlarged with digital zoom runs the risk of losing image quality. In a magnification process called interpolation, the image is both cropped and magnified, and pixels are added to the image that degrade its quality but allow the image to appear closer.

Reasons to Use Either Digital or Optical Zoom

If you are attending a graduation ceremony and are primarily concerned about capturing the precious moment, digital zoom provides a solution. If your concern is more about capturing a higher-quality image, optical zoom is the natural solution.

Zoom Solutions

To bring your subject closer without sacrificing image quality, Kodak recommends using a telephoto lens. You can also purchase a long-focus lens, which is less compact than the telephoto lens but has a longer focal length.

About the Author

Cynthia Reeser has been editing for three years and writing for 18. A former columnist and staff writer for a military newspaper, she is the editor of a literary journal. Her book on publishing for children is forthcoming in early 2010 from Atlantic Publishing, and she is currently writing a book on Kindle publishing. Reeser has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature.

Photo Credits
  • Daniil Moerman: public domain