Digital Cameras: Optical vs. Digital Zoom – do you know the difference?

By | July 2, 2011
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Judy just got a new digital camera and doesn’t understand optical zoom or digital zoom
I love your newsletters. I can’t wait until Fridays! This question doesn’t really have anything to do with computers directly, but I bet many of your readers have digital cameras. I just bought a new digital camera with 4x optical zoom and 10x digital zoom. What’s the difference? Thanks so much! Judy

Our answer
Thanks Judy. Optical zoom is true zoom. Digital zoom is emulated zoom. Digital zoom is similar to taking a small picture on your computer and making it bigger. The larger you make it, i.e. the more you “zoom” in, the less clear the photo is. So optical zoom is far superior to digital zoom and it’s similar to the quality you’d get with 35mm Single Lens Reflex camera with a zoom lens attached. Digital zoom has limited usefulness – the more you zoom the lower the quality of the picture.

For those looking buy a digital camera, look for a high optical zoom. Optical zoom is one of the most important features to look for when shopping for a compact digital camera which are not Digital SLRs (single lens reflex cameras). Whereas Digital SLRs support add-on lenses and you can buy high-quality zoom lenses, most compact digital cameras (non-SLRs) have no option to attach different lenses. So buy a compact digital camera with the highest optical zoom you can afford. High optical zoom lets you take photos of distant objects so they appear closer. .

Digital SLRs are more expensive but provide you with much more flexibility and higher resolution photographs than do compact fixed lens digital cameras. If you are only interested in taking snapshots, digital cameras will work quite well for you. They are affordable and offer good picture quality – and the small size is convenient for taking the camera with you wherever you go.

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