Knowledge — 3 years ago

Optical Zoom and Digital Zoom - What’s the Difference?

by Kelly B.

Zoom Definition, Difference Between Optical and Digital Zoom

Optical Zoom and Digital Zoom - What’s the Difference?

Any digital camera usually offers two kinds of zooming option – Optical Zoom and Digital Zoom. But what is the difference between the two? When should you use which? Let us find out.

Optical Zoom

Optical zoom enables you to take a closer shot of your subject without physically moving close to it. It uses the optics/lens of the camera to stretch out for taking a close-up. Since the zoomed picture is captured by the sensor, photos which have been shot on optical zoom report no loss of data. As a result, the photo quality is not compromised and the resolution and sharpness of the final photo are intact. Optical zoom is incredibly useful for taking landscape shots and in situations where it isn't possible for you to physically move any closer to your chosen subject. What optical zoom cameras essentially do is alter the focal length, so the objects in the viewfinder look bigger and are accommodated in the full photo frame. Optical zoom is also not dependant on megapixels. The higher the capability for optical zoom in your camera, the more clear your long-distance shots will turn out. Cameras with low optical zoom are still better than the models with a capacity for higher digital zoom.

Zoom Definition

Digital Zoom

Digital zoom, for the purpose of this article, is actually not Zoom at all. All it does is crop the image in focus and digitally maximize the size of the viewfinder for the portion that is zoomed in on. The pixel dimension and image ratio stays the same as the zoomed out photo. The resolution and picture quality suffers, as a result. The optics of the camera are not involved in digital zoom which uses inbuilt camera software to electronically define a part of the photo. The software crops the photo according to the area that has been zoomed in and enlarges this section to fill in the photo frame. It is always a better idea to use a photo editing software to zoom into the photo later instead of using the built-in digital zoom on your camera. It serves the same function but allows you greater flexibility in terms of the zoom size and zoom areas. On top of this, it also lets you store the original photo for backup. Cameras come with much greater capacity for digital zoom than optical zoom, but since the photo quality is compromised, the optical zoom gives much better results in comparison.


The optical zoom wins hands-down when posed against digital zoom. It enables you to take close-up shots of distant subjects without pulling back on the image quality. The photos come out crisp and clean unlike the photos clicked with digital zoom. Digital zoom tarnishes the photo quality as it makes megapixel adjustments in the resolution. The photo that comes out is highly pixellated. A digital zoom camera can come in handy when you're trying to take discreet shots in a crowded area, but it doesn't help much else.

Optical Zoom

Optical zoom cameras are usually more expensive than cameras with digital zoom. The extra lens and its moving mechanism add up to the cost of the camera. They are also bulkier in comparison to digital zoom cameras which are much slimmer as they do not require any additional lens. One must take care to keep the moving part of an optical zoom camera clean, so it doesn't gather dust. Lastly, optical zoom cameras may consume a little more battery than their digital zoom counterparts because of the constant adjustment of lens distance from the sensor. However, if you're planning to buy a digital camera with a good zooming function – go for optical zoom, without a thought.

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