Optical Zoom vs Digital Zoom: Difference and Comparison

Zoom is a term that is often used in photography, which signifies a change in the apparent distance between the camera and the subject. Zooming in photography is generally of two main types: optical and digital. Both methods use different technologies and produce different qualities in the results.


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Key Takeaways

  1. Optical zoom uses the camera’s lens to magnify the subject, maintaining image quality.
  2. Digital zoom enlarges the image using software, resulting in a potential loss of image quality due to pixelation.
  3. For the best results, prioritize cameras with optical zoom capabilities over those relying solely on digital zoom.

Optical Zoom vs Digital Zoom

Optical zoom refers to the use of the physical lens in the camera to zoom in or out on a subject without sacrificing quality. Digital zoom is a software-based zoom that magnifies the image by cropping the original image and enlarging the remaining portion while sacrificing quality.

Optical Zoom vs Digital Zoom

Optical zoom is caused by the physical movement of the lens of the camera. It helps to magnify the scene without affecting the quality of the photo. Optical zoom provides clearer and zoomed photos. Optical zoom works by altering the focal length of the lens, thus bringing the image closer.

On the other hand, digital zoom is a type of inbuilt processing software in the camera that the user can use to zoom in after the picture has been clicked. It is done by enlarging the pixels in the center of the screen therefore, it causes a decrease in the quality of the image and less resolution.

Comparison Table

Parameters of comparisonOptical zoomDigital zoom
Resolution The resolution remains almost the same after the zoom There is a decrease in the image resolution
Image quality The image quality is good even after zooming in as it involves altering of focal lengthThe image quality is not the same and it appears a bit hazy and distorted
The method used Uses physical change to adjust Uses magnification technology to enlarge and adjust
Process Presence of special button or switch that has to be pressed or rotated to have the subject either magnified or reduced in size Presence of software that calculates new values for the pixels of the image and crops the image
Application Only film cameras have optical zoom Film cameras as well as digital cameras like DSLRs, camcorders, video cameras, mirrorless cameras

What is Optical Zoom?

Optical zoom is available only in film cameras. Optical zoom is important while taking pictures through a camera and trying to get a close shot of the subject. The characteristic of optical zoom is that it makes the subject appear closer while providing the highest resolution and sharpness in the pictures. The optical zoom function has an optical zoom ratio which determines how much the lens can be zoomed.

While taking a picture, the user can get a closer view of the subject without any distortion or reduction in the quality of the image. This helps bring out the details of the pictures, which may be at a distance. Optical zoom brings the focus of the picture to one area.

The technique of zooming through optical zoom involves physically moving the camera’s lenses. The change in the focal length is done physically or manually. The zooming technique involves the lenses being physically extended to magnify the subject. The lens movement in optical zoom is controlled and monitored by the command of the user through motor control.

Cameras with optical zoom have a special button or switch that has to be pressed or rotated to have the subject either magnified or reduced in size. Optical zoom allows users to click pictures from a far distance yet achieve a clear and close-up image. The optical zoom lens has a range that can be changed to fit in the frame.

optical zoom

What is Digital Zoom?

The digital camera is available in most digital cameras and camcorders. Digital zoom can digitally enlarge the size of the scene. It can crop the entire image. Digital zoom can crop the image to a centered area. The ratio of digital zoom is almost the same as the original.

The characteristic of digital zoom is that it interpolates the result back up to the original scene’s pixel dimension. Since the method involves cropping, the resolution and image quality are low and reduced. After cropping the image, digital zoom enlarges the picture back to its size. The image quality does not solely depend upon the camera’s megapixels.

Digital zoom allows change in the apparent angle of view of the picture. The aspect ratio of cropping the image to a central area is the same as the original and does not result back in the pixel dimension of the original image. The adjustment in the camera’s optics is done electronically in digital zoom.

The enlargement of the original pixel layout causes a reduction in the image quality as the camera’s image sensor captures the picture. The software inbuilt into digital Zoom calculates new values for the pixels of the image and crops the image in a full-frame photo. Thus, the photo produced as a result is generally of lower quality than the original photo.

digital zoom

Main Differences Between Optical Zoom and Digital Zoom

  1. The photo produced by Optical Zoom is of high resolution, while the photo produced by Digital Zoom is of low resolution.
  2. The adjustment in the camera’s optics is done physically or manually in optical zoom, while the adjustment in the camera’s optics is done electronically in digital zoom.
  3. Cameras with optical zoom do not have any built-in software for zooming, while cameras with digital zoom hands have built-in software in the camera for zooming.
  4. Optical zoom enlarges the zoomed photo to the original dimensions, while digital zoom crops the rest of the photo and enlarges the selected area.
  5. Optical zoom is only present in specific film cameras, while digital zoom is present in most digital cameras and camcorders.
Difference Between Optical Zoom and Digital Zoom
  1. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/1341679/
  2. https://www.spiedigitallibrary.org/journals/Optical-Engineering/volume-43/issue-1/0000/Adaptive-optical-zoom/10.1117/1.1633570.short
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