What optical and digital zoom mean
Optical zoom: An optical zoom means that the lens of the camera can move forward and backward, so that you can either close-in or pull-away from the subject of your photograph. The optical zoom is probably the most popular zoom feature that is on a digital camera. Most people use the optical zoom form, not only because it is convenient, but it also usually gets the best quality of photographs. The optical zoom is thought to produce better quality photographs than other zoom features on digital cameras, such as the digital zoom. Optical zoom options are available on most digital cameras. The zoom features usually are between 2X to 3X magnification, which is usually the standard amount of zoom that people need for their photographs. However, there are optical zoom cameras which can allow for much more magnification, with some cameras going up to 12X magnification! You should remember, however, that most photo manipulation programs on the computer can magnify your image to whatever size you want.
Digital zoom: The digital zoom feature is specific to digital cameras, and it can be found on all digital cameras. With the digital zoom, you crop a picture, and then the cropped picture is brought back to the original image size. In a sense, the smaller, cropped picture is "blown-up" back to the normal image proportions you have selected. Because it is essentially magnifying a detail of your larger picture, the image quality is not quite as good. Images that are taken with digital zoom can often appear blurry, fuzzy, or slightly out-of-focus. For this reason, it is generally recommended that people always use the optical zoom option on their digital cameras. Many serious digital camera photographers suggest that you ignore digital zoom altogether, because the quality of the image is forever ruined. Probably the best idea is to look for a digital camera which not only warns about the lower quality of digital zoom, but also allows you to turn the digital zoom feature on or off. However, if you aren't a serious photographer and concerned about the quality of your images, or if you always will be printing relatively small photographs (no larger than 4" x 6"), then you might find the digital zoom function to be more convenient and useful.
It is also good to remember that most of the features of digital zoom can be also performed in photo manipulation computer programs, such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. So, if you see that a digital camera is advertising a digital zoom with 3X magnification capacity, don't immediately get sucked in to buying it! Image manipulation programs can do the same amount of magnification, and much more than that! However, if you are not familiar with digital manipulation programs, you might find it easier to just use the digital zoom feature and not deal with the hassle of trying to learn the computer program.
Therefore, the optical and digital zoom options are both quite different! Each zoom option has their own advantages, but it is generally accepted that the optical zoom is the best option for digital photographers to use. With the optical zoom option, you will almost always be guaranteed a high quality image in great focus!
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