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Digital Zoom vs Optical Zoom

Perhaps the most misleading of all features advertised for digital cameras is the digital zoom range. Manufacturers realize that consumers will try to compare digital cameras on the basis of features that have a number attached. This is expected considering that most novice buyers don't know what to look for, let along what many of the features mean. The most common comparison points for buyers besides price are probably: the number of megapixels (resolution) and zoom range. Unfortunately, too many people get conned into comparing the heavily advertised digital zoom, and ignore the important one: optical zoom.

Digital Zoom

Typically only found on digital point and shoot cameras, digital zoom is an attempt to increase a camera's zoom range beyond what the lens is capable of through optical magnification alone. Digital zoom can reduce the quality of the resulting image, and as digital SLR cameras generally strive for optimum quality over ease of use, such a feature is rarely included in these cameras.

At a more detailed level, most digital SLR cameras do not include any digital zoom because an assumption is made that digital SLR users don't want their camera to do any post-processing. Digital zoom is just another type of post-processing, and any in-camera processing will be of lesser quality and flexibility than what can be achieved in software on your home computer. For this reason, it is best to leave these operations to full-featured computer software, rather than having the camera guess at the appropriate settings and algorithms to use.

What is digital zoom?

Digital zoom is simply a software program running in your camera that enlarges your original image (as if you were zooming in with a real optical zoom lens). The resolution of the digital sensor is fixed and no more image information exists to help create this "zoomed in" simulation. Therefore, the software must attempt to make an educated guess at what the additional pixels might look like. This process is called interpolation, and is the act of estimating what data might exist between any points of known data.

For example, let's say that your camera has 2.0x digital zoom. When the camera is set at 1.0x digital zoom, the camera is capturing exactly what it sees with its sensor array through the lens (ie. the digital zoom is disabled). But if one were to increase the zoom to 1.5x digital, then we are basically inserting an extra pixel for every two real pixels. Many algorithms exist for this interpolation, but they all generally involve averaging the contents of the known pixels surrounding the unknown / new pixel.

The amount of digital zoom is often quoted as the product of the real optical zoom and the amount of digital magnification. In other words, a camera that advertises 3x optical and 6x digital zoom is really 3x optical with an additional 2x magnification simulated through digital enlargement.

As would be expected, the digital "zoomed" version of a photo will generally show less detail and not be as sharp. This is because what used to be a sharp edge (eg. a bright line in the photo) would now be blended across multiple pixels. Advanced digital zoom algorithms might try to compensate for this by adding in sharpening and edge detection. Even with these additional methods, the camera is only making educated guesses about the content for the new pixels and cannot obviously add any new detail to the original image.

Optical Zoom

Optical zoom is the visual magnification we were all familiar with prior to the advent of digital cameras. A set of moving lenses allows a range in optical magnification that runs anywhere from 2.0x to 10.0x. The ultra-compact digital cameras either offer no optical zoom (easily spotted by no protruding / moveable lens element), or they may go so far as to provide up to 3x optical zoom. Prosumer digital point and shoot cameras with the ultra-zoom lenses sometimes provide zoom range up to 10x. Most people will find that 3x optical zoom is an absolute minimum requirement for their digital camera.

Disable Digital Zoom

Many digital cameras have designed their zoom function to automatically switch over from optical zoom to digital zoom once the optical range is at maximum. Usually, the camera will indicate on the LCD display that it is now using digital zoom instead of just optical zoom. If image quality is important to you, make sure that you never exceed the optical zoom range and enter the digital zoom range. Most cameras provide some means of disabling digital zoom, which would prevent you from zooming past the real zoom range. I strongly recommend that you find this option and disable it, preventing accidental use of the digital zoom feature.

If you need to enlarge part of a digital photo, leave it up to software such as Photoshop, where you will have much better control over how the enlargement is done (eg. using bicubic smoother, etc.)

Potential Benefits of Digital Zoom

While I generally recommend that one avoid the use of "in-camera" digital zoom, because it is extremely inflexible (no control over sharpening, type of resampling, etc.), it does offer one reasonable advantage (especially in digicams that only shoot in JPEG):

The digital zoom's resampling function is performed before the JPEG compression stage.

What this means is that the camera is working with the "raw" image data from the sensor, upsizing this image and then finally JPEG compression is applied before writing to your memory card. The alternative is up-sizing done in Photoshop, where one starts with the digicam's "unzoomed" JPEG output -- but the JPEG artifacts are now already in the source data. The upresing will cause magnification of these artifacts, further reducing the overall image quality slightly. This is particularly an issue for Point & Shoot digicams as the JPEG quantization tables used in these cameras tend to sacrifice image quality for higher compression rates. In the image below, you can clearly see some of the JPEG artifacting in the source photo.

The following images depict the comparison between in-camera digital zoom (Canon SD400) at 4.0x (after 3.0x optical magnification) versus Photoshop resampling of 4.0x with several interpolation methods.

Comparison of Digital Zoom to Photoshop Upresing

 


Reader's Comments:

Please leave your comments or suggestions below!
2011-03-22Joy G.
 Hi! I am just curios.. I saw a Canon SX30is with a 35x wide angle optical image stablized zoom for $350 and a Canon G12 with 5x optical image stalized zoom for $450.. is there a difference between a wide angle optical zoom and optical zoom? Which camera is better? Thank You =)
2010-12-06Anon
 Best Buy (website) for a Samsung SL605. Somebody answered: 5x optical zoom and 3x digital zoom functions. Using both will offer a total zoom ratio of 15x.

I questioned this. The response: maximum available zoom ratio. both optical and digital are relevant. The total effective ratio is the product of two. The individual zoom ratio are also provided for customers who prefer to use only the optical zoom.

As you can see this is an inexpensive point & shoot. I am a consumer attempting to find accurate information. Thanks for giving consumers like myself accurate information on zoom ratios!
2009-11-15santosh
 Thanks for this very informative piece of writing .. This will help me in deciding what to look for while buying a camera
2009-08-19jo
 Thanks so much for your information, really appreciated it. Nice and clear. I was in particular looking for clarification on how the mm magnifications translate into #x magnifications. You should probably make a page specifically on this - ie the formula high-mm-zoom-size divided by low = optical zoom. Also glad you're clearing up the myths about digital zoom.
2009-06-09kele g.
 It's great reading through the fantastic answers that you give to people about cameras and photography.

I want to purchase a camera mainly for video recording. I have two options that I am considering; Kodak Z1012 (10 Mega pixel, 12x optical zoom and a 5x digital zoom); and Samsung SMX F300 (camcorder with, 0.8Mega pixel, 34x optical zoom and 1200x digital zoom).

Could you please advice me on the one to select considering usage being mainly for video recording.
The video format for the samsung camcorder is H264 while the Kodak has video output, MPEG.
can the H264 format by the camcorder be encoded easily?
can the windows media player play this file format?

can the camcoder with low megapixel produce good still photos if used for taking photographs?
2009-05-31 
 thank you
2009-02-01Paige
 Hi, I stumbled upon this page and you seem totally amazing based on your answers to the questions people asked. I am hoping you can point me to the right direction. I am 13, and I have been interested in photography for the last few years. I always wanted to shoot wildlife, mainly birds, but never had a long zoom camera. Three weeks ago my dad bought me a used Nikon D40 that came with an 18-55mm and a 55-200mm auto lenses. It shoots totally awesome pictures but any long zoom lenses that meets my requirement would cost $thousands. My dad is trying to save money to buy an Olympus SP-570, but now he thinks he will save a little more to buy the new SP-590 instead. My family does not have a lot of money. Do you think it's justified to spend thousands for a Nikon lens or would one of the mentioned Olympus model be good enough? Have you tried the SP-570? Thank you in advance.
 Hi there Paige -- I am not very familiar with the Olympus digicams, so I can't provide specific details for you. However, with the Nikon D40, you've got a fantastic camera that will take you very far in your photography interests! Over time you may intend to upgrade your lenses, but for now the 18-55 + 55-200 will probably be a reasonable combination to get going. With your interest in birds, you will eventually be interested in upgrading the telephoto lens, and I'd suggest that you look at some of the cheaper alternatives made by Tamron or Sigma. I would suggest renting a lens from a local store to see if you feel that the differences are worth it before you purchase. If you really want to keep costs down, you may want to consider trying out a teleconverter, which will expand the reach of your telephoto (but the autofocus might be disabled).

Although I usually recommend starting with a good point & shoot digicam first before going to dSLR, if you're quite keen on photography, you might get more out of sticking with the Nikon and saving up for other lenses in the future.

Have fun!
2008-04-20HARRY
 Please advice me which of the two canon models is suitable for me. The Power Shot SD 890 IS or the Power Shot SD 950 IS. I usually take family photos. The SD890 has 10 MP x 5 Opt Zoom and the SD 950 ahs 12.1 x 3.7 opt zoom.
Regards Haris
2008-03-22skp
 Your answers were really helpful in deciding how to pick a camera. Thanks
2008-02-24jenn
 hi there! i am looking for a good point and shoot at a reasonable price, while i save up for an SLR model. i take photos of my three very busy sons and need something that takes good quality shots even when they are moving around a lot.
i currently have a 5mp kodak easy share and a 7.1 traveler. i love my easy share and hate my traveler. so i'm leaning towards another kodak easy share.
the two i'm comparing are the EasyShare Z1275 - 12 MP Digital Camera, 5x optical and the EasyShare Z612
6.1 MP Digital Camera, 12x optical. from what i've read, i should go with the z612. am i right in that assumption?
do you know anything about either of these, and are they worth the little bit of investment?
thanks for your site!
 I'm not particularly familiar with these cameras, but in general: going for the 12x optical zoom over 5x is usually a good choice (all other things equal). But when your main focus is on moving subjects (your sons), make sure that you select (and test out) a model that demonstrates reasonably fast shutter lag.
2008-01-01Leah
 Hello,
I am currently choosing between two digital cameras: Sony DSC-T200 with 8.1 MP, 5x Optical and a large 3.5” screen, and a Canon PowerShot SX100 IS with a 8.0 MP, 10x Optical and a smaller 2.5” screen. They are both pricey cameras - I know that Canon has a solid name when it comes to digital cameras. Sony has a good reputation all around, and I've heard their cameras have excellent battery life.
I would mostly be using my camera to snap pictures of my family and friends, but also for nature and wildlife at times when I will want to whip out my camera and take close-ups on the go. Image stabilization and crisp pictures are important to me, and the only thing I am still not quite sure of is which of those two cameras would have better quality pictures overall. I want to have very clear detail when I'm shooting nature or a city skyline but also a good balance for when I'm taking pictures of people and do not require that flawless zoom. What do you think?
Thank you so much!
2008-01-01Leah
 Hello,

I am currently choosing between two digital cameras: Sony DSC-T200 with 8.1 MP, 5x Optical and a large 3.5" screen, and a Canon PowerShot SX100 IS with a 8.0 MP, 10x Optical and a smaller 2.5" screen. They are both pricey cameras - I know that Canon has a solid name when it comes to digital cameras. Sony has a good reputation all around, and I've heard their cameras have excellent battery life.

I would mostly be using my camera to snap pictures of my family and friends, but also for nature and wildlife at times when I will want to whip out my camera and take close-ups on the go. Image stabilization and crisp pictures are important to me, and the only thing I am still not quite sure of is which of those two cameras would have better quality pictures overall. I want to have very clear detail when I'm shooting nature or a city skyline but also a good balance for when I'm taking pictures of people and do not require that flawless zoom. What do you think?
Thank you so much!
 Given your current choices, my personal preference would be towards the Canon model. In the past, I have not been as impressed with the digital noise in my experiences with Sony point & shoot digicams, although both have 1/2.5" sensors, so it likely comes down to differences in noise reduction technology. You get considerably more telephoto range on the Canon, which could be an asset for your interest in nature shots. For nighttime skyline shots, the Sony has a more limited slow shutter speed capability versus the Canon. That said, the larger screen of the Sony is certainly nice to have (not only large in size, but slightly more resolution / detail), more for sharing photos with others than for the actual shooting. I haven't used the touch-screen based Sony digicams yet, so I'm not sure whether or not I'd like it. I have a high-end Sony camcorder that uses a touch-screen for all menu selections, and I find myself not particularly keen on this trend. These are minor issues -- altogether I think both will likely suit your needs quite adequately.
2007-12-01Joe
 I'm thinking of buying a 12 MP digital camera, but the optical zoom is only 3x. Would it be better to get a camera with a lesser MP and a higher zoom? What would you get better detail with? Cropping in on a picture with high MP, or zooming in on something with a high optical zoom? Thanks!
 Because different cameras have different lens quality and image quality, this is not always an easy decision to make. Nonetheless, I would tend to suggest that you go for a camera with a longer range optical zoom than a higher megapixel count. While it is true that you can sometimes get away with cropping to get the equivalent of a longer zoom, you'll probably find it to be a hassle if you must rely on it often. Realistically, most people see very little advantage in having over 8 megapixels on a digicam -- the added cost in storage space shouldn't be ignored.

The other problem with the crop technique is that often camera manufacturers have packed in more megapixels for the same sensor size (as each new model is released). By increasing the number of pixels (resolution), the size of each photosite (the sensor element that detects the incoming light) is reduced. This generally has the disadvantage of increasing noise -- in other words, you may be sacrificing image quality in the process (in addition to the increased hassle).
2007-09-01Jerry
 I have a panasonic dmc-tz15 10 megapixels optical zoom
i am having trouble understanding what magnification I get at at infinite range versus the magnification I get say at 50 feet when I focus at an object. also what happens when I use macro mode how does optical zoom work as far as magnification in that mode
thanks
 The best way to explore the effects of magnification is to work through a few examples using the formulas for lenses and magnification. Have a look at this page, the Mathematics of Lenses. Although I'm not 100% certain, I believe these formulae will still work to calculate the magnification in the macro range.
2007-04-30william
 I must congratulate you for giving us honest and truthful explanation about digital zoom and optical zoom. I must thank you that you were true to the core in enlightening photograhic community and building their confidence in the art of photography. Finally thanks for the enlightenment.
william
 Thanks William! It can be disappointing to see so many people get swayed by the marketing gimmicks that are used by nearly all camera manufacturers these days to keep the public guessing and eager for the next model!
2006-12-22Guadalupe Sanchez
 I really like taking pictures of landscapes, and sunsets everything that has to do with nature you name it … so when I get older I want to be a photographer. I have some pictures that I took with my Canon PowerShot A520 (4.0 MP) I want to buy a camera but I’m on a budget so I want the best quality pictures for the least amount of money… I was looking at some cameras but I don’t know what 1.5x optical zoom is … the most I have seen is a 12x optical zoom......

So what camera do you recommend?
2006-11-19sc
 I am planning to buy a Sony Handicam. There are these two models: DCR-HC36E which has 20x optical zoom and 0.4 effective MP and DCR-HC46E which has 12x optical zoom with 1.0 effective MP. Which one will be better? Also, both these are Mini DV form of handycams from Sony. How does these fundamentally differ from the DVD Handycams ? Is there any difference in image quality ?
2006-09-21Peter Shute
 Your comments are completely true for cameras that can save a raaw image, but not necessarily for the majority that only save jpg's.

I tried this experiment with my Canon A40: I took a photo of a newspaper at maximum optical zoom (3x) at a distance where the text could barely be read in the final photo. Then, without moving the camera, I took another photo at maximum digital zoom (3x optical and 2.5x digital = 7.5x). Then I
downloaded the photos and enlarged the first photo by 2.5x to make them the same scale. The text in the digitally zoomed photo was noticeably more
readable, e.g. the loop of the e's was not filled in. My conclusion was that digital zoom on my camera was a useful feature. Several friends have do the same experiment and found the same thing.

My theory is that the camera enlarges the raw image before compressing to jpg format, and therefore gives me a better quality enlarged image than I could achieve by enlarging a jpg on my PC. Other cameras may do it differently, giving a worse result.

There's no doubt that optical zoom is superior to digital, but digital zoom, for many people, can be useful. The main thing is for people to know what they're buying.
 Excellent point, Peter! Most digicams should, in fact, perform the resampling of the raw image data before JPEG compression, so your findings will make perfect sense. While the comparison with Photoshop-based resampling is difficult (as there are countless ways to enlarge, using varying degrees of interpolation algorithms and sharpening optimized for image content), on the whole one would expect a slight improvement in some cases with the in-camera digital zoom.

That being said, I still wouldn't recommend it unless one absolutely needs to enlarge the image later (and no RAW output is supported). The lack of tuning in the mechanism used to do the resampling is enough of a deterrent for me. And, in more recent digicams that use better compression quality, this should be less of an issue. Thanks for the reminder! -- I have now added a section above to demonstrate the differences.
 
2006-09-11MHensley
 I have been looking at cameras for a year now. I am wanting a 10x or 12x optical zoom. At least a 5 mp. But which do you think is better Koadak Z650, P612, P712 or Cannon supershot s3, or are there any others you would highly recommend in the price range 300-500 dollars? I am taking action shots of my son in football from the stadium. I am wanting a camera that will last several years. Is minnolta a good camera? Do I need to use a tripod when taking pics? I need a quick shutter speed so I wont miss the action. The one I have know takes seconds to hold before it actually takes the pic so I lose the what I am aiming at. Please respond as quick as possible
Thank you very much.
2006-07-06angel
 What is the focal length multiplier ? How affects the quality of a camera and how it can be estimated ?
Regards from Spain.
 Hi -- The focal length multiplier, in simple terms, is a measure of much extra magnification you get out of a SLR lens on a given Digital SLR camera than if you used the same lens on a 35mm Film camera. Focal length multipliers are only really used when talking about digital SLR cameras, not point & shoot cameras.

Many lenses that were originally used on a film camera can now also work on a digital SLR. Canon and Nikon made the changes to their lens mounts quite a while ago to allow them to work interchangeably. The average photographer would have expected that what you see through the lens (and in the resulting image) of the lens on a film camera should look the same as what it looks like on a digital SLR camera (at a given focal length). But, this is not generally the case!

One typically finds that the effective focal length of a lens when attached to a digital SLR is significantly higher than the focal length observed when attached to the film camera. This is know as a focal length multiplier or field of view crop.

The reason for this difference is rooted in the size of the optical sensor in the back of the digital SLR when compared to the size of a 35mm negative in a film camera. If digital SLRs used a sensor that was the same size as a standard negative frame (and the distance to the film plane were the same), then there would be no difference or multiplier in the focal length. Unfortunately (or fortunately!) the dSLR sensors are generally smaller (than the 35mm diagonal of film) and this leads to a cropping of the image that falls at the back of the camera's film plane.

The focal length multiplier, which is typically 1.6x for prosumer Canon models and 1.5x for Nikon models, is simply the ratio between the size of a 35mm film frame and the size of the sensor used. In Canon's prosumer (i.e. non-professional) dSLRs, the sensor size is called APS-C, which is 22mm, so 35mm/22mm = 1.6x.

Generally, the focal length multiplier doesn't have much bearing on the quality of the camera or resulting images. However, the smaller the sensor and the larger the resolution (megapixels), the more likely the sensor is going to suffer from digital noise, which worsens quality.

Hope that helped! Cal.
2006-07-01Gerry
 I'm just about to start in elevated photography, (from a 26m mast). I am using a Canon PowerShot Pro1 camera with the images sent via cable to a pc. Can you give me any advice if the camera is up to the job, and any comments as to getting the best images. Thanks gerry
 Hi Gerry -- In all honesty I have no experience with aerial photography, so no obvious reasons come to mind as to why the camera may or may not be suitable for the task. Sounds very interesting, though!
2006-06-19Tshombe Crumley
 I am highly interested in pursuing fashion photography. I have some experience taking photographs however; I need advice on what investment I need to make as far as the camera and lighting equipment that I should purchase. I hope for my pics to be feautured in magazines!
 Here are some quick suggestions:
  • Light kit - Best is to get yourself a set of 2 or 3 studio strobes (cheapest is Alien Bees or White Lightning), or if you're just starting out, get some hotlamps (500W color-balanced bulbs) with proper protective housing.
  • Sharp portrait lens - I use a 100/2.8 macro lens typically, but there are many alternatives out there in the 50-100mm range that will work within the confines of a studio (for 1.6x FOV digital cameras). You can always soften details later in photoshop if you need.
  • Light meter - If you ever plan on using studio lights, you'll need to get a lightmeter to balance your lights to get proper lighting ratios across the model's face, contrast with the background and flash exposure. For this I use a Sekonic L-358, which is pretty well regarded.
  • Grey Card - You'll need some way to get accurate color reproduction, so make sure you have a calibrated grey-card with you (it'll have white and black squares which you use later as a reference in Photoshop).
  • High-Resolution dSLR - If you're planning on selling to magazine spreads, you'll need to shoot with a sharp, low-noise, high-quality, color-managed, high-resolution camera. Magazines usually stipulate high demands in terms of real resolution, so 6-12 megapixels is probably the right range, but often mandated in the high end. You'll need to shoot in RAW, 100 ISO, using a wide-gamut color space (e.g. Adobe RGB), and probably on a tripod.
  • Photoshop - This is most certainly a necessity as almost every final product will need some degree of retouching, even for the most flawless of women and outfits!
  • Training - To get the most out of your lighting setups (e.g. Rembrandt lighting, etc.) and software (retouching), you should probably invest in some reasonable training so that you can work efficiently and not rely on trial and error!
Enjoy!
2006-06-19nate
 I have a 3.2 mp camera with a 10x optical zoom. I am wanting to upgrade to a camera with more mp. I also like to take pics of wildlife my old camera did a good job since it has a 10x optical zoom. My question is where does the optical zoom and the mp of a camera meet? I have seen 10mp cameras with 3x optical zoom and 6mp cameras with 10x optical zoom. How can I tell which one will do a better job when I start enlarging pics and is there posibly a better combination of mp and zoom that I havent found?
I want a camera that I can carry anywhere but has the capabilty to enlarge pics.
 What I think you are interested in knowing is how the magnification of the cameras compare... If so, then what you really want to look at is the maximum focal lengths and megapixels (assuming that these are 35mm equivalent ratings). For example, let's assume you have a 10MP camera with 3x optical zoom (eg. from 35-105mm) and another one that is 6MP with a 10x optical zoom (eg. 28-280mm). Taking the product of maximum focal length and megapixels yields a rough comparison in the ability to resolve distant objects (i.e. wildlife). So, in this example: 105 * 10 = 1050 and 280 x 6 = 1680. So, the 6 megapixel camera with a longer range zoom will probably offer you better ability to see distant objects.

Unfortunately, this isn't necessarily completely true, as the quality of the sensor and optics often factors into it as well. Using the long end of a super-zoom (e.g. 10x or 14x) might result in softer images than a higher-quality 4x optical zoom. The best bet is probably to get a rough idea with the formula described above, but then rely on side-by-side tests to really make the decision.
2006-06-13Chris
  I have a Cannon A80 4.0 megapixel cammera with a 11x digital zoom and a 3.0 optical zoom. I have the digital zoom disabled, due to the fact that I didn't like the pictures I took using it. When are the megapixels large enough? Do I really need a 10 megapixel cammera? The files from the 4 megapixel are huge. I use Adobe photoshop elements 3.0 and save them in Bmp. Is there a better way to save? Is converting them into bmp after taking them off the cammera in jpeg the best thing? I don't want to loose quality. Digital isn't like a negative. So I don't want to loose quality in my images. To my understanding bmp is a better file to save in then Jpeg.
 Good question! You definitely don't need a 10 megapixel camera... A big part of the decision comes down to what you plan on doing with your photos once you've shot them. If they are going to be enlarged significantly, then the additional resolution (if the lens optics are good to match) can certainly help. For most casual shooters, 4 megapixels is fine enough, and can still be enlarged reasonably (6" x 8" @ 300 DPI).

But, as for saving them as BMP, I would say don't!!! Bitmap format is a better image format from a quality perspective (if you are resaving them after editing) as they are lossless (no additional image degradation), but keep in mind that the "loss" you get with JPEG has already happened by the time you have taken your picture (if you are shooting in JPEG mode). Thus, keep it in its native format, JPEG, where you will get tremendous file savings and no additional image quality reduction. If you are resaving edited JPEG files, then you may want to consider a lossy compression format (such as BMP, PSD, etc.), but even then the differences are most often extremely fine.
2006-06-12Peggy Pierce
 I am buying my first digital camera and would like to know if I should really concerned in the optical zoom being over 3x. I am looking at Kodak c643 or c663 and I like what they have to offer but the optical zoom is only 3x. Should I totally look at nothing that doesn't have image stablization? Help!
 If this is your first digital camera, then you shouldn't have any problems with a model that has 3x optical and no image stabilization! 3x is very common, and I only suggest that it is a minimum that most people will find adequate. If you were into wildlife, for example, you may eventually find it to be somewhat limiting, but for a first camera, I really wouldn't worry. After using the Kodak for a while, you'll start to recognize which features in other models are more important to you (e.g. speed of focus, startup delay, shutter lag, ISO noise, modes, manual focus, accessories, battery life, etc.) Similarly, don't make Image Stabilization an important feature... it's a great plus, but people have survived without it for ages -- your shooting technique can also offer you improvements in your ability to shoot slower shutter speeds, for instance. Newer models have better high-ISO support (with acceptable noise), meaning that you can make up for the lower-light difficulties. Bottom line, don't worry about Image Stabilization -- it's a nice-to-have, but I would never call it a must-have.
2006-05-22nelson
 Will digital cameras ever completely replace traditional film cameras and what pace do you reckon?
 Interesting question. In my opinion, this transition is already well underway. I held off until I felt that the benefits and convenience outweighed the slight reduction in image quality that I would get. Now, the latest 8+ megapixel dSLRs have already approached equivalent quality when one compares the low digital noise to film grain of 35mm film cameras.

There are still some changes that I think will happen over the next few years to make this decision even easier, in particular: the cost of full-frame sensors will become affordable (so wide-angle photographers can get the most out of their lens investment).

So, many 35mm photographers have already made the change, recognizing the many advantages of digital over film. This has led to the fact that most camera companies have actually stopped production of their film cameras and devoted their efforts into the digital realm.

That being said, for those photographers who shoot medium or large-format (advertising, product, magazine, etc.), the transition has been slower. While there are some ultra-high resolution medium format digital cameras (digital backs), these are often prohibitively expensive. Then, there are those who will never want to adopt digital photography because they enjoy working in the darkroom or don't want to invest in the new tools and methodologies. So, I am sure that there will still be a lingering market for the high-end film cameras, but the remaining 35mm film shooters will probably be only really left with a used camera market.
2006-05-07Barb
 I am not very clear on knowing what zoom my lenses have. I have a Nikon 70-300mm (camera is a Nikon D50). How does this telephoto lens compare with a 10X optical zoom?
 Thankfully it's very easy. Take the long focal length (300mm) divided by the short focal length (70mm), and you have the optical zoom factor equivalent (300/70 = 4.3x). A 10x optical zoom (in a point & shoot digicam), is pretty hard to find in a quality SLR lens, but there are new 28-300mm lenses that give this huge range.
2006-03-18Debra
 Interested in a all around solid SLR digital camera at the best value for <$1,000. Optical zoom is important feature as would like to capture good wildlife pictures. Also the more compact and light the better so I will be willing to carry it with me.
 When you go to any SLR you no longer have to worry about optical zoom as that is only a feature of your lens choices that you can buy later. There are many options, but I'd usually recommend the Canon Digital Rebel or Nikon D50 for starters. You can get great used pricing on these, leaving you with money for your wildlife lens (eg. 70-300mm, for example).
2006-01-18GP
 Very Interesting and helpful to a digital SLR novice.I have a Nikon D50 with Sigma 18/200 zoom. Can you tell whatis its optical zoom and how zoom numbers(18mm - 200mm) relate to optical magnification numbers?
 Your lens is really a super-zoom, in that its zoom range is 11x, quite a significant range!

For a Nikon D50 with a 1.5x focal length multiplier, this translates into a maximum optical magnification of 1:4.4 -- basically a measure of how much close-up magnification is achievable with the lens. Macro lenses can usually get down to 1:1.
2005-12-31g. mills
 my wife wants to upgrade from her canon g-1 (3.4mp) she
complains about the resolution when zooming. i have tried to tell her to take regular (non-zoomed) pic's and enlarge
on the computer later. am i right or incorrect ? she is all fired up to go get another camera..any recommendations ?
likely 8 mp with interchangeable lens' will keep her happy for a while ?
thanks for your input !
 You will always be better off using the camera's optical zoom than relying on the computer for enlargement, assuming that you are not suffering from camera shake. If the lighting is low and you are using a long focal length (ie. zoomed in considerably), then your best bet is to use a tripod. If you can't use a tripod or other suitable bracing technique, then you may be better off shooting at a shorter focal length (non-zoomed) and then using an enlargement on the computer. But this is entirely dependent upon what the lighting is like and what focal length you are using. In normal situations (with good exposure), I'd recommend that you do rely on the camera's optical zoom.

As for a recommendation on a 8 megapixel SLR, I would have to suggest that you seriously look into the Canon Digital Rebel XT. There are some great deals on 6 megapixel offerings that you should consider too: the Canon Digital Rebel / 300D and the Nikon D70.
2005-12-29Geroge.
 I have a sony cybershot digital camera 5.3 MP. Should I take a good picture with digital zoom?.
 You are always better off disabling (turning off) the digital zoom function so that you don't accidentally use it.
2005-12-27LJ
 I am looking to buy a camcorder, and I am very confused with the optical/digital zooms. Some have very high optical and digital zoom (30x optical, 1000x digital), while others are very low (10X optical, 120X digital zoom). Any comments on the difference?
 First, let's ignore any of the differences in digital zooms. Digital zoom is completely up to software running inside your camera and is no reflection on the capability of the video camera's optics.

So, now we're comparing models with 10x to others with 30x. You will often pay more to get an increase in optical zoom, and some of these super-zooms actually provide acceptable image quality, even in their far extents of magnification. Since video resolution is far less than photo resolution (0.3MP vs 3-8MP), it is possible to get away with more magnification from the optics without the degradation in quality being as noticeable.

So, from the perspective of video cameras, the extra benefit gained in an enhanced optical zoom range is often beneficial -- just be prepared to either use a tripod or rely on the image stabilization to help steady the shot.
2005-12-18dh
 is digital zoom better then optical zoom?
 Actually, the opposite is true. When lenses create magnification optically, they still have the benefit of virtually unlimited resolution (limited by the quality of the glass). Once the optically-zoomed image falls upon the camera's sensor, it is digitized into a finite resolution (eg. 3 megapixels). It is at this point that digital zoom comes into play.

Digital zoom examines a cropped (smaller) portion of your digitized image and then tries to interpolate (fill in the gaps) between the pixels it captured. By introducing guessed elements, it can increase the perceived size of the image (digital zoom). But the problem is that it has to create these guesses from only a finite (limited) number of known elements. These guesses are never as realistic as an optically-magnified version of the same scene. Therefore, digital zoom is always worse than optical zoom.
2005-12-12 
 I learn that samsung is bringing out camera phone with digital and optical zoom. will it be bulky because of the optical zoom?
 While digital zoom adds nothing to the dimensions, optical zoom will. However, the optical zoom lens arrays can be extremely small, as witnessed in cameras such as the Sony DSC-T7, where a 3x optical zoom is integrated in a package less than a centimetre thick! So, while the optical quality will likely be quite poor, it is conceivable that the camera phone may pack an optical zoom without being bulky!
2005-12-11cdz
 I was wanting to get into photography basically as a hobby and eventually to start doing for profit on the side. I have registered for a couple of classes to better familiarize myself w/ this subject. What type(s) of cameras do you feel would be in my best interest to buy?
 If you are serious about eventually getting into a profitable venture, I strongly recommend starting with a SLR camera. Learn all of the photographic fundamentals, instead of relying on the instant feedback / experimentation that many depend on with their digital cameras. As the costs have come down significantly, I would suggest you consider either the Nikon or Canon entry-level digital SLRs (eg. Nikon D50 or Canon 300d / Digital Rebel). Purchase used so that you save your money for a future upgrade or other gear. Good luck!
2005-12-04rj
 I can think of one important use of digital zoom: composing a hard to see subject. Suppose I want to take a picture of a rabbit at some distance and I cannot see with unaided vision its orientation and portrait form. However, with the digital zoom all that becomes readily apparent. If my camera has enough pixels, then I can still get a useful image of the rabbit in an interesting pose. The alternative is to just blindly take a number of shots with the optical zoom and hope for a good image that can later be cropped and otherwise edited.
2005-11-27c gabriel
 very helpful info for the digital novice.
2005-08-08bkj
 

If I want to take some photos to enlarge, would it be better to use a Nikon N6006 film camera or a 3.2 megapixel digital camera? Is there a market value for the Nikon should I want to get rid of it? Thanks for your advice.

 

With a 3.2 MP digital camera, you are most certainly better off taking the photo with your film camera, if you plan to enlarge. Shooting in a film with fine grain (high-quality ISO 100, for example) in combination with a reasonable lens will give you a lot more detail than you'd get from the digital camera. As for market value, I can't say, but it's often worth hanging on to the film SLRs as they can still do some things better than their digital counterparts (eg. infra-red photography, night star trails, etc.).

2005-03-28 
 

Very informative information for a non-expert.

 


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