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Optical vs. Digital Zoom

Zooming is another name for changing the focal length of a lens, as when you zoom from wide angle to telephoto. Zooming is the first lens adjustment novice videographers learn, because it can add interest, even drama, to a scene—and it's easy.

Some consumer camcorders, especially low-cost models, supplement their limited zoom lenses with a digital zoom. For instance, if the optics of the lens only provide limited zooming range (say 10X), and you want to zoom beyond that, an image-processing circuit inside the camcorder selects a smaller portion of the CCD image area and enlarges it electronically. The electronic zoom involves interpolating pixels, a process that always sacrifices resolution.

Digital zooming makes it possible for even the most inexpensive cameras to offer what sounds like major magnification. Of course, it's a cheat. Compound zoom lenses and their high-quality optics can be very expensive; image-processing circuitry is cheap—and the results look it.

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