What are the differences between optical and digital zoom?

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What are the differences between optical and digital zoom? Are you ready to learn the mistakes we know are right?

Zoom performance, like many camera features, has a much more complex structure than what technology giants offer. Smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung, Huawei and Xiaomi have now added the 10x, 50x and even 100x zoom feature. Can this make a difference? Here are the differences between optical and digital zoom.

What are the differences between optical and digital zoom? What are we paying more for?

What is zoom? What does it actually mean to be 5x or 10x? Lens magnification (how much a lens magnifies distant objects) is the result of the focal length and the resulting field of view.

The longer the focal length (varies with the size of the image sensor) the lens has a smaller field of view. This makes distant objects appear closer than they would with a lens with a shorter focal length.

Lenses are added to devices according to their focal length, not based on how much the objects magnify. The zoom feature as we currently use it is basically a marketing concept popularized by compact cameras. This concept initially changed over time with the ratio of the shortest and longest focal lengths of a lens.

When viewed, the 10mm-100mm lens had 10x zoom while the 25mm-100mm lens had 4x zoom. This meant that a lens capable of 10x zoom didn’t make everything look 10x bigger. Smartphone manufacturers, on the other hand, use the zoom feature differently.

For example, 1x zoom is generally accepted as the field of view of the main camera. Rather than resetting the 1x to its widest angle, smartphones like the iPhone 11 Pro add an even wider lens and call it a 0.5x zoom, causing things to change.

Are the differences between optical and digital zoom obvious? How does Optical Zoom work?

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It means that we can expect mostly the same magnification on smartphones with 10x zoom compared to compact cameras. So what actually is the difference between optical and digital zoom?

Optical zoom is when the physical properties of a lens actually magnify distant objects. For example, a telescope is purely a product of optical zoom. If you look at the moon with a lens of this property, it looks bigger. Quality is not lost and objects appear closer.

Optical zoom at least relies on lenses with focal lengths that are longer than the sensor size of the camera. Those huge lenses of sports photographers are one of the best examples. The focal length of a long telephoto lens for DSLR cameras is between 500-1,000mm. In addition, the focal length may be shorter for smaller cameras.

This means that it can also achieve great optical zoom on compact cameras thanks to the 100 mm lenses.

Tech giants in smartphones have started using periscope lenses for better optical zoom. This technology, which makes the lens thinner and zooms high and lossless, is really successful in flagship phones. These 5x zoom lenses are still far from 100x, so will manufacturers be able to make their claims? The answer is unclear.

How does Digital Zoom work?

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As we mentioned before, zooming happens in different ways. Basically, digital zooming just crops a photo, making the objects in it appear bigger. This is exactly the problem with digital zoom. While optical zoom grows without losing image quality, digital zoom cannot provide this, and the further you zoom in the image, the worse the image quality begins.

However, digital zoom is experiencing significant improvements as optical zoom stands at a very costly point for smartphones. Although optical zoom gives really good results, it especially increases the cost of smartphones and goes beyond the reach of many users.

In addition to these details, Periscope lenses in smartphones are a relatively new development, so there are still many points that need improvement. Therefore, smartphone manufacturers are working hard to make digital zoom better and minimize quality loss.

Let’s start to learn the mistakes we know right

Using lens sensors that offer incredibly high resolution. The Samsung Galaxy S20 has a 64 Megapixel telephoto camera. Such a high resolution sensor means there must be more images to be cropped and therefore more digital zoom.

Pixels are grouped. Combining multiple pixels into a single super pixel offers better quality in digitally zoomed images rather than cropping them later.

Tech giants that use artificial intelligence and machine learning provide improved photos in this way. This promising development at the point of mobile photography, of course, provides important paths in zoom technology.

High level digital zoom is unlikely without optical zoom.

These crazy 50x and 100x zooms are only possible as they are a mix of optical and digital zoom. Digital techniques provide more precise zoom, while a real optical lens provides more different results.

Samsung may be increasing the zoom figures, but there are actually different details under these high Megapixels.

After all, while digital zoom isn’t a bad thing (especially when not overused), there are some downsides to zooming in too much. Of course, there is a loss of image quality, but at the same time it becomes difficult to take pictures, shaky pictures can appear, and many other things can be a problem.

You zoomed in 20x or 30x. To get a good shot you need to keep your phone incredibly still, you may even need a tripod for this (if you want the best result). Another detail that should not be forgotten is that you can zoom in at this high rate under an adequate light source. In other words, although there will be loss of image at least, the result will not be bad because the photo receives enough light.

We gave information about the differences between optical and digital zoom. Besides, what is the zoom? We have given the answer to the question. The differences between digital and optical zoom are obvious, but this difference is trying to be compensated by the development of new technologies. It is not known whether this difference will close over the years, but it is certain that there will be important developments.


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