Digital Zoom Tutorial

By: John Honovich, Published on Jan 17, 2013

Strangely, digital zoom tends to be both underappreciated and overrated.

On the one hand, many feel that you need a super high resolution monitor to make use out of megapixel cameras.

On the other, many believe that super high digital zooms make one camera better than another.

While digital toom has value, both of these positions are mistaken.

The positive side of digital zoom is that it helps to display fine details on smaller monitors. As such, you do not need a $20,000 8 foot tall monitor to see the details of a 10MP. Just digitally zoom and they will become visible.

The negative side of digital zoom comes from misleading expectations about how much digital zoom is needed. In practice, anything more than 2x to 4x for even multi-megapixel cameras is overkill. The good news is that essentially every camera supports this or more. Do not worry about whether one camera has 12x digital zoom and another has 16x. Both are far more than enough for whatever you need.

Here is a video to show this to you in action:

Now, contrast to Hollywood digital zoom to better understand how ridiculous their portayals are:

And, yes, there is video enhancement software but our test of a leading solution shows modest benefits, at best.

Combination Zooms

One bizarre trend among manufacturers is to list a combined zoom, multiplying optical and digital zooms. This is worthless and highly misleading. For instance, if the camera has a 30x optical zoom and a 20x digital zoom, the 'total' zoom is 600x. Unfortunately, this is roughly equivalent to multiplying 9 apples and 3 bowls to get 27 pieces of fruit.

Digital zoom is completely irrelevant to how far a camera can see. Even optical zoom can be misleading. The key factors are maximum focal lens and resolution.

2 reports cite this report:

PTZ Camera Guide 2016 on Sep 15, 2016
Pan/Tilt/Zoom cameras remain critical parts of many surveillance systems, especially in large security operations. Because of this it is important...
New 'Low Cost' Thermal Zoom Camera on Oct 14, 2014
Zoom thermal cameras have typically been feasible only to those with the largest budgets, requiring expensive cooled cameras with six figure price...
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