A few years back, I had the opportunity to sell electronics retail, not my ideal job, but it paid the bills short-term. One of the most popular questions I got was “If the digital zoom number is higher than the optical zoom it doesn’t really matter, they mean the same thing. Right?”
In a nutshell, No.
Digital resolution is the result of sensors inside the camera interpreting the image as it passes through the lens and then recording the image interpreted by the sensor and the internal camera processors and recording this interpretation as the image being viewed. Key words: interpretation of the scene.
Optical zoom means that the camera can actually focus in, like a pair of binoculars or telescope in on the image being seen and accurately recording the data as it was presented to the sensor inside the camera.
If you’re thinking right now, “All I heard was blah, blah, blah… recording,… blah, blah, blah… sensor.” Don’t worry. The point I’m trying to make is this. If you want the absolute best from your camera, and getting up close and personal with the subject is important to you, the optical zoom number is the one that really matters the most.
Some people will argue til they’re blue in the face that digital zoom is just as good, if not better, than optical zoom. And, if that’s their opinion, I’m more than happy to let them have it. But, the way I see it, a camera is only as effective as the person behind the lens. When you present a human being with a difficult decision or dilemma, the human can think around the problem and come up with an effective workaround or alternative solution. No matter how good a computer processor is, it will always, by its very definition be forces to “think” inside of the box.
One of the most popular mantras I’ve heard over and over in the camera community has been repeated so many times, I actually believe it, is this, “I would rather have good glass on a cheap camera, than bad glass on an expensive camera.” Translation: You can’t beat good optics. The better the glass, the better the image. (in case you haven’t picked up on it, glass is another term for the lens being used).
So, if you’re shopping for a point-and-shoot camera, and the real kicker is the digital zoom of the camera, (not the lens), remember this is controlled by the software inside of the camera and is not a true function of the camera, but digital resampling of the image inside. When you look at D-SLRs, that’s why you don’t see digital zoom, it doesn’t exist. The image is recorded as the light comes through the lens and on to the camera sensor.
High-dollar photography word of the day: Bo-keh. Bo-keh, is a Japanese word or interpretation of the quality of the soft focus or out-of-focus areas of the image taken. Bokeh is determined by the light passing through the glass of a camera lens and revealing imperfections or characteristic subtleties specific to the lens being used. Just as diamonds have their own unique differences, so does the glass being used in a camera lens. The more pleasing the bokeh, the more expensive or high-quality the lens.
For those who may have noticed my absence over the past couple of days, I attended a Rolando Gomez Glamour Workshop in San Antonio over the weekend. I can’t say enough about the quality of the models, their experience, or their patience . They were all a real treat to work with, and most important, I learned a thing or two. Just for the record. All of the images presented here are presented with very little, if any, Photoshop or post-production work, with the obvious exception of the black-and-white (greyscale). The weekend was a very good one. Thanks Rolando, and a very special thank you to the models. You can find out more about Rolando’s workshops at http://www.rolandogomez.com.