Five years ago when writing Digital Photography Companion, I recommended staying away from the digital zoom setting on a compact camera. My feeling was that it's better to rely on the optics of your lens, then crop as needed. So if you have a 28-105mm optical zoom, use 105mm, and stay away from adding on focal length by turning on the digital zoom function for that camera.
But with today's cameras, should you really avoid the digital zoom? Every now and then I like to revisit my opinions to see if they still apply in the face of changing technology.
To test my digital zoom opinion, I photographed sea birds in Santa Barbara with a Canon PowerShot N that has an 8X optical lens plus a 32X digital zoom. I normally stay away from anything over 8X. But this evening, I shot with wild abandon using 12X, 24X, and sometimes even more.
I worked with these 12 MP Jpegs just as I would normally edit any other picture in Aperture. I cropped as needed, adjusted color, tweaked exposure, etc. I didn't add any sharpening, however, because I didn't want the image to fall apart.
So after reviewing these images on my MacBook Pro Retina display, have I changed my opinion about the digital zoom function? Not entirely.
But I'm certainly softening my stance about using digital zoom. For highest quality, I still shy away from letting the camera play with my image. But in certain situations, I'll consider it, especially if the images are being captured for web publishing.
I used Flickr to publish these images. If you want to learn more about Flickr, check out my Flickr Essential Training on lynda.com.
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