Should You Consider Your Digital Zoom in a Pinch?

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.

Landing Sea birds in Santa Barbara with a Canon PowerShot N and digital zoom.

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.

Birds and Boats Birds and Boats with a Canon PowerShot N using the digital zoom.

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

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