A zoom lens gives you the ability to take a photo of an object that appears closer to you than you are physically near it at the time that you take the photo. But there is a big difference between digital zoom and optical zoom.
An optical zoom lens increases your camera's focal range while maintaining the resolution, where a digital zoom gets closer to an image at the cost of reducing the resolution. Digital zoom cameras work just fine if you don't intend to edit an image or display it at a large size. However, if you intend to do much more to an image than a camera's editing tools will let you accomplish, you should get a camera with optical zoom instead.
Even optical zoom digital cameras use a bit of digital zoom, but cameras with optical zoom help you maintain the resolution, or focus, of an image better when you increase its size or perform other editing functions. Cameras with digital zoom offer some of the same tools that are available in photo editing software, but in the end, you won't have the "original" image to fall back on, should a technique not work right.
An optical zoom lens, which has a larger focal range than a regular wide-angle lens, magnifies an image like a microscope or telescope would. Telephoto lenses compromise on depth of field, or the distance in front and behind of an object that appears in sharp focus, which is why those images you see of pro basketball players slam dunking often appear amidst a blur of the screaming fans behind them. But with a digital zoom, an image's depth of field stays the same – you just lose the resolution overall. It's like taking a photo of the slam dunk from the bleachers and then cropping out all the cheerleaders, the scoreboard and the guy sitting in front of you.
With a digital zoom lens, more megapixels help to increase the resolution of your images overall, but the megapixel resolution begins at your feet instead of at the free-throw line, as it does with a telephoto optical lens. To keep things in perspective, however, photographers that work for Sports Illustrated use cameras and camera equipment that cost thousands of dollars.
A professional telephoto lens used by sports photographers usually ranges anywhere from 100 to 300 millimeters or more. Most point-and-shoot cameras don't offer a depth past what's comparable to 120 millimeters on a 35-millimeter camera. If they do, however, you will want to make sure the camera offers an image stabilizer to prevent close-up images from blurring.
The depth of a typical zoom lens on a point-and-shoot camera is measured differently than in 35-millimeter cameras. The 4x digital zoom on the Vivitar 10.1 Megapixel Camera can create clear images up to 3648 by 2736 pixels, about the equivalent of a 11- by 14-inch print. By comparison, the 4x optical zoom on the Canon PowerShot 14.1 Megapixel Camera, which translates to about 24-112 millimeters, can create prints up to 13 by 19 inches. A 5x optical zoom on the Nikon 14 Megapixel Coolpix S4100 Camera, which translates to about 26-130 millimeters, can create clear images up to 4320 by 3240 pixels, about the equivalent of 14- by 20-inch prints.
hhgregg offers a variety of digital and optical zoom cameras and is sure to have the one that's right for you. Still have questions? Feel free to speak to an expert hhgregg sales associate. We offer the best-educated associates in the business who are smart enough to make it simple. Price and Advice Guaranteed!