Optical or Digital Zoom?

So which is better: Optical zoom or digital zoom?

Date: 13th August 2018

“The optical zoom on my camera is great but it's the digital zoom that gets up close and personal even farther than optical!”

There is a vast difference between optical and digital zoom.

Picture Quality, Resolution and Pixels, etc.

In the paranormal field we are constantly trying to capture that allusive ‘alleged’ evidence, but if we do not know how our equipment works we might be adding fuel to a very large paranormal fire. Point of fact is that there are thousands, if not millions, of purportedly paranormal activity pictures and videos out there in the internet world that are uploaded constantly onto social media for all to see. But an even bigger fact is that 99% of them are quite possibly fake or down to human or equipment error.

As already established in an earlier blog… and by countless other ‘realistic’ paranormal groups… as paranormal investigators we must always question everything. It is no good at all to jump on the bandwagon and claim a photo has captured genuine activity when the reality is it might just be a common anomaly like lens flare, blurring, etc… not to mention the added flaws and reality of modern software and availability of internet pages that many people will fake… goodness knows there are so many filters out there for smartphones and the like!

So as we are all aware (or we should be by now…) that when taking photos of something we want to show someone on any evidence found whilst on a paranormal investigation, we must always use equipment that can capture in a top quality resolution. It is no good using a cheap camera or camcorder with a low-resolution quality as anomalies can start to appear and can cause a difference of opinions on what was captured.

Similar to capturing Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) we must always record on the highest possible quality setting to obtain that near-as-damnit clarity recording to ensure there is no question on what has been captured. As with audio evidence there is a plethora of editing software packages on the market that can enhance, amplify, filter, chop, cut, copy, add, stretch, slow or speed… as you can see the possibilities are endless! In fact I am absolutely sure that someone out there will develop a filter that allows those who can’t twerk their backsides to video themselves twerking with the best of them… all down to the thanks of a filter!

Same goes for photographic evidence. Paint Shop Pro or PhotoShop to name but two… and there are numerous packages to suit even the most amateur photographer, are all there for the taking for those who wish to enhance their photos. But the problem lies not only with these software programs, but also within the settings of the equipment used.

Modern Equipment…

Most top-quality (and usually expensive) cameras and camcorders have both optical and digital zoom. The latter is what causes the most issues within the paranormal field when trying to have credibility in any evidence you have.

In modern times the simple mobile phone has evolved into an all singing and all dancing pocket paranormal cornucopia. It can do virtually everything and anything with regards to both audio and visual assistance, but for paranormal aspects it is flawed!

Same goes for the ‘action-cam’ equipment like the GoPro and the cheaper alternatives that are flooding the markets. These small cameras do not have any optical zoom capabilities as they solely rely on digital technology to perform their functions… but they fail miserably in the ‘zoom’ department – similar to the smartphone!

But I won’t write-off these units for everyday use… just for paranormal purposes. Reason being is that they are not adapted (unless one pays for an adaption or adapts themselves) for night vision. Also some people will forget to turn off the flash… and that is a paranormal no no!

If you are inside and in a reasonable-sized room then generally just normal ‘non-zoomed’ vision is okay as everything is usually close to you, but if you are outside and wanting to see distances, things might prove difficult to capture that top high-quality definition image without an optical zoom capable equipment.

Even if you are inside and you want to cover a long corridor, anything near to your equipment will be okay but anything farther down the corridor will not be possible without an optical zoom capable unit..

So... What is 'Zoom'?

On cameras, camcorders and the like, the zoom facility is designed to get you closer to the action. In other words it is defined by how many times closer your shot or video will appears compared to not using any zoom at all.

As an example, 10x zoom indicates ten times closer to an object, 50x zoom fifty times closer… and so on. But there are some differences between old-style equipment and that of today’s digital technology that you must be aware of.

With most cameras, the zoom lens moves outward when in use, extending from the camera body. One can even remove one main lens and add on telephoto lenses to gain that extra zoom. Some digital cameras, however, create the zoom while adjusting the lens only within the camera body. Obviously depending upon the unit thickness and depth there is little to no room for expansion in this manner… as with smartphones.

Optical Zoom...

Old-style optical zoom is exactly what it says… it is the range of optical zoom capability that the lens of your equipment can make. Optical zoom only uses the lenses of the equipment – moving the lenses in and out accordingly to ascertain what image you want to capture. You might look at it as being like a telescope – you want to get up close and personal to the object you are capturing… optical zoom allows you to move closer to the object without actually moving (see below)!

Optical Zoom example

With this the equipment does not distort or blur the image as it is taking in information on what is real and not ‘processing’ it for a final image.

Although it is prudent to realise that most, not all, digital cameras have a smooth zoom capability – in other words you can stop at any point along the zoom level… but for others there are fixed points that limit the amount of zoom levels.

This is vastly different to digital zoom.

Digital Zoom...

Digital zoom works on an entirely different scale. In fact the term ‘digital zoom’ is incorrect as the only way to truly zoom in is to manipulate lenses – as with optical zoom – to get closer to an object. In digital terms it is more correct to call it resampling and upscaling.

Digital zoom is software-based. This means that it’s the on-board camera software that does the zooming by taking the original image, cropping it, upscaling it and then finally compressing it.

On modern digital equipment, the pictures are made up tiny little dots or squares called pixels. Digital zooming brings your image closer without the need for any moving lenses but it will also make the picture blurry and distorted – in essence ‘zooming’ in on the captured image – but this distorts the pixels and makes the final image not as clear as expected. Hence why in most shooting circumstances digital zooming is worthless.

It is a well-known fact that most if not all professional photographers ensure that digital zoom is switched off to preserve the real-life image.

Digital vs Optical Zoom...

As with the below image, the vast differences are evident with regards to using digital zoom and optical zoom... optical zoom does not distort the image or make it blurry...

Digital vs Optical Zoom

Evidence Captured?

Whether you use optical or digital zoom, bear in mind that the more you zoom in on an object any erratic movement (like when hand-holding the camera) can look exaggerated on the final picture or video. That is why it is essential to place your equipment on a tripod.

But that said, it is a stigma in the paranormal field that if one has captured any evidence whilst using a tripod, it is well known that a lot of fakery is easier on static images than when hand-held. In fact, most video captures of supposed evidence have people walking around in the shot (when there is no activity visible) and soon as they leave the frame all activity starts.

Strange that…

But if one is trying to capture true evidence then one must always want the best equipment to do so. And optical zoom seems the best option of all as it will not cause blurring.

“But top-end equipment is too expensive!” some people might cry. But if one can afford a £700 smartphone then one could have afforded a range of top-end purpose-built equipment, but the reality is some people just can’t live without having a smartphone.

Also with regard to the use of smartphones… there is always a slight delay after you touch the shot button before the image is captured. This is the cause of so many false claims (in most case not the fault of the person taking the shot) of captured images of paranormal activity.

The reason?

The person takes the shot on their smartphone, touches the button and simultaneously moves the camera away thinking the shot has been captured… but the delay is the problem and so causes blurring and streak anomalies on the final image.

DLSR cameras do not have any delay – they are instantaneous from when you push the shot button.


Because of the high level of anomalies and errors… and to a point fakery… that goes on (and still does) it is this margin of error that I give as my main reason for not easily accepting modern digital equipment and the prevalence of smartphones to be used for trying to capture photographic and/or video evidence of anything paranormal as they are totally digital in construction and use.

Yes, there are newer smartphones coming out with twin cameras on them to rectify the zooming issues, but they can’t compete with true optical zooming. Twin-camera systems are a hybrid of what optical zoom is, so is not a true optical zoom solution. One lens is set to a particular zoom and the other is set to an even more powerful zoom… so allows the user to swap between the two. This in my humble opinion is only offering two different focal lengths and not offering a true optical zoom substitute.

It is a good idea to use your digital equipment like smartphones for close-by work be it for taking photos or capturing audio, but it has limitations. Yes, you can add apps to your smartphones but why would you add a third-party software that you have no idea how it was created and how it ‘actually’ works?

Being honest, many of these so-called apps are designed by the creators for the purpose of giving the consumer what they want… and unfortunately that carries many filters and settings that can manipulate the RAW file into what you want or in most cases not want.

For true evidence of paranormal activity… or to get as close to that evidence… always use purpose-built and top-quality equipment…

…and ensure you know how to use it.