I was surprised a number of years ago when I found out that using the zoom feature on a point-and-shoot camera isn’t the same as a telephoto lens on an SLR camera. I was a bit skeptical when I read my first article on the topic of moving closer to the subject versus zooming in on it. It stated that the results were different because of the change in relationship between the subject and the background. I read and reread on the topic and still couldn’t get my head wrapped around it. Finally, I did what I force my students to do. I took my camera outside and tried it for myself.
I had a student stand in front of the playground equipment. A “busy” background helps show the difference better.
First, I stood back a ways and zoomed in to get the composition I wanted.
Then, I put the camera back in its wide angle mode and walked closer until she was about the same size in the viewfinder.
I was shocked at the difference in the background! But also notice the difference in photo quality. The reason the first photo is grainier is because all the “zoom” is doing is cropping the photo and thus stretching the pixels so the photos are the same size.
Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a photo I took the other day with my point-and-shoot camera.
Now, for comparison, here is the same photo cropped.
And now, using the zoom feature.
Even though I didn’t manage to get them to match up perfectly, see how both of them are grainy and blurry? Personally, I think the cropped original actually is better quality than the zoomed version.
Now, here is what it looks like if I use the camera without the zoom and walk closer.
The relationship between the tulips and background have changed, plus the tulips are more in focus. (Please understand, this is a fairly inexpensive point-and-shoot camera, so the quality isn’t anything like my good SLR camera’s photos.)
So, the next time you are in a situation and are tempted to zoom in on something, resist the urge!! Move closer, if possible. If moving isn’t an option, remember that cropping the photo later on the computer actually gives better results than having the camera crop the image for you.
But, also remember that if you are trying to get rid of a busy background, zooming might actually have an advantage.
On a size note, actually telephoto lenses don’t have this issue because they are really magnifying the scene and pulling it closer, so to speak. I’m assuming the same is true for the zoom feature on camera phones, even thought I haven’t tested it personally.