Moving vs. Zooming with a Point-and-Shoot Camera

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.



My Photography Habit

“A camera” has been on my Christmas list numerous times over the years. I’ve snapped away with 110, 126 and 35mm film point-and-shoot cameras at various points in my life. Taking a photography class in high school introduced me to the world of SLR cameras and learning to actually capture something halfway close to “art.” My interest was further enhanced by working for several years in a camera store where I ran the photo printing lab.

After I was married, I discovered a website that not only let you post reviews of recipes you tried but also photos. My passion for food photography was ignited! Thankfully, by now, we were entering the digital photography era which meant it didn’t cost anything to take a dozen photos of a plate of muffins. My family quickly got used to me spending the first few minutes of dinner taking pictures of my plate if I tried a new recipe.

I later volunteered to teach a photography class in my kids’ home schooling co-op. I found you really learn a subject by having to teach it, especially when you force yourself to do the assignments along with the students.

In 2015, I accepted a friend’s challenge to take part in Project 365. It requires you to take at least one creative photo a day. It was a lot of fun and pretty easy…at first. Then as the days piled up, it became a little harder to find things to take photos of in a new, interesting way around the house or in the yard. However, it pushed me to learn how to use more features and settings on my camera, to look at ordinary objects from a different angle and even become more sensitive to how the changing light can affect the outcome of a photo.


As 2015 came to a close, I stumbled across a website that lets you sell your photos on commission. A lot of site require you to purchase a membership to join, which means you could pay a couple hundred dollars and never make any money selling. I decided to give Twenty20 a shot. The commission is small, but it is fun to make some spending money off of a hobby. I submit a mixture of photos that I take because I want to and ones the website suggest as being popular right now. I have shocked at what sells sometimes. This photo below has sold probably more copies than any other I’ve submitted! But, I guess shopping is one of America’s greatest past times.

Images with some type of human element in them sell the best. Unfortunately, since I’m home alone most days, it isn’t always easy to include a person in my pictures. One of the skills I’m working on improving is using my self timer and tripod to take shots of myself. It can be challenging, frustrating and very rewarding. That is one topic I hope to cover more in a future post.

Until then, Happy Snapping!!