What is the difference between optical and digital zoom?
Optical zoom on a digital camera works the same way a regular 35mm camera’s zoom works, the lens physically moves in and out using the optics (lens) to bring the subject closer without sacrificing quality. These moving lenses allows a range in optical magnification that runs anywhere from 2.0x to 10.0x. The higher the optical zoom on a camera, the farther away you can be to take a photograph and still get a clear, close image.
Digital zoom is a software simulation of optical zoom using no moving parts. Simply put, the camera crops the picture and enlarges it, filling in the extra pixels by guessing what the picture may look like in a process called interpolation. This results in a loss of quality, and is no different than cropping and enlarging an image with editing software. Instead of using the digital zoom on your digital camera you can use editing software on your computer and have more control over cropping and enlarging the picture.
Many new models of digital cameras are advertising having both optical and digital zoom capabilities. Most of these cameras have a feature that automatically uses digital zoom when you have exceeded the optical zoom limitations. You may choose to disable or shut this feature off so that you know exactly what kind of quality picture you are taking.