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How Far Can a Camera Lens Zoom?

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Bret Leon
18 January, 2023 • Updated 14 days ago
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The ability of digital cameras and lenses to zoom is a large part of their appeal. Superzoom lenses often have a zoom range of 10x or more, while the average ‘kit’ lens sold with an entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera will have a zoom range of 3x. The term “zoom range” refers to the maximum magnification variation between the lens’s widest and narrowest settings.

Magnification is used in photography to describe the relative size of the subject on the sensor or film. This translates to the distance at which the lens can focus. Greater magnification is achieved by increasing both the focal length and the distance to the subject. When using a standard kit lens for a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you can zoom in three times as far as you can when using the lens at its widest angle.

There are two primary zooming methods: optical zoom and digital zoom. Digital zoom employs magnification technology to enlarge a portion of an image, whereas optical zoom makes use of a lens’s physical shift in focal length to move the camera sensor closer to or farther from the subject.

When using optical zoom, the lens of the camera is physically moved to increase the focal length, giving the appearance of a closer focus on the subject. The scene is amplified by physically separating the lens from the image sensor. If you want an easy way to conceptualize digital zoom, just imagine your camera has built-in image processing technology. Digital zoom creates the illusion of a larger image by magnifying pixels at the center and cropping off the surrounding area, but at the expense of image quality and resolution.

Related Post: What to Do with Old Camera Lenses

Which Is Better, Optical оr Digital Zoom?

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Optical zoom maintains image resolution as you zoom in, making it the best choice for high-resolution photography. Instead of using digital zoom, most professional photographers choose to shoot in RAW format and then enlarge and crop their images in post-production.

How much closer you can get to a picture using digital zoom is determined by the camera’s megapixels or the number of pixels that make up the image and determine the resolution. One recent form of digital zoom, called “intelligent zoom,” compresses images without sacrificing image quality, making digitally-enhanced close-ups look as good as the originals. To get a better feel for what you’re capturing, especially when dealing with things in motion, an in-camera digital zoom feature can be very helpful.

Magnification capabilities vary widely amongst lenses. There are two primary variables to think about when choosing a lens:

Focal Length

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Focal length, defined in millimeters, affects how close a subject appears in a photograph. Telephoto lenses and wide-angle lenses represent the two extremes of the focal length range.

Telephoto lenses have a focal length of 60mm or more. A lens’s ability to magnify an object and its capacity to restrict the field of view are directly proportional to its focal length. When shooting distant subjects, such as wild animals, a telephoto lens is your best bet.

Landscape photographers often prefer the wider perspective afforded by wider-angle lenses (35mm and below) due to their shorter focal length. When using an optical zoom lens to zoom in, you move from the wide-angle to the telephoto end of the lens.

Zoom Ratio

Inscription of camera lens zoom ratio

The maximum and minimum focal lengths determine the extent of your zoom range. The zoom ratio is a number that you’ll frequently see marketed with compact cameras expressed as a number and the letter X. This number refers to the ratio of these two lengths and is termed the zoom ratio.

Sometimes, the term “superzoom lens” is used to refer to a lens that has an extremely high zoom ratio. It’s important to remember that the zoom ratio is more of an indicator of a lens’s adaptability than of its magnification capabilities, so a high number doesn’t necessarily mean you can snap images at very close range.

Prime and Zoom Lenses

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The primary distinction between a prime lens and a zoom lens is that a prime lens has a fixed focal width, whereas a zoom lens has a zoom ring that allows you to choose between different focal widths. Primes are often more compact and lightweight, with a larger maximum aperture than zoom lenses.

Prime Lenses

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Prime lenses have a maximum aperture of f/1.2 to f/2.8 and a fixed focal length. They’re great for photographers and filmmakers that value the shallow depth of field and seek the greatest possible optical quality. Three of the most common prime lens focal lengths are 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm.

Because of their inability to change their focal length, prime lenses cannot deliver the same degree of magnification as a zoom lens. While amateur photographers are quick to draw comparisons between the two, professionals will typically have both types of lenses as part of their primary equipment.

Zoom Lens

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A zoom lens has a focal length that can be changed within a certain range, allowing the user to take photographs from a variety of different perspectives. This affords increased opportunities for customization and adaptability during the shooting process. Professionals prefer a flat aperture of f/2.8 because of the greater low-light performance it provides when using popular zoom lenses 16-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm.

It might be difficult to narrow down your options when it comes to prime and zoom lenses due to the sheer variety of options available for each lens brand. Nonetheless, we’ll help differentiate between the two by describing the advantages of each, which should help remove much of the uncertainty from lens choice.

Zoom Lens Benefits

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A zoom lens’s primary benefit is its adaptability. They’re great when you want to take photos of a wide variety of genres, like landscapes and people, but can only bring one lens. In addition to saving time and reducing the likelihood of dust getting into the mirror box or onto the sensor, using a zoom lens minimizes the number of times the lens must be changed.

Prime Lens Benefits

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Prime lenses, also known as fixed focal length lenses, have several advantages over their interchangeable counterparts, the most notable of which are their compactness and high maximum aperture (f-stop). Typically, prime lenses are smaller and lighter than zoom ones.

Prime lenses often have a wider maximum aperture (f/1.4 to f/2.8). This is helpful for low-light photography because it allows for longer exposures to be employed while still allowing the photographer to hold the camera steady enough to prevent blurring from camera shaking. To get a shallow depth of field—ideal for portraiture when you want to soften or blur the background (also known as bokeh) —prime lenses with high apertures are a great investment.

Conclusion

If you are starting out in photography, you have to decide whether you want a fixed focal length lens or a zoom lens. This article has shown that both options have benefits and drawbacks, making the decision between them difficult.

It takes time to figure out which equipment best suits your shooting style. While some photographers end up with a single, versatile superzoom lens, others stick to their prime lenses. It doesn’t matter what you choose as long as it doesn’t stifle your creativity.

Bret Leon Avatar
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Bret Leon
Bret Leon is a photography enthusiast who indulges in all matters cameras, lenses, gears, themes, editing, trends, and the latest product releases. If he's not trying to freeze time by capturing moments during his grand ventures, you can bet he's looking for the next big content idea.
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