Digital zoom will never beat optical zoom. It just won’t happen. I don’t care how good the computer is. I don’t care how precise the algorithm is. I don’t care how much the original image was downsampled or whatever. Digital zoom will never turn out as well as optical zoom. The more you try to zoom, the worse digital zoom winds up being when compared to the same level of optical zoom.
Why is that the case? Because optical zoom uses physics and mirrors and lenses and lights and other things that actually work to bring a distant subject “closer” to the camera. Digital zoom just blows the selected area up, making the pixels larger, and then uses processor power to try to clean the end result up. Optical zoom will not result in the end result being a pixelated nightmare that looks like something from a cubist’s studio (unless you are taking photos of things from a cubist’s studio).
Every time I see a smartphone or camera-phone manufacturer touting that they’ve re-invented zoom, it makes me cringe. Yes, they might have a better algorithm. Yes, the processor might clean the image up more. But it’s not going to be a good zoom.
Mobile photography has its place. With cameras built into so many phones these days, it’s a great way for people to get started in photography without having to purchase dedicated equipment. Also, since everyone generally has their phone with them (but not always their camera), the built-in camera can be good enough for what they need such as making a shopping list, getting a photo of something funny, snapping an image of an unfolding event. But mobile photography is not going to replace all photography. Camera phones are not going to replace zoom cameras and they certainly are not going to replace DSLRs.
We love mobile photography because it’s a great gateway into the world of photography. However, enough with the triumphalism, Nokia. You make great phones but you’re not going to knock Nikon off their perch any time soon. Even with your gee-whiz digital zoom.
– da Bird