Gone are the days where optical zoom was the only type of zoom to be aware of. There are a few different types of zoom found in some of today’s digital cameras: optical zoom, digital zoom and fine zoom.
You’re probably most familiar with optical zoom. A digital camera’s optical zoom physically extends the lens to fill the LCD with the subject, or retreats to include as much of your scene as possible. Common optical zoom ranges include 3x and 5x zoom – which, as you’d expect, make the subject appear about three or five times closer than what the naked eye sees.
In addition to optical zoom, your digital camera may be equipped with a digital zoom. Once you’ve reached your maximum optical zoom range, a camera’s digital zoom can kick in. Optical and digital zoom combine to maximize total zoom capability. So if you have a 3x optical zoom and a 5x digital zoom, your total zoom would be 15x.
Digital zoom electronically magnifies the image to make it appear closer. Images produced in digital zoom look great on screen or in email, but may not be the best option for printing, as the utilization of digital zoom results in a loss in image resolution. Most cameras with a digital zoom permit you to enable its functionality in the camera's mode menu; so it will only kick in if you want it to, usually accompanied by an on-screen indicator.