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Everything You Need to Know about Optical Zoom and Digital Zoom in Webcams


Optical zoom and digital zoom are common options you’ll see when shopping for a webcam. Both allow you to see objects closer but they work differently and have distinct effects on the image quality. This guide will help you understand the differences between optical zoom and digital zoom, so you can decide which one best fits your needs.

The Definition of Zoom

In photography, zooming in allows you to capture more details and focus on your subject. A zoom lens is a single lens that can adjust its focal length and zoom in or out. The term "zoom" by itself does not imply a specific focal length or magnification.

However, many zoom lenses use magnification as a measure to indicate their zooming capability. It is a common misconception that leads people to believe that the number used, like "10X zoom," solely refers to actual magnification.

The magnification of a zoom lens is measured relative to its widest angle of view, which is not always the same. For example, some zoom lenses have a widest angle of view equivalent to 28mm, while others may have a wider view of 24mm.

When we see a "10X zoom," it means the lens can zoom to ten times the value of its widest focal length. So, a 10X zoom that starts at 28mm would zoom in to 280mm, but a 10X zoom that starts at 24mm would only zoom in to 240mm.

What is Optical Zoom

A webcam with an optical zoom lens can bring the image closer before capturing it. This is achieved by physically adjusting and changing the focal length through the movement of lens elements inside the camera. This mechanism allows users to magnify the image without reducing the image quality.


For example, if a camera has a 3x optical zoom and you're capturing a subject 30 feet away at the widest zoom, the zoom can bring the subject as close as 10 feet while still maintaining a decent image quality.

Pros of Using Webcams with Optical Zoom Lens
Superior Image Quality

Optical zoom is not dependent on resolution, meaning it does not reduce the image quality as you zoom in on a distant subject.

Enhanced Versatility

You can quickly frame your shot and explore various options of the same scene without physically moving closer or farther away from your subject. Optical zoom makes it ideal for wide-area applications, including live-streaming events or video conferencing in large conference rooms.

Precise Framing

Optical zoom is not dependent on resolution, meaning it does not reduce the image quality as you zoom in on a distant subject.

Cons of Using Webcams with Optical Zoom Lens
Higher Cost

Webcams with optical zoom typically come at a higher price than those with digital zoom. This is due to the complex optics and mechanical components required for zoom functionality, which adds to the manufacturing and production costs.

Size and Weight

The mechanism necessary for optical zoom adds bulk and weight to the webcam, making it less portable and more difficult to mount or position in certain setups.

Durability Concerns

Due to the complexity of mechanical components and moving parts in optical zoom lenses, there may be potential durability issues or the need for regular maintenance. It is important to handle such webcams with care to avoid any damage to the lens or zoom mechanism.

What is Digital Zoom

Digital zoom is a software-powered technique used to enlarge the image digitally by cropping and magnifying a portion of the original frame. However, since digital zoom relies on the total number of megapixels your camera sensor has, the resolution decreases as you zoom into the image.

With high-resolution webcams, you can zoom in without significantly reducing image quality. However, zooming in beyond the camera's native resolution can make your photos appear grainy and blurry.

Pros of Using Webcams with Digital Zoom
Cost Effectiveness

Webcams with digital zoom are generally more affordable and accessible to users, as they don’t require moving parts and advanced mechanical components.

Compactness and Portability

Digital zoom webcams are usually small and lightweight since they don't require additional space for moving lens components. This feature makes them easy to carry and set up in different locations or mounting configurations.

Cons of Using Webcam with Digital Zoom
Fixed Image Resolution

The effectiveness of digital zoom relies on the camera's native resolution. When you zoom in, there is a higher chance of pixelation and degradation, leading to a less crisp and sharp image compared to optical zoom.

Limited Details

As digital zoom enlarges the existing image, it doesn't capture any additional details that are not present in the original field of view. This limitation can potentially impact the viewing experience.

To highlight the differences between these two zoom types, we have provided an overview in the table below.


Optical Zoom

Digital Zoom



Optical Zoom

Uses physical lens adjustments to magnify the image.

Digital Zoom

Enlarges the image by cropping and scaling digitally.


Image quality

Optical Zoom

Provides true optical magnification without loss of image quality.

Digital Zoom

Results in a loss of image quality due to interpolation and pixelation.


Focal length

Optical Zoom

Offers a range of focal lengths, allowing for versatile composition and capturing distant subjects.

Digital Zoom

Limited to the original focal length of the lens, unable to capture distant subjects effectively.



Optical Zoom

Maintains sharpness and clarity throughout the zoom range.

Digital Zoom

Often introduces blur and distortion as the image is digitally enlarged.



Optical Zoom

Allows for precise control over framing and composition.

Digital Zoom

Relies on software algorithms to simulate zoom, which may not offer the same level of control.



Optical Zoom

Generally more expensive due to the inclusion of complex lens systems.

Digital Zoom

Usually available on most cameras or smartphones without additional cost.



Optical Zoom

Provides a better overall user experience and professional-grade results.

Digital Zoom

Suitable for casual photography or situations where image quality is not a priority.

Optical Zoom vs. Digital Zoom: Which Type of Zoom Is Better?

Well, there isn't a definitive answer. Different webcams have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Generally, photographers prefer optical zoom because it does not reduce the picture quality or resolution of the image.



10x Optical

10x Optical

10x Digital

10x Digital

However, most webcams available on the market are equipped with digital zoom. This is because the majority of consumers use webcams for short-distance video shooting, typically at their desks. On the other hand, optical zoom lenses are commonly found in PTZ cameras, which are ideal for large meeting rooms and auditoriums that require a wide-angle view to capture the entire scene.

Capture 15X More Details With BenQ ideaCam

While standard webcams can deliver decent video quality, their standard lenses may not offer more detail or clarity for capturing close-up subjects. If you need to zoom in, you might consider a webcam with a zoom lens attachment. Our recommended webcam would be BenQ ideaCam, a multimode webcam with an 8-megapixel Sony sensor and a 15x zoom lens attachment. It delivers near-4K image quality with a resolution of 3264x2488 pixels, enabling you to capture objects in incredible detail - ideal when you showcase documents or physical objects for close-up visuals during online meetings.


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