The digital zoom of smartphones will never replace the quality of an optical zoom, the only device capable of really changing its focal length.

But it’s so tempting!

Zooming in with a smartphone is just so easy: just pinch-out 2 fingers on the screen and magically the picture gets bigger. This is where the problem is: the pixels within the image are enlarged, but the optical image has not been enlarged to cover the whole sensor. The outcome is an image lacking details and looking like a mosaic.

That’s why digital zoom is often referred to as the zoom for the “poors”. If you want your subject to fill a larger area in the frame, use your legs or arms and move closer! But beware of portraits with the clown effect if you are too close (read my post Why Portrait Photos with a Smartphone Look Odd.

Smartphone camera digital zoom is bad zooming
The digital zoom of a smartphone is to be avoided because it only magnifies the pixels recorded in the photo without zoom. On the left, the complete picture as framed with the digital zoom. To the right, a preview of the photo at full size shows that the sharpness and fineness of the details are absent. Apple iPhone 5S, 1/33s, ISO 40, f/2.2. © Amaury Descours

The High-end Smartphones Exception

More and more high-end smartphones like the iPhone 7 Plus, 8 Plus, X but also the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 are ones of the new phones to have 2 lenses with different focal lengths. Such smartphones integrate a classic wide-angle lens full-size equivalent to a 28mm lens, but also a so-called standard lens equivalent to 56mm. With it, you can safely zoom in between x1 and x2.

iPhone 7 Plus Double Lenses
In addition to the standard wide-angle lens equivalent to 28mm in 24×36, the iPhone 7 Plus has a second lens equivalent to 56mm. © Amaury Descours

Not only these smartphones have a second longer focal length that will actually magnify the subject without loss of quality (mode x2). But they smartly use their 2 objectives between modes x1 and x2. It combines the details obtained from the x2 mode in an enlarged image from the x1 mode: a zoom both digital and optical!

Beyond the x2 mode, we usually find a digital zoom with its perverse effects at high magnifications. So mind your zoom!

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Read 11 other insightful tricks in my free e-book “Take Beautiful Smartphone Photos: 12 Mistakes to Avoid when Shooting“.

  • A complete guide of more than 60 pages to adopt the right reflexes
  • Valuable tips for iPhone and Android smartphones
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