Digital Camera Home > Use Your Thumb!

Use Your Thumb!

By Mike Pasini, Editor
Imaging Resource Newsletter

"The confusion between digital and optical zooming has given digital zooming a bad name."

While a lot of (warning: inadvertent pun ahead) noise has been generated by higher and higher resolution cameras, a significant evolution is occurring in the standard digicam lens. These days it's more likely your new digicam will have a zoom lens than a fixed focal-length wide-angle lens.

And that zoom will typically range from a wide-angle perspective, which can fit a whole room into the picture, to a handy medium telephoto perspective (often with a longer digital zoom mode).

If your digicam has a zoom lens, take advantage of it. On every shot.

Zooms aren't just for getting closer. And -- cinematography aside -- they can't be overused. They are a tremendous help in composing any shot.

Rarely will you be in exactly the best location to take a photograph. Let your zoom improve your position, either by bringing you a little closer (optically) to your subject, or backing off a bit.

Getting closer is the obvious attraction of any zoom, but zooming out can be the biggest surprise. It may, for example, reveal a particularly graceful tree limb that serves to frame your landscape with an interesting foreground context.


And in middle distance shots, you can actually compose two quite different images. While the wide-angle shot can get everyone in the canoe, the telephoto may capture the Loch Ness monster splashing in the background, between the fishing lure swinging from the guide's fishing hat and the sunblocked nose of cousin Eugene, desperate to avoid it.

If your camera offers both optical and digital zoom, it's important to understand the difference. Optical zooming is what your lens, by itself, can do. Digital zooming is, in effect, merely saving the center most part of the image captured by your CCD. If you have an image editor on your computer, you already have DDZC (delayed digital zooming capability). Just crop.

"Rarely will you be in exactly the best location to take a photograph. Let your zoom improve your position. . ."

The confusion between digital and optical zooming has given digital zooming a bad name. After all, why bother to use it if you can do the same thing (and sometimes with better results) in your image editing program?

Turns out there is a reason.

You only have one chance to get your shot. A lesson brought home to us as Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Mike McCormick and a few other legendary San Francisco Giants trotted out to the first base line last year for special honors. We knew we'd never see those old geezers trot again, and we weren't quite sure from our seats on the third base side, who we were looking at, so we used digital zoom to get the composition we wanted when we took the shot.

Digital zoom can, in short, help you compose the shot. Don't kid yourself that you'll get the same sharpness, but if you're on the verge of turning off your camera because the action is just too far away, try to compose the shot with digital zoom. You've got nothing to lose. In our case, it made it seem like some Hall of Famers hadn't lost a step.

We never take a shot without zooming back and forth a little until we like what we see. So when we hand our camera to someone to take our picture, we point out both the shutter for their forefinger and the zoom control for their thumb. And as we run back into the picture with our finger waving in the air, we yell, "Don't forget to use your thumb!"

This article is reprinted from The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter,
Beginner's Flash Column, published August 11, 2000