Saturday, June 3, 2023


Phone Photography Tip #5: Avoid your digital zoom

Thanks for coming back to  “Getting The Most From Your Smartphone Photos.” Each week, we’ll take a look at an easy-to-use tip that will take your “unshareable” cell phone pictures and turn them into photos you’d be proud to hang on the wall of your RV.

This week’s smartphone photo tip is a bit of a continuation on last week’s tip to “crop with your feet.” It’s important to know how that cool zoom function on your phone can totally screw up a great photo.

Tip #5: Avoid the zoom feature on your smartphone

You probably know several “traditional” photographers who use SLR cameras. Or you might very well have experience with your own dedicated SLR unit. SLR, by the way, stands for “single-lens reflex.” Serious digital SLR camera users can usually be identified by the huge bagful of heavy camera lenses they cart around.

Serious photographers carry a lot of lenses. They know it’s always better to have the right “glass” on the camera for the photo they are trying to take. But we are talking about smartphone photography here, and changing lenses isn’t really an option.

This photo is taken without a zoom. It’s sharp, and it has all of its pixels.
This photo of the same scene was zoomed 12X. It may look sharp, but if you zoom in a bit, you’ll see blur.

The lack of ability to change lenses can lead to the overuse of the digital zoom function on smartphones. All you have to do is put your finger on the magic zoom slider and sweep to the right, and you can digitally zoom into any scene. On the new iPhone 12, you can zoom up to 12 times the normal view. But there is danger in the maximum zoom zone. Some older model smartphones still have a slide bar that changes from green to yellow to red as you push the slide to the right. That was their way to warn you that you were entering a photo quality “danger zone” with an extreme zoom.

Digitally zooming degrades the photo

At a certain point, digitally zooming degrades the number of pixels in the photo to the point that you may be left with an extremely blurry and disappointing shot.

So, what can you do? Not much, except utilize our Smartphone Photo Tip #4 and get closer to your subject before you take the picture. Sometimes – like when you’re taking that photo of an eagle from 200 yards away – you may not have any other options. But knowing the limitations of your zoom function before you try for that once-in-a-lifetime shot will hopefully lessen the chances that you’ll come away disappointed.

Now get out there, get as close as you can, and keep shooting!

LAST WEEK’S TIP: “Cropping with your feet”
“It’s all about the light”

Mike Gast was the Vice President of Communications for Kampgrounds of America, Inc. for the past 20 years. Now, he’s the News Editor for His series of cell phone photo tips come from a lot of trial and error after 50 years of taking good (and also very bad) photos.



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Paul S Goldberg
1 year ago

Many recent phones offer the option of more than one lens. My Galaxy 21 has 3 lenses (actually cameras) wide angle, normal and telephoto. It is really hard to know when zoom becomes digital and for most purposes it does not seem imperative to avoid. unless you are taking photos for display in large format at high resolution. For that my wife prefers her Leica to her phone, but she always has the phone and less often than in the past has the Leica.

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