Mon - Fri: 8:00 am - 5:00 pm  |   990 Criss Circle, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007

Optical vs Digital Zoom in Security Cameras: Which Is Better?

Optical vs Digital Zoom in Security Cameras: Which Is Better?

It can sometimes be difficult to discern the differences between optical and digital zoom when it comes to security cameras. There are CCTV cameras that offer one or the other and others that offer both. Which is better? That depends on the purpose of the CCTV camera and your needs. When purchasing a security system, it is important to be aware of these differences before finalizing your purchase.

What Is Optical Zoom?

Optical zoom is quite common, we have all seen and used it in a wide range of photography cameras, binoculars, and even CCTV cameras. Optical zoom is when you turn the lens to magnify the image and zoom in on objects in the distance. The more you zoom in, the less wide your view is, and the more you zoom out, the more you can see in the image.

With optical zoom, it moves in and out of the image like a telescope to magnify the image and fill the sensors of the camera lens. An optical zoom surveillance camera will ensure that the image sensors will zoom in on images and give you a clearer picture once the zoom is activated.

Advantages of Optical Zoom

Optical zoom in any camera allows you to bring an image closer before you capture it while not affecting the quality of the image. The camera zooms in by moving different lens parts relative to each other to give you the best results of what you want to capture. Security cameras with optical zoom can close in on and target key details at much longer distances while not deluding the quality of the image.

Disadvantages of Optical Zoom

Optical zoom lenses have some disadvantages in comparison to prime lenses in that usually the original lens quality will not be as sharp as it is with a prime lens. In addition, the zoom lens is slower in reaction to the motion of the camera.

An optical zoom security camera system will face additional challenges as well, such as a diminished viewing angle when zooming which can be critical in certain situations. Also, we must note that optical zoom cannot be added after the footage has already been recorded.

Types of Optical Zoom

There are different types of optical lenses and prior to purchasing a security camera, it is important to be well-versed in the different types of optical lenses that are available on the market today.

  • Varifocal lens: This will allow you to manually adjust the zoom so that you can focus on a specific target area whether close or far.
  • Motorized varifocal lens: The zoom on these cameras can be adjusted by simply clicking on a button on your surveillance app or NVR, however, you can zoom in or out to expand or reduce your viewing angle, but you won’t be able to change the actual angle of the camera.
  • PTZ lens: This rotating lens will allow you full control of the zoom and the direction of the camera, you can pan left to right and up and down freely.

What Is Digital Zoom?

Digital zoom is when a camera captures an image from a smaller area of the camera sensor and then blows up that specific image to regular size. This gives the illusion of zooming in when in reality the software manipulates the image and therefore the zoom comes from the software of the apparatus and not the lens or optics themselves. This means that the more you zoom in the more it will affect the quality of the image.

This process can make you lose details or turn the recorded footage into a grainy mess. It is the same as if you crop a picture on your phone and blow it up to poster size, the integrity of the image will be lost. Digital zoom is commonly found on smartphones or lower-grade cameras that don’t have the space to incorporate optical zoom.

Advantages of Digital Zoom

Even though it is common knowledge that optical lenses in cameras are far superior to digital lenses, there are still advantages with digital lenses that should not be overlooked. More commonly, footage or images recorded with this type of lens require less storage space.

In addition, there is a more accurate focus when using a digital lens. You can choose where you want the camera to focus, and it will direct its focus on that specific area. This allows you to keep the footage longer and crop the images you want to keep with ease.

Disadvantages of Digital Zoom

The main disadvantage as we already alluded to when using a digital zoom lens is that it will lower the quality of the image. By constantly zooming in on a picture or footage that same recorded footage will become blurrier and grainier with every zoom.

When using digital zoom, it is important to note that you are not increasing the number of pixels used to create the image, with the number of pixels remaining the same, they will spread, stretching out the image and creating footage that is not as clear as it ought to be.

Why Optical vs. Digital Zoom Is Important When Choosing Security Cameras

When choosing a security camera, it is important to choose one that best suits your business’ needs. The questions you’ll need to ask yourself is do I want a camera that will allow me a grander view and flexibility where details are maybe not so crucial or do I need a camera that will allow me the opportunity to focus on and capture details in the footage. So, optical zoom vs digital zoom is the real question.

For example, if you set up a security camera with the purpose of observing a warehouse. The details are not too important, but it is important for you to be able to see the number of people who have entered. So, a digital zoom lens camera might be a better option.

If, however, you are setting up a camera at a cash register of your store and it is important for you to be able to zoom in on the details, then an optical zoom lens camera might be a better choice. The problem that arises with an optical lens is that when you zoom in while recording the footage you can’t be sure if this is relevant to an incident. Therefore, figuring out what you want your security system to do will guide you in choosing the right camera.

Which Is Better: Optical Zoom or Digital Zoom?

Optical zoom vs digital zoom isn’t even a fair fight. Optical zoom will very often win. It is better because when the footage is zoomed in you can see the details and these details can become key points in the event of an incident. Being able to discover someone’s identity or have clear footage of the event can help you make your case.

In a security camera system, having that optical zoom can mean the difference between: “I was robbed” and “I know who robbed me”. A business must find any way it can to protect itself and as the saying goes: “the devil is in the details”.

Combining Optical & Digital Zoom Solutions

Many cameras and manufacturers today incorporate both optical and digital zoom lenses for a more powerful zoom feature. This can be a great option; the only problem is that even the combination of the 2 can still affect the footage quality.

When building a security system perhaps the best option would be a combination of security cameras with optical zoom and others with digital zoom to record the different target points. This also depends mainly on the purpose of these surveillance cameras and consulting an expert before making this crucial purchase may be best.

Combining Security Cameras


A zoom security camera is extremely important when purchasing a security system. You have to decide which option is best suited for you, whether it is an optical zoom lens camera, a digital one, a hybrid one, or even a system that would incorporate both separately. To know more about security cameras and how Forbel can help you, please contact us!


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Text Link
Dzmitry Beliayeu
Dzmitry Beliayeu

Dzmitry Beliayeu is a commercial building security expert, technology consultant, and licensed alarm contractor

Related posts
request a quote
Attach a file
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.