On this week's Reel Rebel, Stephen talks about the basics for using your camera's zoom for shooting video - When it's appropriate to use zooming, tips for how best to use it, understanding the two types of zooms available on cameras (optical zoom vs. digital zoom), and how to ensure the best quality possible when shooting video with zoom.

When to Use Your Camera's Zoom for Videography

For the most part, zooming should often be avoided but there are some instances where you may want to leverage your camera's zoom.  There are two distinct instances when you should make use of your camera zoom:

  1. When you can't get close to your subject.
  2. When you shouldn't get close to your subject.

While the first situation is rather easy to recognize, it is very important to know how to identify the second one. Filming a big speech or conference may naturally require you to be at a distance and, while capturing shots of a dangerous animal doesn't necessarily require a zoom, don't come crying to us if that bear doesn't appreciate having a camera in its face.

Another well known fact is that people tend to behave differently when they know they are being filmed. This can make the zoom function very helpful if you're trying to capture candid shots. As always, please use your best judgment and don't do anything illegal.

There are a few different techniques you can use when zooming, which have very different effects on the outcome of your shot. For example, the slow zoom can change the entire perspective of your viewers in a gradual but powerful way. Zooming in on a subject will bring it into ever greater prominence and detail, drawing more attention to it and isolating it from the rest of the scene. Zooming out, on the other hand, slowly reveals the scene around your main focus and ties the two together.

The Two Zooms: Optical vs. Digital Zoom

Every videographer should be aware that there are two very different types of zooms: digital and optical. The digital zoom tends to be found on more inexpensive cameras, and won't really do you any favors when shooting. Digital zoom simply enlarges the image on camera which can cause blurring and degrade the quality of the picture. Just because your camera can zoom digitally, doesn't mean it should!

Optical zoom is far and away your best option when trying to maintain the best video quality possible.

"Optical zoom measures the actual increase in the focal length of the lens. Focal length is the distance between the center of the lens and the image sensor. By moving the lens farther from the image sensor inside the camera body, the zoom increases because a smaller portion of the scene strikes the image sensor, resulting in magnification." - source:

In practical terms, optical zoom magnifies the subject before the video is shot, which results in a much higher quality than trying to alter an video after the fact.

Using Zoom Effectively

While using a zoom function can be very helpful, there are a few issues that may occur that you should know about. When using a zoom lens, especially at higher magnifications, be aware of the camera shake! Zooming in takes the minor hand twitches that would normally be insignificant when filming, and magnifies them to noticeable levels. Unless you're trying to specifically achieve that effect, it would be in your best interest to invest in a tripod. Another option is to use a lens with a built-in image stabilization feature.