Many people easily get into a dilemma when choosing a suitable security camera. Among those dazzling camera types, digital zoom and optical zoom are two main ways of zooming of security cameras in photography respect. If you are coming for answers such as “What does digital and optical mean? “What their main differences? “Which has better image quality” “Do they vary a lot in their prices”, this article then, will be helpful to you in making a better choice when searching for security camera.

What is A Zoom Security Camera?

A zoom lens is a lens whose focal length can be adjusted. By changing the focal length, a camera can be applicable in different scenes as needed. It allows the user to adjust the focal length within a certain range to suit different shooting needs without changing the shooting position. On zoom cameras, you can see parameters like 4X, 5X, 10X, or 20X…etc. They indicate the camera’s ability to physically magnify the image. But the theories of digital zoom and optical zoom are totally different. Let’s see how they work.

What is a Digital Zoom Security Camera?

A digital zoom lens functions by enlarging a particular area of an image to zoom in. It resembles the process when you enlarge an photo with your fingers to get closer details. – an internal image processing without the movement of the lens elements. Or in other terms, optical zoom is like using a magnifying glass to zoom in on a image. Digital zoom on security cameras simply enlarges the image pixels but actually didn’t alter the focus of the lens,. Therefore it will typically end in blurry images. That’s why digital zoom security cameras tend to be not well-famed in surveillance industry – Actually not only in security industry. In electronics industry, some smartphones feature with optical zoom in commercials, which often appear not to be true zoom.

Pros and Cons of Digital Zoom Security Cameras:


  • Cost-effective: Security Cameras with digital zoom tend to be more cost-effective and applicable for common users with limited budgets.
  • They feature doesn’t affect or reduce the angle of view. You can still zoom in after surveillance videois recorded.
  • Digital zoom security cameras are convenient to operate in limited physical space.


  • After several zooming, the video feed of a digital zoom security camera might end in blurry images and pixelation. Meanwhile, digital zoom cameras easily suffer from noise in in low-light conditions.
  • Zoom range is largely limited by lens design and size.


What is an Optical Zoom Security Camera?

An optical zoom security camera functions to magnify a distant image by pulling it closer before you capture it. In this process, you won’t lose the image quality. On security cameras with zoom function, you can see some labeled values like 3x, 6x, 10x, 20x… ,or even larger. That is the zoom ratio of a optical zoom camera. An optical zoom lens achieves zooming by the structural changes of its internal components. Hence, it changes the propagation path of light through it. Therefore, you can also directly see the lens moving when you utilize the zoom function. An optical zoom security cameras has a range of focal lengths and fields of view. At the same time, the lens does not need to be manually refocused if the field of view is changed, because the focus can be maintained within the limited range of focal lengths .

Comparatively, optical zoom security cameras offer better image quality. However, does it mean digital security cameras are useless at all? Not necessarily. They still process some advantages for common uses.


Pros and Cons of Optical Zoom Security Camera:


  • The biggest benefit of optical zoom security cameras is that you won’t need to require a clear, well-focused image at the cost of degrading the image quality.


  • The main drawback of optical zoom security cameras lies in that when you zoom in to acquire a clear image, you will narrow the viewing angle.
  • You cannot zoom in after surveillance video is recorded.
  • Less portable: typically an optical zoom camera is larger than digital zoom since larger housing is needed to accommodate larger varifocal lens, which might be bulky and less portable to carry or install.



Categories of Optical Zoom Security Cameras

Manual Varifocal Optical Zoom Security Cameras:

As the name suggests, it allows you to manually adjust the zoom level and viewing angle before you locate the surveillance range of your camera.

Motorized Varifocal Security Cameras:

Basically it is an upgradation on the conventional manual varifocal lens. A motorized varifocal lens automatically remains focused when you adjust the camera’s focal length to get clear images from different distances. Moreover, the operation tends to be more simpler: to zoom in and out, you just need to click on the controlling menu in the software. Last, a motorized varifocal security cameras is less likely to lose focus due to the effect of natural factors or improper operation by the user.

PTZ Security Cameras

A PTZ (or pan tilt zoom) security camera is a combination of PT dome camera and varifocus camera. It exerts the comprehensive advantages of both types to a maximum. PTZ security cameras offer all-around surveillance for household or businesses with less blind spots. Similar to motorized varifocal cameras, you can freely control the zoom level from the software remotely.


How to Choose?

General Principle

In conclusion, optical zoom offers predominant vantages in picture quality whatsoever, while digital zoom in flexibility and cost. Understanding the comparative features between optical zoom and digital zoom is fundamental for users to make right choices between these two cameras. Optical zoom remains to be a better option in most situations for better image quality. But digital cameras has irreplaceable advantages for amateur users to operate zooming.


Combination Of Digital Doom And Optical Zoom

Today we can witness many advancements in digital zoom technologies despite of its existing drawbacks. Actually, many modern cameras incline to combine digital doom with optical zoom. For example, a camera, advertised as 8x zoom, might actually be equipped with 4x optical zoom + 4x digital zoom after you inspect the technical parameters in details. It means that when you use the camera’s optical zoom to a critical value, the digital zoom will take for zooming then if you still need to zoom further.

With a camera like this, you may find a balance between flexible operation and not-so-bad image quality. But if you expect more in image details after zooming, optical zoom cameras are still be advised.


 For example, the Hikvision PTZ-4518X-IZ PTZ IP Camera

Hikvision PTZ-4518X-IZ 8MP PoE security camera provides 18X optical and 30X digital zoom. It also features a motorized lens, hence offering exceptional image quality and advanced features for monitoring outdoor areas. The camera is built with a 1/2.8-inch Sony low-light CMOS sensor. The sensor ensures that clear images can be captured under low-light conditions and maintains better image details.

On one hagnd, the 18X optical zoom can adjust the camera focal length to achieve clear monitoring for long-distance targets without losing image quality.

On the other hand, the 30X digital zoom can exert the advantage of expanding the camera’s field of view. It magnifies images while maintaining a certain image clarity at the same time. It enables users to monitor wider areas. This model perfectly combined both the merits of digital zoom and optical zoom.

The PTZ camera also provides flexible pan-tilt rotating to ensure all-round coverage of your monitored areas.


Resolution 4K (3840 x 2160 )
Optical Zoom 18X
Digital Zoom 30X
Sensor 1/2.8″ Sony low-light CMOS sensor



If you need more assistance to make the right choices between optical and digital zoom or other different security cameras,  be free to reach us:

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