SUMMARY: When buying digital cameras, concentrate on optical zoom, not digital zoom.
Although many salespeople would disagree, when choosing a digital camera to purchase, I would completely ignore advertised digital zoom magnifications and only look at cameras' optical zooms. Digital zooming performs an interpolation, or computer-based 'guesswork', of an image to try to increase the perceived zoom distance. These can result in "fuzzy" images or those with less than optimal clarity, especially if you blow them up into 8x10 or larger photos. However, optical zoom provides for a true zoom-in or zoom-out on your subject.
If you want an example of what a photograph may look like when taken with a digital zoom, take a photograph into a piece of photo-editing software and increase its size by 100% or 200%. Although the picture will look bigger on screen, you will start to see dots or imperfections in the image. That's what happens with digital zoom.
Higher optical zoom cameras can allow you to take a greater variety of pictures, but they do tend to cost more money, which is why lower-priced cameras tend to advertise their digital zoom capabilities a lot more. However, for many photographers, the enhanced image quality is well worth the higher price.
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