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Security Cameras Optical Zoom vs. Digital Zoom — Meaning, Differences & Top Picks

Security Cameras Optical Zoom vs. Digital Zoom — Meaning, Differences & Top Picks

If you are in a dilemma of picking the best one between optical and digital zoom security cameras, you will get the perfect one after reading this blog.

You’ll get the security camera optical & digital zoom definition, comprehensive comparison details on security cameras optical zoom vs. digital zoom, and best zoom security camera recommendations!

If you have any questions on security camera optical versus digital zoom, leave them in the comment.

Security Camera Optical and Digital Zoom Meaning

I came across many questions about surveillance IP camera optical and digital zoom, when wandering on forums, such as, “How much optical zoom is good? What does 4X digital zoom mean? What is optical zoom 5X?”

You can get all the answers to these questions after reading the below security camera optical and digital zoom meaning.

1. Optical Zoom on Security Cameras

Security camera optical zoom means that the security camera lens maintains focus when its focal length changes. Optical zoom surveillance cameras can let you zoom in to view more image details or zoom out to get wider viewing angle, without compromising the image quality.

The IP security camera optical zoom is achieved by the actual adjustment of the camera optics, such as rotating different lenses inside the camera. You can consider optical zoom is as looking through binoculars.

For example, 5X optical zoom means widest focal length X 5= longest focal length. The number, 3X, 5X, etc., generally means the amount of magnifications that a particular lens on a security camera is capable of performing.

You can take a look at the below video captured by RLC-511W optical zoom security camera to see the powerful optical zooming.

There are 3 types of optical zoom security cameras: manual, motorized and PTZ (fully motorized) varifocal security cameras.

  • Manual optical zoom security cameras: You need to adjust the zooming level and viewing angle in person before you record. The waterproof enclosure needs to be taken out from the camera so that you can operate the varifocal lens by turning a knob inside the camera.
  • IP security cameras with motorized optical zoom: You can simply zoom in or out with the on-screen controls on the security camera client and app. The motorized lens in the camera maintains focus when the focal length changes.
  • Security cameras with pan tilt zoom: PTZ security cameras are a kind of fully motorized optical zoom security cameras, offering you all-around protection for your home. Some PTZ surveillance security cameras can offer you 360° pan, 90° tilt and high optical zoom.

You can check everything around your property with the endless pan and tilt, and get more image details or wider viewing angle with the powerful optical zoom. All you need is a click on the on-screen control of your security camera client and app.

2. Digital Zoom on Security Cameras

Digital zoom on security camera is an internal software image processing function, just like your desktop image editing software. Digital zoom works by narrowing the apparent angle of view of images, and then cropping the areas outside the margins. You can consider digital zoom is similar to enlarging images on your computer.

Unfortunately, digital zoom security cameras simply enlarge the pixels of the image, which often results in blurry images and videos, compared with optical zoom security cameras. That’s the main reason why security camera experts consider optical zoom security cameras are the way to go.

Security Video Cameras Optical Zoom vs. Digital Zoom: Which is Better?

You can get the security camera optical and digital zoom pros & cons, and comparison details, so that you can make a good choice when buying security cameras.

1. Pros and Cons of Security Cameras with Optical Zoom Lens

Pros: One of the biggest strengths of high optical zoom security cameras is that you won’t suffer image quality degradation. With the optical zoom, you can view the image details of a subject from a long distance and still get a clear quality shot.

Cons: Optical zoom security cameras are almost preferred in every way except for the below 2 reasons:

  • Optical zoom will lessen the viewing angle when you zoom in to get image details.
  • Optical zoom can’t be added after video is recorded.

2. Advantages and Disadvantages of IP Surveillance Cameras with Digital Zoom

Advantages: Digital zoom of security cameras doesn’t reduce the angle of view. And digital zoom can be added after the video has been recorded.

Disadvantages: Digital zoom security cameras often result in blurry images and pixelation if not used properly.

3. Security Cameras Optical Zoom Versus Digital Zoom

The difference between optical zoom and digital zoom in CCTV security cameras lies in the image zooming way.

Optical zoom is “real” zooming by actually adjusting the lens when zooming in or out. Digital zoom, on the other hand, captures the entire field of an object, and lets you see what matters for you by cropping out the unnecessary parts.

Assume that you are in front of a painting when you visit a museum. You want to check the details of the painting, so you walk closer to the picture and then you see the details — that’s optical zoom in CCTV surveillance cameras.

Still take this painting as an example. You cannot see the painting details, so you use your iPhone to take a picture of it and then you enlarge the image to check the details — that’s digital zoom in security IP cameras.

Check the below chart to have an overall impression on “Security Cameras Optical Zoom vs. Digital Zoom” comparison details.

Aspects Optical Zoom Digital Zoom
Advantages You can get extremely clear images or videos when zooming in or out. 1. The viewing angle will not be reduced when zooming in or out. 2. The digital zoom can be added after video is recorded.
Disadvantages 1. The viewing angle will be reduced when zooming. 2. The optical zoom cannot be added after the video is recorded. Often result in blurry images and pixelation if not used properly.
How It Works Works by the actual adjustment of the camera optics. Works by by narrowing the apparent angle of view of images, and then cropping the areas outside the margins.

After checking the advantages and disadvantages of optical and digital zoom security cameras, CCTV security cameras with optical zoom are a better option since the cameras can offer you much clearer images compared with the digital type.

You can take a look at the below high optical zoom surveillance camera best picks. You can also see the amazing videos captured by these optical zoom security cameras.

Best Optical Zoom Security Camera Recommendations

You can zoom in to see more details of far-way objects without getting closer with the RLC-811WA security camera’s 5X optical zoom. Its IP67 waterproof design can protect the lens from the elements and harsh weather conditions.

You can watch a video sample shared by an RLC-811WA customer to see the clarity of this optical zoom security camera.

Reolink RLC-511W

5MP Dual-Band WiFi 4X Optical Zoom Camera

5-Megapixel Super HD; Outdoor/Indoor Protection; Dual-Band WiFi 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz; 4X Optical Zoom; Built-in Micro SD Card Slot.

This dual-lens PTZ security camera can cover every angle of your property. If you want a nice pan tilt and optical zoom security camera with excellent night vision, you should never miss this camera. It enables you to see things even in low-light conditions at a distance of up to 100ft.

Reolink Argus Track

4K Dual-Lens Wi-Fi Solar/Battery Camera

4K 8MP Ultra HD, Auto-Zoom Tracking, Pan, Tilt & 6X Hybrid Zoom, Color Night Vision, Dual-Band Wi-Fi.

Check the video below to see more details about the Argus Track.


Which is better digital zoom or optical zoom?

Optical zoom is generally considered better than digital zoom as it maintains image quality by physically adjusting the lens to magnify the image without sacrificing resolution. In contrast, digital zoom enlarges the existing image digitally. Digital zoom can lead to pixelation and loss of detail.

Do security cameras need optical zoom?

If you tequire effective surveillance from distance, your security cameras may need optical zoom. Optical zoom does not compromise image quality because it captures the image directly through the lens.

What are the disadvantages of optical zoom?

Optical zoom also comes with some drawbacks related to size, cost, zoom range limitations, autofocus speed, and potential image distortion. For example, optical zoom lenses tend to be larger and heavier compared to fixed or digital zoom lenses.


Digital zoom can provide additional magnification, it often comes at the cost of image quality. Optical zoom, on the other hand, offers superior image quality and versatility. It is the preferred choice for capturing high-quality, magnified images. However, the choice ultimately depends on your security requirements.

After reading this article, do you understand the differences between security camera optical zoon and digital zoom? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below! Let's discuss together!


All Comments Are Welcome

When not diving into writing about home security, Elvia spends her time watching movies, hiking, reading, etc. Also, she is a big fan of Star War and Orphan Black.