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11. Zoom Effectively

In spite of proper warnings against the overuse of zoom, and in spite of the horrid videos beginners make when they use zoom too much, your camera's zoom feature is a valuable tool you can use to compose your shots and to capture proper elements of the subject. For example, specific focal lengths, shot from a consistent distance, will give your movie a different look from one shot more conventionally. By shooting at a far-off focal length, for example, your movie will take on a more voyeuristic tone where your audience feels less like a part of the action.


Focal length— The distance from the camcorder lens to the subject.

In general, the more you zoom out, the less in-focus your subject will appear. Close-up zooms also amplify inadvertent camera movement (see 8 Reduce Camera Shake). People often purchase a particular camcorder because it offers massive zoom—something along the lines of 200× or 300×. In reality, that number refers to a digital zoom and not an optical zoom. An optical zoom uses your camera's optics to enlarge the image, but a digital zoom uses electronic trickery to magnify the image, and the results too often are grainy and ugly. Avoid using digital zoom too often; try to stick within the limits of your camera's optical zoom.

Because a camera's resolution suffers at higher zoom levels, when possible keep a wide angle and walk toward a subject if you want to get the camera closer than your current focal point allows.


If a subject is coming toward you, you can utilize zooming to keep the subject approximately the same size inside your framed camera eye.

Use the Zoom Button

Your camera should have a level or dial for controlling the zoom. Press it one way to zoom toward wide angle, and in the other direction for telephoto. Note that many cameras use one dial or level to do several things, such as change volume and zoom the lens (as the VOL dial does in this picture).

Enable Digital Zooming

Your camera probably has a digital zoom mode that extends your ability to zoom well past the optical zoom of the camera. You'll probably have to refer to your manual and enter the camera's menu system to turn on this zoom feature, which can enable you to magnify the view up to as much as 300×. (Optical zooms generally max out at about 12×.)


Remember to use optical zoom if possible to get the best zoomed resolution. If your optical zoom is not powerful enough, switch to digital zoom to get the close-up you need.

Zoom Slowly

Zooming takes patience and restraint to do well. Generally, you should zoom slowly (abrupt changes in zoom look bad on film) and zoom only once or twice in a scene. Watch television to see how professionals zoom—they do not overuse this technique. In fact, try to zoom between shots so that the viewer doesn't see the zoom happen.

Focus Manually

If you use the digital zoom mode and perform some extreme magnifications (such as 64× or more), the camcorder might have a hard time focusing automatically. If that's the case, you can disable your camera's auto-focus mode to focus manually, usually by turning a dial or ring. Refer to your camera manual for how to do this.

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