Optical zoom refers to zooming in on an image using the lens instead of digitally cropping from within the camera or in post-production.
An optical zoom lens is a true zoom lens, meaning that you’re using the camera’s built-in lens to magnify an image as opposed to cropping and enlarging the image digitally. Using a zoom lens ensures that you’re preserving the image quality and not enlarging the pixels to reduce the resolution.
This means that when it comes to optical vs. digital zoom, it’s almost always better to opt for using optical zoom. Doing so allows you to zoom in or out in the viewfinder or on the LCD before snapping the photo. The result is a photo with much higher image quality than if you had used the digital zoom feature.
Suppose you’re interested in purchasing a digital camera but will be shooting subjects that are far away. In that case, a long-zoom digital camera is going to be the best zoom camera option for you without purchasing a camera with interchangeable lenses. Cameras such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100 and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV are great options if you’re looking for a digital camera that comes with high-quality built-in optical zoom.