Android Zoom

smartphone-camera-zooming-demo-image-from-youtuber-sergiopa2002Android Zoom: a reader asks…

Hi Chris, I have a Moto G smartphone. Can you help me with an Android question? It appears the Moto G doesn’t have zoom for the camera. Any thoughts?

Most smartphone cameras do not have any optical zoom feature, the necessary hardware (moving parts) for such a feature is nigh impossible to build into the small case of a smartphone. Two notable exceptions: iPhone 7 Plus which doesn’t exactly have a zoom feature, but does have two lenses, one normal and one that’s 2x zoom. So you can switch from regular to 2x (but you can’t zoom in-between). The other exception is the modular Motorola Moto Z which has a snap-on back that includes a 10x zoom camera lens.

But digital zoom is a feature built into most smartphone cameras. The downside is that the image degrades since you’re not optically zooming the lens. With digital zoom, the software takes a progressively smaller part of the image that’s captured by the lens, and digitally magnifies it. So if your smartphone’s camera is a 12 megapixel variety, digitally zooming it to 2x gives you half the image resolution, 3x gives half again, and so on.


woman-with-glasses-looking-at-smartphone-image-from-shutterstockTo digitally zoom the image, you usually take two fingers, place them on the screen with the camera image showing, and spread your fingers apart. the photo demo shown above is a screengrab from (hat tip to) Youtuber sergiopa2002 who has a cool video that shows you how this works at To de-zoom, you pinch your fingers together on the screen. That sounds so simple, but it’s really not intuitive if you haven’t done much with touchscreens before.

Depending on your version of Android, you may also have a setting to make your volume up/down buttons control the digital zoom. In the camera app, tap on the gear icon (settings) and see if there’s a control.

If you’re looking at pictures on your smartphone, you should be able to zoom in by doing the same two-finger motions. Notice how much the image is degraded as you zoom in? That’s the same effect happening if you zoom before you take a camera shot – but with a zoomed-in shot, you won’t be able to back out later on. So my suggestion is that you take all your shots without using the digital zoom feature. Later on you can edit the photo you took, zoom in to the part you want and decide if you can live with the degradation.

As I said, zooming really degrades the quality of the photo, so your best bet is to zoom with your feet – walk closer to your subject. Walk further away if you want to de-zoom. If that’s not possible (say at a concert), then you should limit how much you digitally zoom. You can usually get away with zooming to 2x, but any more and it becomes, in a word, ugly.

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