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It is a common intuition that optical lenses are far better than digital zooms. The reason is that digital camera zooms are more prone towards computer applications in them rather than mostly human interactions and expertise. Yet, it also remains a fact that beginner photographers find it more useful to handle a digital zoom and also its computer friendly nature. There computer does intricate tasks of finding some levelheaded approximation of colors that pixel might take up as it had captured images or photographs. Many algorithms are existent in this area, but perhaps most abundantly used algorithm involves looking at pixels that are quite nearly like neighbors and come up with a kind of an average. Anyways process remains too complicated and its end result is what digital zoom users are interested in.
Thus ultimate truth remains that it is useless to compare digital zooms with optical zooms. Perhaps it is more logical to compare optical zoom with optical zoom and digital zoom with digital zoom. Both these two types of zooms, optical as well as digital, have some good and bad qualities. Both of them have some extra features and preferences over other. And thus it is not wise to compare them, even though a comparison may exist. The efforts would then perhaps look like comparing oranges with apples!
Jakob Jelling is the founder of http://www.snapjunky.com. Visit his digital camera guide and learn how to take better pictures with your digicam.