5 Reasons to Stop Zooming Now

close up of a camera on a tripod


Never say Never to Zooms

Stephen C.'s picture

I agree that a poor zoom is a terrible thing.  I disgree, however, that this requires doing away with zoom altogether.  I also disagree with some of the logic used to support the "no zoom" argument.  My points below mirror the five points in the article.


1.  Did TV producers stop zooming for the sake of stopping, or becaue they could no longer zoom, i.e., because of using prime lenses?  Just because you no longer have a tool in your toolbox, don't declare that no one else should use it either.  It is the inverse of "If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?"  As VideoMaker often says, the "cinematic aesthetic" is not just one thing (or the absence of one thing such as zooming), but the thoughtful combination of many factors.


2. Zooms do not exist in the natural world, but neither do the shots created by trucking, a dolly, jib, steadicam, or even binoculars.  All of these approximately reproduce the way that humans see things while moving. 


3.  A bad zoom draws attention to itself, and a lot of zooming can even make a viewer nauseous.  But a good zoom can focus the viewers attention to where you want it or provide more detail (or expanse).  We use other techniques to manipulate the viewer's attention, such as racking the focus from one person to another in the conversation, so why not zooms, too?


4. You'll get no argument from me that the human-machine interface for zooming is difficult to use.  Even the professional, off-the-camera-body zoom controls can be touchy.  But we don't toss out things that are difficult.  Know your equipment and practice with it, and then you can use the tool successfully.  And as you get more serious about the craft, buy better equipment.


5. Just because an attribute is associated with bad things doesn't mean the attribute itself is bad.  Red is associated with sports cars and speeding, but that doesn't keep me from buying a red family sedan and driving it sensibly.  Instead of abandoning the zoom as a relic of bad home video, redeem it by using it well.  Break the mold by giving the world examples of how to use it correctly.


And I'll add #6.  Not all video productions have the option of stopping the recording to adjust the zoom. Live one camera events don't have the luxury of pausing the action.  Setting to the widest necessary zoom and the leaving it there can render your video essentially useless when the action gets tighter.


In summary, every tool has it inherent difficulties and historical abuses.  But that should not stop us from using it purposefully, creatively, artistically, and appropriately (even if that means sparingly).

Reasons to stop writing silly articles

You should have written the article on zooming. Your 6 points made more artistic sense than the officially published article postulates. As a 40 year cinematic veteran I will confirm that no tool is off limits to a storyteller. However not all tools are suitable for every job. If you need a hole typically a drill is the best tool for the job, but one can create a hole if necessary using a screw driver and a hammer. Not as elegant but it can work.


Keep shooting!!!

re your point 6

geoffcox's picture

if recording a concert you do not have the luxury of stopping and starting again!

I would like to know which camcorders (non professional) have smooth zooms?!



runetic's picture

After returning from Africa which I had my first opportunity of comparing a Canon DSLR set-up with my JVC, I found I am going to stay committed with my video camera.  Particularly a zoom can be part of a shot, a correction so to speak.  I think there are a lot of DSLR's that have to sold and they can't zoom worth ,..

I agree, with an exception...

ccvid's picture

I disagree regarding one aspect... I think you want a lot of movement, zooming, panning and tilting when there is a musical performance going on.  Otherwise I would agree with this article.  

I checked today's popular online sources to see if I'm in the right frame of mind... you can check these out too.  Look at video clips from musical performances during American Idol.  There is all sorts of movement going on: zooms, jibs moving, etc.  Even musical performances at America's Got Talent have zooming, though not as much.  However, a comedian's performance at America's Got Talent had no zooming... just cutting back and forth between cameras.
That said, I feel like a happy camper because that's about the way I produce videos of people talking.  No zooming, just cutting back and forth between camera shots.  Though every once in a while I do like to cut to a far away shot that may have a very slow zoom. 

what about screen capture video?

rjm002's picture

I do a lot of training videos for internet marketers. My goal is to make REALLY easy to follow training videos showing people how to do basic types of internet marketing. Most of my videos are screen capture and I do a lot of zooming/panning. suggestions?

Oh and Jump Cuts and Shake is OK?

Let's not confuse usefulness with technique and fads.   I shot news in the 80s and today's programs with jump cuts, shakey video, and overuse of movement is 100 times more distracting and self-attention getting compared to a simple zoom to draw the viewers attention to the details or context.  


I dont' quite get your rationale not to zoom as a shooter. While shooting elminating zoom can be done in the edit process, but shooting the zoom gives you editing options including not using zoom.   It also allows you to potentiall see the scene in a different way. 


I disagree with zooming not being part of the real world.  And it sure isn't true that the only way to zoom the human eye is to move your feet.  For example, if you play basketball as a shooter you can shoot by looking at rim and backboard, or just the rim, or a little part of the rim like the eye-hook on the back of the rim.  Your distance from the rim didn't move, but your focal point did.   I train players and this is a technique that is very effective in adjusting the player's shot.   So we do zoom our visual concentration on a topic to take in detail and context.   


My comments are not to defend bad zooms or overuse of zooms, on that we can agree.  If you want to be in "video fashion" then jump cut to your heart's content, cut in the middle of a camera move and twist your shots.  But the true learning from this post is that using what is appropriate to convey information and emotion, when done well in combination with all the elements of light and sound are characteristics of quality video. 

Zooming out of style

I disagree with the statement that zooming is over for whatever reason.  Today subtle zooms are very common and important.  A subtle zoom is almost imperceptible (intentionally).  A subtle zoom is common on tight talent head shots.  A subtle zoom is used to emphasize the importance and emotion of the scene.  In many cases subtle zoom is likely added in post.

Look closley at the edge of the frame to see a subtle zoom.  Watch for this effect commonly used in The Good Wife for example.

Wrong advice from a great source...sorry!

ProPhotog1's picture

Look I like Videomaker and I applaud all they do! But this article is just crap and would only serve the purpose of subliminaly pushing shooting with DSLR's instead of dedicated Video Cams. Many.....many movies Tv shows and Commercials use zooming to help tell thier stories today! Not "yesterday" as the writer suggests. The real fact is, zooming has become more finessed in either much slower or faster zooms more relative to mood and subject. As one post stated, sure... bad zooming is going to make any production look bad, but great use of the zoom takes time and practice. And the comment about in the real world, zooming is unnatural, is actually quite....well I wont say that but...if I want to get close to the action if all I have is "me" I zoom in by walking closer! When I ride my bike its another visual experience, same in my car! Our visual situations change all the time! My belief is that an entity like Videomaker should never sugget to any Filmaker to ever stop using a technique for visual story telling, instead help Flmakers to explore new uses and techniques to exploit the many features of our lenses and equipment. (Quick zoom in tight) "Thats just my two cents!"  :)

Zooming is a tool-

Zooming can bring subtle attention to something, put the viewer in the action instead of being a spectator, and a hundred other reasons zooming will be around for a long time.  If you want to focus on reasons for crap video turn the venom towards "shakey-cam" where the crappier the better seems to be the norm.  Why anyone thinks a constantly moving and jerky camera is some form of art needs to get past the third grade.  You can't watch more than 5 minutes of TMZ without getting a migraine.  Or maybe you wrote this just to evoke a response.  Nonetheless, I disagree on many counts.

The art of not zooming

digisidd's picture

I agree that zooming is not very desirable. Mostly because it is done so badly that it draws attention to itself. The scene from Goodfellas where the camera zooms as the dolly is being pulled out is a masterful shot. But there are not that many Scorsese' in the world. One area where I do find it used a lot is when I am shooting sports like Lacrosse and Soccer. It really helps to get that shot up close and personal. Because the event is so random zoom is a must. But I really agree with your basic premise to not zoom.

zoom, point 4

GreBuPro's picture

I dis-agree with point 4: When I read a newspaper, and I wanna see it more closely, I use my arms to bring the object closer to my eyes. And in my opionion that is a sort of zooming