Correct Zooming: Camera Work in the Film


Zoom is often used and yet so mocked. Film beginners in particular like to zoom – mostly with bad consequences for film and filmmakers. This is often due to a lack of knowledge about the function of the zoom and/or poor implementation. That’s why I’m going to take a closer look at the topic of “zooming” in this article. I’ll also go over why you shouldn’t do it most of the time and how to do it right when the worst comes to the worst.

What is zooming?

Zooming is changing the subject of the recording by changing the focal length used. This means that changing the focal length changes the distance from the lens to the focal point in the cine zoom lens, and thus also the image detail seen.

When it comes to zoom, a distinction is made between optical and digital zoom. But only the optical zoom is the “reasonable” option, since the image changes there by changing the focal length. The digital zoom, on the other hand, is a digital enlargement of the image section. But that also means that the quality decreases considerably with increasing zoom. This mainly occurs with standard digital cameras. That’s why you should generally avoid digital zooms.

Why you shouldn’t zoom

First of all, it has to be said that there are enough reasons not to zoom.

The first and probably the most important reason for this is that a “zoom” in feature film is considered an unnatural movement . Since the perspective does not change when zooming (camera location remains the same), zooms always seem a bit strange. In addition, the viewer becomes aware of the camera as a “camera” in the film and can destroy the illusion.

A zoom is also no substitute for a real tracking shot. Because in contrast to this, the image loses spatial depth when zooming, since the details that are in the rear image area are only enlarged.

In addition, it must be said very clearly that a zoom often cannot replace a reasonable cut. When in doubt, it is always advisable to avoid zooming and instead cut two different image settings together, or even better; to move the camera.

Note: A good zoom never replaces a good cut.

Experienced filmmakers usually only use the zoom to determine the required fixed focal length or change the focal length more quickly with zoom objects during the recording pause. Merely zooming into the picture is perceived as an unmotivated gimmick.

So there are enough reasons not to zoom. But when is one actually “allowed” to zoom?

When can you zoom?

While the zoom is rare in feature film (as part of the look), the zoom can be seen everywhere in daily television programming. Especially with shows, reports, contributions and documentaries, where on the one hand an attempt is made to reproduce what happened unchanged and on the other hand to emphasize certain areas of the picture. In addition, the camera does not have to be “hidden” from the viewer, since it is “consciously” perceived anyway.

Although there are enough reasons against zooming, you can still resort to zooming under certain conditions.

It is said that the zoom lever is the cameraman’s index finger. This means that only when the cameraman wants to highlight or emphasize something particularly important should the zoom rocker be used. Otherwise not.

Correct zooming in three steps:

If you ever want to zoom, these three steps can be very helpful:

1. You should only zoom from the tripod or dolly! In addition, the zoom should be practiced “dry” before the start. “Dry” means that the camera image is not recorded during the exercise. This way you can determine the start and end frame better without using up unnecessary storage space.

2. A still picture should be taken 3 seconds before and after the zoom. This prevents a recording that starts in the middle of the zoom drive. In addition, you can cut out the zoom drive later in a more targeted manner.

3. Do not hesitate when zooming and complete the zoom at the same speed as possible. Shaky zooms should be avoided at all costs!


Zooms in the telephoto range are particularly difficult! Because the tiny angle of view means that even the smallest wobbles or disturbances can later appear on the screen like an earthquake.


In general: In feature films, you can almost always do without “zooming”, because it looks unnatural and “tells” that there is a camera in the film. Exceptions are the use as a stylistic device or in television reports, documentaries, etc.

If you want to make a nice zoom with the zoom wheel or zoom rocker, you should be patient and practice a lot. Because zooming properly is not easy and in most cases requires a lot of practice and experience.