Getting Good Zoom Pictures

So basically, I have a Canon Powershot ELPH 190. It is a relatively cheap and small camera (nothing special). I am very pleased with it’s images, as they are usually clear, and the camera can zoom in quite a bit. However, I notice that when zooming in, the quality of the images seems to rapidly decrease, and I also noticed this with other cameras that I have had, some of which were a bit more expensive and better with quality and optical zoom rates. Now, my question is do I need the multiple thousand dollar cameras to get clear zoomed in images, like the professionals, or am I just doing something wrong? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Off-the-cuff: The tradeoff of zoom vs quality is unavoidable. However, you can do yourself favors by remembering that more zoom requires more stability and more light. It’s also more sensitive to lens aberration, for which there’s no cheap fix.

I have a nice camera but sometimes feel intimidated by the presence of better/better equipped photogs. This was especially true when I lived in NYC. And maybe this is a good incentive to go look where other, better-equipped photogs don’t go. But don’t let is slow you down too much; our eyes always see what no other human can.

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I had an Olympus camera with an ultrazoom lens but I had that problem with low quality zoomed images due to not getting enough light and my shaky hands. I bought a second hand Canon Rebel T3i in 2016 for $400. It came with a big zoom lens. It’s great for photos of butterflies. Good for birds too if I can get close enough. I got this shot the other day looking up in the tree above me. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/115645791

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Such cameras have some optical zoom, but mostly it’s a digital zoom, so basically just cutting existing image as if it was “zoomed”, so, quality for sure drops, usually there’s a marker on zoom line on the screen that you can see where this digital part starts. What you can get depends on what you really need, you won’t get professional quality without lenses they use, but you don’t need to spend a fortune to get normal photos. Checking your observations, yes, you can just buy a superzoom and it will be a great leap in quality.

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Are you doing optical zoom or digital zooming?
Another thing to note on canon’s is they have a happy spot for zooming depending on the distance. Like if you are zooming into the ground in front of you, if you zoom too much it won’t focus.

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if you do decide to buy a different camera, my nikon coolpix b500 takes surprisingly good zoomed pictures (distance and macro) for only being a couple hundred dollars

this spoonbill was taken from far across the park with all the other people using their super expensive giant super long professional zoom lenses to get it. the blurry ones are because i have shaky hands, dont mind that. it was one of my first ever spoonbills so i even posted the bad ones. number 5 and 7 are best
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/14182426

heres a macro shot that i had to get from like 8 feet away because i didnt want to scare it away:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/114987468

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As others have mentioned, the more zoomed in you are the stronger the effect of your hands shaking will be. A good rough guideline is to have you shutter speed at least at 1/focal length to minimize the effect of this shaking. So if the zoom is equivalent to a 300mm telephoto you will want at least a shutter speed of at least 1/300.

Lighting also has a big impact. Brighter will help with being able to get high shutter speeds, but I find I can get problems with glare off of subjects in bright direct sunlight and at high zoom. Bright overcast days give you even lighting that won’t have this problem.

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I have a (relatively) inexpensive Panasonic Lumix FZ200 - BUT, it has good shake correction. My pocket Olympus Tough also has shake correction, but not as good, and I really notice the difference in the zoom photos.

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That’s the one I was going to get before I found the barely used Canon dSLR for sale. At the time the Lumix was going to cost me more. I see there are a lot of used ones for pretty cheap now.

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I used to have a camera very similar to that, and the images were okay most of the time. I upgraded to a slightly better point-and-shoot, the Powershot sx740 HS, which has more optical zoom and produces sharper images. Of course, it’s not a DSLR, but it’s better than what I started with (which was actually an iPhone and some cheap macro/telephoto lenses). Maybe do yourself a favor and buy a DSLR though. Those are the best in terms of quality and capability with multiple lenses. Of course, they’re way more expensive.

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Many of the point and shoot pocket cameras have a setting that restricts zooming to “Optical Zoom Only” The answer to camera shake is always good photographic posture or an assistive device. I’m getting old and my hands shake badly. A small pocket tripod can help tremendously. A monopod is also a great choice as well as a full sized tripod.

The small pocket tripod can function as a handle on your camera changing the pivot point away from your lense making it a little easier to find and frame your shot while zoomed. A monopod can also be used the same way when you don’t want to take the time to fully extend it.

It is a trade off in many ways as far as what junk and how much junk you want to carry.

P.S. I also use and carry the Canon Powershot SX740 HS and love it but use my Samsung S20 FE for close up work (Bees and Insects)

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Zoom is always a trade between available light (shutter speed) and chip size/MP resolution. As mentioned above, the faster the shutter speed, the better the chance of not shaking the picture. In order to reach that, you need either a bigger chip/better lens (=expensive) or have more available light, which you cannot influence out in nature.
I’m very happy with my DLSR/18-200 mm setup. The benefit of a crop camera vs full frame is that you gain zoom due to cropping compared to full frame, but you loose light due to the smaller chip. Going away from DLSR/mirrorless to the smaller cameras, the chip gets even smaller and you loose even more light, which makes shaking more probable (though you gain even more zoom factor due to crop). They also often combine optical with digital zoom, like mentioned before, which always means a quality loss.
So a good optical zoom will bring you quite forward, in particular with integrated image stabilizer (often called VR on the lens).
For me, a large step was also going from my old Nikon D5000 to a D5600 with more megapixels. It means I can go full zoom in the lens and zoom even more later in the software to get animals or flowers really close.
Another point is that for most people, it is easier to hold a big camera body still (keep those arms in!) than a little camera, though there are also limits there and personal perference involved.
Tripod would be plus, but honestly, on my long hikes, even the big camera gets quite heavy. So I shoot everything in hand.
The benefit of the popularity of mirrorless cameras is that now used DLSR and their lenses are cheaply available, if you can bear their larger size and hevier weight.
I bought my zoom lens over ten years ago and it kept through rain, ocean and desert during many travels without any problems, so I think it can be a lifetime invest. And in my experience, the quality of a lens has nowadays a much bigger impact on the image quality than the camera body. So the beginner camera body of a DLSR (e.g. the Nikon D3000 series) should be more than sufficient if you have no other photographic ambitions.
My winner combination was
many MP resolution +crop factor chip in DLSR+good, yet still affordable lens (I paid around 600 € for it new).

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Thank you all for the advice. I will definitely play around with some of the camera settings suggested!

Googling your camera, it does have 10x optical zoom (the good kind, that doesn’t just crop it in as you zoom) which is 24–240 mm (35mm equivilant). So like above said, when zoomed all the way in you really need a shutter speed of 1/300 or so when you are all way zoomed. But looking at what I can tell online, it doesn’t have a S mode (shutter priority shooting mode), just an automatic and a programable mode (but P mode doesn’t seem to offer you ability to set shutter speed). So just pay attention to when you half press the shutter release read what numbers it’s giving you, and you may just need to adjust the lighting to force it to shoot faster. P mode does sound likes it gives you control over ISO, so if you force that to be high, your shutter speed can be faster as well, but be aware that cranking up the ISO degrades the image quality, on a camera with that sensor size I wouldn’t push it above 1600 for sure no matter what smoothing options it gives you, 400-800 iso is safer still.

If you look at other cameras, I am a huge Panasonic fan. Depending on the model, it is a Leica without the name so the price is actually affordable.

If you look into dSLR’s, don’t forget about Pentax. They are the cheapest fully weather sealed systems you can get that are actually friggin weather sealed (do not ever believe Sony on their sealing - the newest models have gotten better, but nothing really stands up to Pentax). Be warry of old Pentax K50’s because of an apperature control issue (a solinoid that goes bad) but a used Pentax KP would be good, or the K70. I have litterally dropped mine in a lake and had to fish it out, zero issues. Used it in waterfalls, in downpours, in ice storms, snowstorms…you can’t kill these things. Just make sure the lens you match with it is one of the weathersealed lenses as well. I am partial to the 100mm macro for wildlife, but they make some nice long entry level weathersealed zooms too out to like 300mm.

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Okay, I will definitely try the settings and research some of the cameras mentioned. Thank you so much for the help!

Timed shutter. Even if you just set it for a two second delay, it can make a difference – the camera movement from you pressing the shutter button has stopped by the time the shutter goes off.

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