Optical zoom will not influence the quality of your photographs negatively. It can be compared to a traditional zoom lens on a 35mm camera, bringing the subject closer to still give you a clear, close up photo. Since buying a camera with greater optical zoom is more expensive than one with only a 2x or 3x, deciding how much optical zoom you need can greatly influence your budget. I would suggest buying a camera with the longest optical zoom you can afford. If you’re primarily going to use your camera for social pictures, 2x or 3x optical zoom should be more than sufficient. In this case, you can always move in closer physically to get a better shot. If you’re planning on shooting wildlife or subjects that you cannot get physically close to, buy a camera with more than 6x optical zoom.
With digital zoom, the camera crops the entire image, and then digitally enlarges it. This “fake” zoom crops and throws image information away. This is comparable to cropping an image with image editing software, and can result in pixilation and “soft” images. The camera replaces the missing pixels with pixels that are close in colour to those in the original image. The colours are rarely as sharp or accurate as optical zoom, as it’s an estimation.
Optical vs Digital Zoom
While it is useful to have both optical and digital zoom, optical zoom will result in sharper images than digital zoom. Both optical and digital zoom have good and bad qualities – digital zoom being far cheaper but affecting the quality of your images, and optical zoom being more expensive but resulting in images that are not pixelated.