Sony Clear Image Zoom: The Most Amazing Shooting Mode You Never Heard Of

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Do you own a Sony a7S II or a7 III, a Sony a7R II or a7R III, a Sony a9, or perhaps a recent Sony a6000 or RX-series camera? If so, have you ever tried the camera’s Clear Image Zoom function? If you haven’t, you’re not alone. In fact, I didn’t know about it until recently and I’ve been shooting with many of the abovementioned Sony cameras for quite some time.

Sony Alpha a7R-III Mirrorless Digital Camera

Clear Image Zoom is an in-camera function that enables you to zoom in 2x with any lens you own. The best part? Unlike cropping and normal interpolation, you lose little if any detail when you zoom in, your file size remains unchanged, and there’s zero light loss—the maximum aperture of your f/1.4 lens remains f/1.4 even when you double the image magnification.

The photographs used to illustrate this post were captured using a tripod-mounted Sony Alpha a7R II with the ISO set to 100. The lens was stopped down 3 stops from wide open (theoretically the sharpest aperture setting for most lenses), and image stabilization turned off. I also set the shutter for a 2-second delay to further minimize camera shake.

Photographs © 2019 Allan Weitz

Captured with a Voigtländer 15mm f/4.5 Ultra-wide Heliar normal, and zoomed in 2x using Sony Clear Image Zoom function, effectively turning a 15mm ultra-wide into a more modest 30mm f/4.5 semi-wide

It’s important to note that Sony’s Clear Image Zoom feature is digital zoom; the difference from the usual is how Sony’s engineers leverage the information from the sensor to punch into the image effectively without losing detail. Without getting technical, Sony’s engineers describe the Clear Image Zoom function as being “interpolation on steroids” involving “advanced algorithms” and a “unique pattern recognition database” using Sony’s exclusive By Pixel Super Resolution Technology. Call it what you may, Sony Clear Image Zoom works and it works extremely well.

Cropped detail (above) of the street scene captured normally with a 15mm ultra-wide lens, and cropped detail (below) of the same image area captured at 2x using Sony’s Clear Image Zoom function, and displayed at half the magnification. Quality-wise, any differences are difficult to notice.

Sony’s Clear Image Zoom function delivers notably better definition than digital zoom or post-capture cropping. Even when pixel-peeping at 100%, the differences—if any—are seldom perceptible. What is noticeable is a slight increase in perspective compression when zoomed in to 2x, which is exactly what you’d expect when increasing the focal length of a lens or cropping.

Shooting straight with a 200mm f/4 AI-S Micro-Nikkor lens l (left) and zoomed to twice magnification, effectively converting the lens into a 400mm f/4 (equivalent) macro-telephoto lens.
A closer view of the Sandy Hook lighthouse photographed with a 200mm f/4 AI-S Micro-Nikkor lens straight, and after engaging the Clear Image Zoom function

To activate the Clear Image Zoom function, go to the main menu and under the cogwheel icon find the Zoom Setting, and set it to Clear Image Zoom. There are a couple of ways to engage the Clear Image Zoom function from here, but the quickest and easiest method is to dedicate a Custom button for this function by going back to the cogwheel menu, select Custom Key Settings, and select Zoom under any of the available the custom buttons.

On my camera, I dedicated custom button #4 for Clear Image Zoom. Once engaged, I could zoom in or out by pressing the rear control wheel left or right. To zoom in or out quicker, every time you press the control wheel up or down, it automatically zooms in 50%—press twice and it zooms directly to 2x magnification.

Street scene captured with a Voigtländer 15mm f/4.5 Ultra-wide Heliar normal and zoomed-in 2x (right) using Sony’s Clear Image Zoom function

If there’s a downside to using Sony’s Clear Image Zoom function, it would have to be you can only shoot JPEGs—no raw. Depending on your shooting preferences, this may or may not be a big deal for you. I personally shoot JPEG and raw but, for me, having the ability to critically frame my photographs in-camera is worth the tradeoff. For videographers shooting with fixed prime lenses, in addition to enabling zoom-like camera movements, Sony’s Clear Image Zoom function enables you to tighten your frame lines in situations where camera movement and/or repositioning is limited.

Do you own a Sony camera with Clear Image View functionality? If so, have you tried it out? If you have, what do you think about it? Let us know in the Comment field, below.

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