It's 2018 and more and more features are getting added to action cameras, everyone is trying to keep up with the 4K boom of 2017 and all you want is optical zoom, not too much to ask, I know, when a feature like this can revolutionize the camera, it's weird to think there aren't more cameras with an optical zoom lens.
Above you will see the best action cameras with a zoom lens rated by their Cam Score. There are only a handful but this list will continue to grow throughout 2018 and beyond as we add more new cameras that are released with a zoom lens.
Benefits of an Optical Zoom Lens
What are the benefits and pro's of an optical zoom lens in an action camera? Firstly, just because it's an action camera doesn't mean that the action is right infront of you or that you are the main event and you're filming or photographing things that you are doing.
For instance, if you are watching an event, running, trail running, fell running, mountain biking, cycling or something where they cover a fair bit of distance or don't actually get that close to you, it would be very handy to have a zoom lens.
The major benefit of an optical zoom lens over a digital is that when you zoom in, you are using the glass in the camera, so the lens is not going to distort anything like a digital would. With digital zoom which a lot of action cameras have, but we wouldn't recommend using unless you need to, is a fake zoom. It has the full resolution of the action camera and then will crop the image and then re-size, so you will start with a 4000x3000 photo image, it will make that 2000x1500 when you zoom in 2x and then re-scale that back to 4000x3000, so straight away, you've lost half of the image data and pixels.
As you can see, this is the most important part of any zoom, that you don't lose the original quality your camera already has. Then as soon as you zoom in more than 2x, to 4x, 8x, etc, you will make the image even worse.
Manual Zoom Without A Zoom Lens
If you don't have an optical zoom lens on your action camera, there is a little trick you can do in which you take the normal photo of what it is you wished to have zoomed in on. Then take that image back to your computer or laptop and manually enlarge/zoom in on the photo yourself.
If you use Light Room or Photoshop or even GIMP, you can import your photo, crop the image to the section you want to 'zoom in' on and then sort out any pixelation or noise that may be in the picture to smooth it out. It's nowhere near as good as an optical zoom lens on the camera, as it's always better to get the best picture you can at source, but it is an idea if you need to get something in the future.
DIY Action Camera Zoom Lens
You can also go the DIY route and do it yourself. There are many different zoom lens types of Gearbest and Banggood and you can even fashion your own from a security camera or use one from a smart phone attachment. Here is an interesting video where the user adds a security camera zoom lens on to an Eken H9 without too much trouble.