Why I Hate Zoom Shots

Welcome to Meet the Founding Fathers, a series of articles in which the creators of Council of Zoom introduce themselves to the world. Up first is Robbie Campbell, our resident video editor and lover of rom-com films. Read on as he discusses his disdain for the zoom shot and the name of our site.

Zooming is predominantly shite.

Every camera movement, every technique, is another item in the cinematographer toolbox. They allow the audience to engage and relate to the subject matter, their eyes often metaphorically becoming the camera lens. One of the items in the toolbox doesn’t belong there, though. The bastard of the lot, the unwanted child, the zoom shot.

I’ll go on record as saying the zoom shot can get to fuck. To perfect it takes years of dedication and, often, specialised equipment, only for it to be bettered by scaling a stagnant shot in post. (Where you can get around a manual error by Keyframing the scale and speed). Don’t get me wrong, though, everything in cinema has a place. But my resentment of the zoom shot isn’t just because of its unsettling visual sharpness; it’s down to a multitude of outliers.

Such as…

The act itself is unnatural. The camera zoom isn’t something our eyes can do. We can walk forward and backward mirroring a track or dolly shot but our eyes cannot zoom like a camera. Moving through the environment in the scope of a camera’s fixed position, like a human, gives an unsettling illusion. The track and dolly method is much more suited to the human perspective, the camera moves with you as if you are the camera — as it should be.

My resentment, although not entirely just, mainly stems from found footage films and their amateur video counterparts. The continuous over-zooming to accentuate something or someone’s presence leaves a lot to be desired. After rinsing and repeating their formula continuously, I developed a decent amount of built-up hatred towards them. Not only is it dizzying on the eye but it also takes you out of the scene at hand. They’re usually used to immediately bring the audience to an object or person of focus from a much greater distance. From a narrative perspective, this is rarely, if ever, needed. Repositioning with prime lenses would give the same if not greater effect without making the audience think “what the fuck?”

The fad of zoom’s, for the most part, died out in the late ‘70s to early ‘80s with the industry following a more aesthetically pleasing cine look that people became more accustomed to. Enter the Prime lenses — the main reasoning behind why you don’t see more of an outlier of zooming in today’s cinema and TV. With fixed focal lengths, they make zooming an impossibility.

So why am I writing about zoom shots?

The name of our site was unfortunately never really in question. I was firmly outvoted two to one in the LTD naming sweepstakes. No questions asked; this is our method. You live by the zoom, you die by the zoom. I will forever now die by the zoom and our company’s SHIT name. But that itself is the essence of cinema, I guess — if you objectively hate something, that’s your prerogative. This doesn’t mean everyone will follow suit. It’s all perspective and that’s filmmaking down to its core.

We at Council of Zoom firmly believe in giving a voice to everything in cinema. We will embrace all perspectives and will celebrate the medium in its entirety. It isn’t for someone to objectively love something more than other people. Nothing is unanimously wrong per se, except zoom shots.

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