Why we don’t use zoom

Using zoom in your 360 spins may not be a good idea. Huh? What am I saying? Surely zoom is a must-have feature in 360 product photography? Okay, most product retailers want to display their wares in the greatest detail possible, and yes, web viewing devices are getting smaller, but in our experience, zoom can sometimes be more trouble than it’s worth.

What actually is a zoom?

Most people think that they are zooming in to an image when they click to make it bigger. In fact, what usually happens, is they click a reduced version and display it at its original (larger) size. There’s no zooming involved as such. When you zoom out, you are in fact reducing the image size.

zooming a 360 spin

(above) The original file is reduced to display the product and used at actual size to represent the zoom

If it were the other way around, and you tried to increase a small image, the quality would degrade.

effect of zoom in a 360 spin

(above) Reducing an image retains quality, increasing it past its original size will cause the quality to degrade

In order to achieve a good zoom you should only increase an image to view to its original size. With modern DSLR cameras this won’t be a problem because the images captured are far larger than is needed on screen.

So how large should the original image be saved?

Many retailers tell us they want a zoom facility for their 360 spins, and the majority will want it to go as far as possible. This may seem a good idea, but displaying very large images (for zoom or otherwise) has some disadvantages which you may not have considered.

Obtrusive Buttons

You must have seen plenty of spins where the buttons take up most of the viewing window. We believe the product should be the most important thing in a 360 spin, so the simpler the spin the better.

Unused Information

There is no point using an image on a website which contains information which is never used. By information we mean ‘digital’ information as opposed to ‘visual’ information. In the Swiftspin studio we can shoot images at 4288 pixels wide. The width on our website column is only 880 pixels. This means, in some cases, viewers could be downloading over 3Mb of unnecessary information. Therefore we make sure every image is saved at the size it is being displayed. This goes for zoom images too.

product spin zoom sample

(above) This image shows the difference in proportion between the image size captured in camera (the large bicycle) and the size displayed on screen (the small bicycle)

Download Speed

We’ve all sat at a computer and waited for large images to download. Broadband speeds may be getting faster but the 36 images used in 360 spins are still going to take a long time to view if they are saved really big. The last thing a retailer wants is to spend a fortune getting a potential customer to their site only for them to leave when the pictures take too long to load.

Unimportant Zoom Detail

Another thing to ask yourself is, what are you trying to show with the zoom? If it’s a particular detail which is quite small, such as a label or fabric texture, why not consider using a separate detail image outside of the spin?

A kettle’s overall form may look stunning in 360 but does a consumer really want to zoom into blank areas?

unused information in a product rotation

(above) There is not much point zooming into an area with no detail

WYSIWYG

This area is often overlooked by retailers, but is arguably the most important.

What customers see on screen is what they expect when their product arrives. But did you examine your last pair of shoes under a microscope before buying them? No? Well zoom will let you. But is that a good thing?

An accessories company once insisted we shoot their products in high resolution (144 images at 1920×1080 pixels) and using a zoom feature in the spin itself, arguing that showing the quality of detail was paramount. They wanted to zoom in as far as possible. We knew problems would arise so we decided to show them a test first.

The client was appalled. Not by our photography, but by how poor their product looked. It wasn’t, but the zoom highlighted the minutest flaws. They’d never seen their range so closely before, and why would they? Now, as high resolution 360 spins, they could see the tiniest imperfections.

We provided them with two solutions. A cost to retouch all 144 images or to remove the zoom. Guess which one they went for? We shot the whole range without zoom and they’ve never had a single customer complain about the quality of their spins.

detail in a 360 product spin

(above) Dust which is barely visible to the human eye has the potential to show up in a large zoom

Theft

Another client explained to us why she didn’t want her handbag spins to have a zoom facility. Apparently, one of her competitors displayed large zoom images online, only to have the designs copied by unscrupulous counterfitters. They could easily copy the construction without having to go and buy one. That made sense to us so we suggested she use the images quite large on screen so that zoom wasn’t needed. Again, she’s never had a complaint that customers couldn’t see enough detail.

Production Costs

One of the most important factors in the current economic climate is price. In our experience pretty much every image which is needed for a large zoom will need retouching. That means at least 36 images per spin. Not cheap.

You’ve also got to remember that processing very large images takes much longer. Just opening, editing and re-saving an image can take a few minutes. Multiply that by 36 and it can take an hour plus to process one spin.

So how would you show important detail?

The best way to display detail is to give your customers the option to open a larger (new) spin in a separate window. That way they can view the fast-loading spin and can decide themselves whether they want to wait for a larger spin to load. Your web designer should be able to program that quite easily. If the space allocated by your web designer is quite small (e.g. 300 pixels wide) then you could drop in a ‘Click to view 360’ logo and allow viewers to see your product in all it’s glory.

When would you recommend I use larger spins?

If your product has labels all the way around then you will probably need larger images in order to read the text. Wine bottles are a good example, as is food packaging. But even then, writing the text out in accompanying text may be more beneficial as the spin should be a quick visual reference only.

zoom into text in a 360 spin

(above) Large images are important if you need customers to be able to read text on your products

Overall, as you can see, we’re not the biggest fans of zoom. But it’s not just our view, it’s based on years of experience and through feedback gained from our clients. But everyone likes to see detail. Just make sure, whatever spins you use, you don’t spoil the user experience or, just as importantly, give too much information away.