While modern boaters enjoy rarefied technology, our access to top products doesn’t insulate us from occasional high-tech hiccups. Take my experience at the 2016 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, where I spied the USS Zumwalt, the U.S. Navy’s newest and stealthiest guided missile destroyer, conducting tests just offshore. I pulled out my iPhone and rifled off some images using its 5x digital zoom. In my photos, however, Zumwalt resembled nothing more than an odd-looking horizon ornament; zoomed in tightly, she became a pixelated gray blob, not a mighty warship or even a social-media-worthy share.
Rather than using true optical zooms, smartphone cameras use digital zooms that enlarge each pixel to blow up an area of interest. Most thermal-imaging cameras also use digital zooms to manage cost and size, which places a premium on the camera’s image sensor and the number of pixels it captures per frame (greater pixel counts mean better resolution and long-range performance).