Zoom Vs. Dolly Shot: What's the Difference - Raindance

If you have something to do with the filmmaking world, you must have watched the recent informative video by Ryan Connolly from Film Riot. He talked about the dolly camera movement and zoom lens. 

Being a cinematographer, whenever I am watching TV shows or movies on the channels I have been provided by my Spectrum streaming, I am always examining the shots. I must say each filmmaker has their own taste when it comes to creating shots. These two motions look very similar but they are unique in their own ways. Therefore let’s discuss each in detail and learn the difference between the two shots. 

The Zoom Shot 

Zooming in is like magnifying what you are seeing. You don’t come close to the object or person, you just magnify the view without changing your physical location. To get closer, you zoom in and the object looks larger in the frame. As you get farther, you zoom out and the object starts looking smaller. In both cases, the camera remains at its initial position. 

Optically bringing an object further or closer to one’s view using a zoom lens somewhat resembles the forward and backward technique in the dolly shot. However, there is an obvious difference i.e. there is no parallax in lens zoom. 

The zooming technique is used when we want the viewer to focus on something in the frame. Hence, we make it view visually larger or smaller. 

The Dolly Shot

In the dolly shot, the camera or the lens doesn’t zoom in or out. The camera’s physical placement changes. If you are already familiar with what a dolly is, it would be easier to understand how a dolly shot works. Dolly is a platform that moves along a track. You are supposed to mount the camera on top of it. When you want to take the dolly shot, you make the cart travel closer/farther away from the person or object on the screen. The camera is pushed along with it. 

The process of moving closer is called dolly in and the process of moving away from the object is called dolly out. Along with moving the camera towards or away from the subject, you can also move it up/down, left/right or alongside the trajectory. With this technique, the audience feels as if they are physically moving within the scene. Dolly shot makes it look 3 dimensional because parallax is involved.

The camera can be moved manually or it could be automated using sliders operated by electronic motion control. When you are moving the camera manually, there are no brakes, you have to intervene to make it stop. There is also a technique called 360 Dolly shot that orbits around the subject by creating a dramatic parallax between the subject and its background. This technique can be seen in TV series Lost.

Combining Dolly and Lens Zoom

Dolly and lens zoom can be combined as well. There are many films in which these two techniques are used together. Jaws and Vertigo are two of the famous ones.

The camera moves forward and zooms out, and when it moves backwards, the lens zooms in. This technique is also known as push-pull and dolly zoom. The size of the subject in the frame remains the same whereas the scale of the environment is altered. You can slide the camera sideways and or zoom in or out. This creates an impression of moving on curved tracks. It’s just one example, the possibilities of using the dolly zoom technique are endless! 

How to Choose Your Shot

It’s totally up to you whether you want to use zoom or dolly shot independently or together. Director Luca Guadagnino did an interview with The Film Pie and explained that he prefers zoom shots. There have been a handful of films from the 70s and 80s that used traveling shots. This technique was used to save money and avoid scenes where one had to put a track down and push the camera long. That wasn’t just expensive, it was very time-consuming. Zoom becomes a short-cut for many filmmakers. Movies like The Innocent and Death in Venice had many zoom scenes.

Then, there are filmmakers who use the zoom technique for opposite reasons. A great example is set by Stanley Kubrick in the movie The Shinning. Zoom was used to express the subject strongly. 

Therefore, it actually depends on what you want to portray and what you are shooting. That determines which lens to use. It is quite fascinating for me. Over the holidays my movie sessions on Hallmark channel would be from a different perspective now – I will be noticing where they used the dolly and zoom shots. 

I hope it is clear what emotions these movements convey. Now, it will be easier for you to decide whether to incorporate zoom or dolly in your next shoot. 



My name is Alex Brian, and I am a Web Content Specialist, Travel Enthusiast, and Blogger. I write for many well-known blogs and try to present my critical take on the latest socio-cultural trends that dominate the blogosphere.