How to use the macOS zoom feature and why you might need it

Enable the zoom feature on the Apple Mac and use it for extra fine control of the mouse cursor.

Apple’s MacBook retina displays are the envy of the industry and are capable of very high resolutions. If you like working in high res, learn how to use the zoom feature for fine control.

It may seem strange, but MacBooks do not work at the maximum resolution of the screen and they work at much less than they are capable of. This is actually easier on the eye and because the pixels are so small the screen display looks great.

If you need more space on the desktop for your apps and windows, it is possible to switch to a higher resolution with a retina display. This makes everything smaller, but there is much more room to work.

Change screen resolution

To switch to a higher screen resolution to get more desktop space:

  1. Go to the Apple menu and select System Preferences
  2. Click Displays and select the Display tab
  3. Select Scaled and then select one of the options

At one extreme there is Larger Text and at the other is More Space. If you choose More Space, a higher resolution is used for the desktop, which makes text, windows and controls smaller.

Why you need to zoom

If you prefer working in high resolution you should get to know the zoom feature that magnifies the screen. The whole screen or just a small section under the mouse cursor can be magnified to make it easier to see precisely where the mouse is pointing.

You can work at a higher resolution or even maximum resolution, but by zooming, you can still see everything clearly.

This is useful when working on small items, such as when you need pixel accuracy in photo editing. You could use the photo editor’s zoom feature, but that makes everything larger, whereas the macOS zoom feature can make just the area around the mouse cursor larger. It is also easier to switch between normal and zoomed modes in macOS than in a photo editor.

It would not screenshot, so here is a photo taken on a phone. It is best to try this feature for yourself because it is very useful.

The zoom feature in macOS on the Apple Mac

Configure macOS zoom controls

Open System Preferences and click Accessibility - it is the last icon at the bottom. Select Zoom in the list on the left.

Zoom features in System Preferences on the Apple Mac

  1. Enable this option and learn the keyboard shortcuts. Press Option+Command+= to zoom in and repeatedly press it to zoom in more. Toggle between zoom and normal by pressing Option+Command+8. Zoom out in steps by pressing Option+Command+-.
  2. Enable this option and you can zoom with the trackpad. Application windows, such as Finder, documents, web pages and so on, can be scrolled by pushing up or pulling down on the trackpad with two fingers. However, when the Control key is help down, it zooms in and out instead. This works brilliantly with the Full screen option at the bottom.
  3. Zooming in makes text and images look pixelated and rough. Turn on this option to smooth out the rough edges. It makes a big difference to the zoomed view.
  4. It is possible to move from control to control in a window, such as this one in System Preferences, by pressing the Tab key. When this option is on, the Picture-in-picture zoom follows you as you tab from control to control.
  5. Choose between Full screen or Picture-in-picture. The first option is obvious and if you push up with two fingers on the trackpad while holding down Control, the whole screen zooms in. The Picture-in-picture option is like holding a magnifying glass in front of the screen and you just see the zoom effect in small area. Try it both ways and see which is best.
  6. There are more options in the next screenshot

Extra zoom controls

Click the Options button to access these additional options.

Zoom features in macOS on the Apple Mac

  1. When using Picture-in-picture only a small rectangular section of the screen is zoomed in. Stationary keeps it fixed in one place on the screen, whereas Follow mouse cursor moves it around the screen to always keep it under the mouse cursor. Tiled along edge is an interesting option and it uses a split screen display with the normal screen on the right sized and the zoomed screen on the left. Try all three settings and see which you prefer - you really need to try it.
  2. If you are using the zoom feature for fine control of the cursor, it can help if it is set to Crosshair.
  3. Picture-in-picture shows a zoomed section of the screen in a small rectangular window, like a square magnifying glass. Click this button and drag the edges of the rectangle to make it larger or smaller as you prefer.

Try it and see

There are a lot of options here and several ways of working, such as full screen, small rectangle, or split screen. You really need to try them all because it isn’t something that is easily described.

Zooming is not something you will use all the time, but sometimes it is really useful.



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