Google Earth A to Z: Zoom

Of all of the great features in Google Earth, the ability to simply zoom in and see increasingly sharp imagery virtually all the way down is certainly the most amazing. With the wide availability of tools like Google Earth, Google Maps, Bing Maps, MapQuest and others we’ve begun to lose sight of the awesomeness of this simple feature, but it’s really quite mind-blowing. Simply by clicking a mouse you have access to terabytes worth of aerial imagery, something inconceivable less than a decade ago.


Google provides a variety of ways to zoom in and out, most of which were detailed in our Navigation post a few months ago.Try using the + and keys to zoom in and out slowly, or the PAGE UP and PAGE DOWN keys to move more quickly. You can also use the controls in the upper-right corner of the screen, the scroll wheel on your mouse, or (my favorite) a tool like the SpaceNavigator.
Another nice feature to use while moving around is the overview map. You can turn this on and off by selecting it under the main “View” menu.
The entire zooming experience was made much nicer earlier this year when Google released their “Pretty Earth” update. This cleaned up the patchwork appearance that we had all grown accustomed to in Google Earth and helps everything to look much better from any elevation.
What is your favorite way to control Google Earth? Mouse, keyboard or something else?

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.


  1. I’m zooming with the mouse wheel, but i don’t agree that “pretty earth” made zooming nicer. Before that the imagery was patchy indeed, but the zooming was perfectly smooth. Since then, zooming is jittery and jumpy as the high resolution tiles are popping over the low resolution base imagery. It’s distracting and ugly. Google has been asked numerous times to make “pretty earth” optional, but to no avail.

  2. I agree with bergamot. Pretty Earth is a performance bottleneck and can be costly if you use a limited connection (3G/4G mobile plans) because of the additional data that is downloaded. And I think it becomes strange to the user also, as you get different imagery as you zoom in, meaning that you might get to see different buildings as you zoom. Bing has this problem also, although heavier, because you see changes even at the highest zoom level (when older imagery has higher resolution and more zoom levels are available).
    With Pretty Earth you also get a color change effect even if the final imagery is already visible. Only when you get real close are the colors stabilized.
    One thing I’m missing from older versions of GE is the ability to zoom slowly (more precision)with the mouse wheel, by pressing the Alt key. With the last few versions when you press Alt you just get to the menu bar and nothing else…

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