In order to optically vary the magnification of an imaging system, continuous mechanical zoom lenses require multiple optical elements and use fine mechanical motion to precisely adjust the separations between individual or groups of lenses. By incorporating active elements into the optical design, we have designed and demonstrated imaging systems that are capable of variable optical magnification with no macroscopic moving parts. Changing the effective focal length and magnification of an imaging system can be accomplished by adeptly positioning two or more active optics in the optical design and appropriately adjusting the optical power of those elements. In this application, the active optics (e.g. liquid crystal spatial light modulators or deformable mirrors) serve as variable focal-length lenses. Unfortunately, the range over which currently available devices can operate (i.e. their dynamic range) is relatively small. Therefore, the key to this concept is to create large changes in the effective focal length of the system with very small changes in the focal lengths of individual elements by leveraging the optical power of conventional optical elements surrounding the active optics. By appropriately designing the optical system, these variable focal-length lenses can provide the flexibility necessary to change the overall system focal length, and therefore magnification, that is normally accomplished with mechanical motion in conventional zoom lenses.© (2005) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.