The great cinematographer Gordon Willis (above) didn’t like zooms in general and especially not in period films. He and Coppola agreed early on they they wouldn’t use zooms for The Godfather.
There is, however, one obvious zoom in the movie, in an establishing shot of the Woltz mansion just before the bedroom scene with the horse’s head. It turns out that Willis didn’t shoot it. Coppola and another cinematographer went out and stole several establishing shots of the mansion at dawn because Coppola felt he needed them and there was no money left in the budget to get them done officially.
The zoom in question pushes in on Woltz’s bedroom window, and you can see why Coppola used it, given that he didn’t have a crane or tracking equipment to get the same effect.
I hate zooms myself, in any kind of film, agreeing with Jean-Luc Godard that zooms should only be used to annoy and alienate the audience, and that zoom in The Godfather has always stuck in my craw, even knowing how and why it was created.
Ironically, it turns out that there is another zoom in the movie, one I never processed as a zoom until I read about it. It’s the famous three-minute opening shot of Bonasera telling his troubles to Don Corleone. It starts close on Bonasera’s face and opens up slowly to show Bonasera in a wider shot over the Don’s shoulder.
This was done with a mechanized computer-controlled zoom lens set to proceed so slowly that you never really resister the optical distortion inherent in a zoom. It works fine and doesn’t take you out of the period visual style crafted so meticulously by Willis, but part of me wishes I didn’t know it was a zoom.