Lytro light field camera
Shoot first, focus later
Review Since before the days of Fox Talbot, cameras have worked like the human eye. A lens focuses an image on a plane, be it a retina, silver halide or electronic sensors. The Lytro is different
Lytro: the box camera for the 21st century
Instead of capturing a single image it captures the rays of light, working out what’s pointing where to build a model of the different focal points. The plane can effectively be moved backwards and forwards in the image in software. This allows you to take one picture and focus later. Lytro calls this a “living picture”. Although it begs the question that if you take away the need to focus does that lead to you becoming a worse photographer?
The important difference is that instead of all the light rays converging on a single point there are multiple points of focus on the sensor. They call the area which is captured a “light field” and the sensor a light field image sensor. It captures not just the intensity of the light coming from a point but the direction and the changes of intensity along the path. This of course means a lot more data and processing than with a conventional image.
Simple controls and operation
The Lytro camera captures 11 million light rays which has some distinct advantages. While in traditional photography a smaller aperture gives better depth of field, a larger one allows more light in and works better when less light is available. However, a large aperture means lenses have to be better to avoid distortion around the edges.
Lytro argues that digital sensors have now overtaken the quality of lenses as well as the screens and printers we use to display pictures. The redundancy in the sensor resolution can be harnessed by the light field technology to overcome the limitations of focusing. The upshot of this is that although you have a very expensive camera with a very high resolution sensor the actual images, at each level of focus are pretty point and shoot.
For on-line rather than on-paper viewing
It’s not yet high enough resolution for you to just take a picture and then expect it to be printable at any level of focus and, of course, the living picture cannot be printed. Instead, Lytro hosts it on its website and provides you with embed links. In the main, Lytro seems to expect you to post the living pictures on Facebook.
Next page: Soft touch
Re: Crime scene photography
Except that one of the reasons they take lots of shots is so they've got good-quality pictures of everything. Not gonna work if you're only getting webcam-quality, regardless of whether you can shift the focus.
No Windows (I was hardly expecting linux) support? Makes me think this really is a shiny toy of little real use...
Nice idea, but I think I can wait a few months to see if it's really any use.
Re: Only Mac?
@Dapprman... I think they have identified their target market perfectly. Willing to pay over the odds for a pretty looking gadget of little real use.
Re: Only Mac?
Since when it was launched. You could only initially get iTunes on Mac until they brought the Windows version out some time later.
Unlikely ever to be more than a novelty.
I'll quite possibly have to eat my poorly-focussed hat on this, but I would be amazed if this ever became anything more than a novelty. It cannot squeeze down to a practical depth to fit into a phone which is the big market for novel photo apps - and that's a physics limit more than an engineering limit. Even with the absurd rate of increase of pixel density in sensors, you still lose pixels geometrically with this system - crudely speaking, N planes of focus means you only get an Nth of the raw pixels of the sensor in the final image(s) - so you hit the noise limit for tiny pixels N times faster than with a 'normal' camera. And there are far less "clever" but far more practical methods of after-the-fact focussing. The small sensors and lenses on compacts and cameraphones effectively give infinite depth of field already and it isn't rocket science to measure and add a depth parameter to the raw image.
Most annoyingly of all, the focus on most Lytro images is terrible. The focal plane is never truly sharp regardless of where you try to refocus the image.
Light field image capture is a super clever solution to a problem that simply doesn't exist.
That said, five or so years ago when this was first proposed I brashly declared that it would never be anything more than vapourware so I don't have much of a track record here.