Lytro light field camera

Shoot first, focus later

Look sharp

When you download an image to a computer, the Lytro software spends about 30 seconds per pic crunching the light field. As the pictures are read into the Mac they are processed. Any marked favourite pictures are processed first, and they all appear in black and white before they are processed.

Lytro light field camera

Importing Lytro pictures to the Mac from the camera
Click for a larger image

At the moment there is only a Mac version available and the testing was done with a moderately fast MacBook Pro. No installation CD is needed, the camera contains the set-up software in ROM and when you first plug it into your Mac it instals and then downloads updates.

Lytro has an ambitious roadmap for those updates and because the light field which is transferred from the camera is the equivalent of a RAW file. Hence, any future improvements in the image processing will be reflected in all the pictures you have taken in the past. This includes a promise of 3D pictures.

Lytro light field camera

Click to enter our Lytro samples gallery

All the pictures here, even the indoor ones were take with a lot of daylight. Experiments with artificial light and in low light led to very poor pictures. So, technical wonders and low light issues aside, is it worth the money? Talking of which, unless you're in the US buying one can be a bit of challenge – Lytro has a web page highlighting the options.

The camera, software and posting images to the web is very exciting, in a “this is the future of photography” way. The technology is fantastically clever and as sensors get ever bigger it makes more and more sense, but it isn’t a software lens mobile phone option the way Dblur is, or was as it’s not been heard of for three years. Indeed, the Lytro optics need a lot of glass and that’s not too pocket friendly. Nor is it really an option for photographers who can’t focus, because each of the pictures at an individual level of focus is a bit “meh”.

Lytro light field camera

Compact but not exactly pocket friendly

Besides the photographs which show off the technology well are those images that have a good distance between objects which aren’t those you tend to take. You don’t really need lots of focal points for groups of friends smiling at the camera, Christmas trees and sandcastles. Yet using a Lytro does make you think differently about composing your shots but I’m not sure if the way we usually compose shots is because of the limitations of conventional photography – and the human eye – or because that’s the best way to present the information.

Have you never taken a picture of someone pointing sushi at you because you couldn’t do it or just because you didn’t want to? You have to put a lot more thought into composition. It’s not just the camera which captures the whole scene, you have to build that model in your head too.

Lytro light field camera

Game changing shooter for the digital domain

Verdict

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been pondering what the usefulness of the Lytro Light Field Camera. Much like when I had my first Sinclair Z80 computer people said: yes, but what’s it for? I’ve decided the job of the Lytro is to make you think differently about photography. By taking away the need to focus it may very well make you a better photographer from a creative standpoint and, at the very least, a more contented one if you struggle with the finer points of photography. ®

Simon Rockman sells, and blogs about easy to use mobile phones at Fuss Free Phones
Thanks to Jez San for the loan of his Lytro camera.

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Lytro light field camera

Lytro light field camera

Unique camera based on Lytro's Light Field technology that enables you to change focus after taking the image.
Price: $399 (8GB), $499 (16GB) RRP