I get asked what I think the next big thing in photography will be, or what direction technology will take, quite a bit. It’s one of those things that you can’t really answer. Not until you’re actually living in that imagined future does it seem possible. So if you’d asked me a few years ago if a camera that would allow you to focus and re-focus your image as much as you wanted to after you’d captured it was on the cards, I’d’ve probably shrugged my shoulders. But it’s here now. It’s the Lytro.
The idea behind the Lytro is that it captures all of the light rays in a given scene. According to Lytro, it captures a scene in four dimensions by recording the colour, intensity, and the direction of every ray of light that hits the light field sensor in the camera. And what does it do with all this information? It processes it using a light field engine so that you can re-focus pictures directly on the camera. If you want to share your images on-line, this light field engine will travel will them, allowing anyone to interact with them from any device, from mobile phones to desktop computers. No special software required.
I’ve had a play with some sample images: you click on the area where you want to focus and… tah-daa!… the focus will shift there in a second or so. It’s simple and quite good fun. You can mess around there, too.
Despite the technology involved, Lytro wants to keep their cameras sleek and simple. There are just two buttons on the camera – on/off and the shutter – and everything else is achieved through a touchscreen. As for the design, I can’t help but think it looks a bit like something I would’ve made using mirrors and cardboard when I was seven, but perhaps I was weirdly ahead of my time. Still, it’s small, light, and comes in blue, red, or graphite.
The lens has a constant aperture of f/2.0 and an 8× optical zoom. With no need to focus, it’s pretty speedy; and as it captures all of the available light in a scene, it should have pretty good low-light capability, too. But the constant aperture is a bit limiting in terms of your creative options.
The Lytro comes in two sizes, an 8GB model in blue or graphite that stores 350 photos, or a 16GB version in red that holds 750 images. They cost $399 and $499 respectively. If you’re one of Lytro’s first customers, it’ll provide you with free storage for your light field images uploaded to Lytro.com, too. They should be shipping come the new year.
Right now, it feels a bit like a toy. They’re working on 3D capability, but I’d be more inclined to push for variable aperture. Still, give it a few years and who knows where we might be with this sort of thing!
You can learn more from Lytro.