The Lytro Camera
Everybody who’s ever used a camera to take a picture of something has obviously experienced it – the badly focused blurry shot. Something you never intended the camera to do, but that’s what it settled on amidst all the startup and focus hunting beeps. That’s why the Lytro concept became such a popular internet buzzword a few months ago when it was announced. They dubbed it the “Shoot Now, Focus Later” camera – being able to shoot images without the need for getting your subject in focus, but instead will take a magical shot (without focus time) that you can refocus as you see fit later – essentially giving you a snapshot of time you can view and manipulate at will after the fact. There were skeptics and there were believers, but nevertheless, Lytro has now released their first ever light-field “focus later” camera. It starts at US$399 and you can get them in three colors – albeit it looks nothing like a typical camera would.
No its not a pencil case…
The Lytro camera is basically a light-field camera shrunken into a consumer-type device. It takes multiple light fields (focus points) and merges them into one “shot” where they can be processed later to refocus on demand. The company have basically created a consumer device that takes a huge room of mirrors and sensors for light field photography and miniaturized it. The catch is that the images do require a special plugin or software to see or share on the internet – regular JPG files wouldn’t do. Although you could take a snapshot of one of the focus points in a Lytro image, it will essentially become just another pre-focused shot. What’s more, the camera seems to be only capable of taking pictures in essentially 1MP – given that it does have to record more than just one focus point.
The best use of the camera is when you have multiple things you want to focus on, like these girls. Click on parts of the picture to refocus on them.
The Lytro camera design is nothing out of the photography world either. It would probably look more at home in Ikea or Apple’s line of designer products. It’s a small rectangular prism that you hold between your fingers and point forward like a laser pointer. The body is built from a stylized anodized aluminum while the back has a rubber grip. This grip also holds a power button and USB hidden on the bottom, while a shutter and touch-sensitive zoom controls on the top. On the slightly less amazing end, there’s a paltry 1.3” touchscreen on the back with an even paltrier 128×128 resolution. That’s effectively only 16,000 dots on a small LCD. Even current budget digital cameras have 230,000 dots on their screens – 14 times more pixels.
But hopefully that wouldn’t matter to the camera’s consumers. It’s clearly not designed with the traditional photographer in mind – given the 1MP images and small screen. It does however have an 8x zoom optical zoom range and constant f2.0 aperture. (This won’t matter unless we know the size of the sensor relative to the aperture and zoom, which the site doesn’t list.) It has no SD card slot either – relying on a USB connector to your PC. There’s no flash hotshoe or accessory port, and the battery cannot be removed. Plus, the software that is required to view the resulting images only supports Apple computers right now. Clearly, the Lytro camera is giving us the idea that its been designed with casual users in mind.
Though even with those shortcomings, the idea behind it is solid. If the progress of this particular camera technology continues, we might be seeing these light-ray sensors get improved and put into much more compelling camera bodies. For now though, it looks like it’ll be a quirky little thing and some of us will love it and and some of us will hate it.
The first Lytro camera is now available for pre-order with an 8GB version for $399 and 16GB for $499. It currently only sells in the US and will ship in early 2012. To learn more about the Lytro camera, check out the video below or visit their website.
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