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The shoot-first, focus-later Lytro camera

The shoot-first, focus-later Lytro camera

This week, Lytro Inc. introduced a small point-and-shoot-type of camera that sports a totally new type of sensor and technology.

This camera uses what Lytro calls a “light-field sensor.” The sensor collects the color, intensity and direction of light rays. The “light-field engine” allows the images to be refocused when viewed in the camera and shared on digital devices from personal computers to mobile phones.

The camera uses 8x optical zoom lens with an aperture of f/2, and a 11-megaray light-field sensor. Yes, it’s a new standard “megaray light-field.”

The camera will be available in two models and three colors. An 8GB model will sell for $399 and hold 350 pictures. The $499, 16GB model  will hold 750 images. Colors are red hot, electric blue and graphite.

The cameras are scheduled to ship in early 2012. The software included is Lytro’s desktop application to download images from camera to computer. Currently, the software is for Mac OSX only, with a Windows version to come. Lytro is also planning software to allow images to be viewed on any 3-D display.

Scott Harrison’s view:

Cool camera, and it will be a success. But it’s first-generation technology. The real story is the light-field technology that will change photography as we know it. In 10 years, powerful new sensors and microchips will allow 3-D imaging whose quality will surpass today’s best 2-D digital cameras.

This introduction reminds me of early digital cameras such as Apple’s 1994 QuickTake 1/3rd megapixel line, the first digital camera I got to play with. Those early cameras led directly to today’s multi-megapixel devices. Hey, Apple, are you following this technology? This light-field technology would be great in the iPhone 6S to be introduced in 2015.

Robert Lachman’s thoughts:

Photographs that are never out of focus and are taken with a camera that resembles a bright-colored square flashlight sounds like a great concept. You even get to decide the focus later.

Without having access to the camera, it’s a little tough to make a critical call on the functionality at this time, but I can tell you what I do know.

To select the focus after you take the photograph sure sounds great, not to mention the 11-megaray images. I can only guess that means 11-million rays of light. DON’T write me that I spelled megapixel incorrectly. DON’T ask me to explain what a megaray is. I’m not even sure if I should capitalize it in a sentence. By the way, it’s not in the dictionary or Wikipedia.

This camera takes a whole new approach to capturing images. Although, after reading through all the documentation, I’m not sure how it all works.

The camera produces “living pictures.” The company says, “The Lytro captures the entire light field, which is all of the light traveling in every direction in every point in space.”

The company is banking on the idea that people want to click on various parts of a photograph to change the point of focus. It is fun to try out and click around the photos Lytro has online.

Maybe this will keep people more interested in looking at my vacation photos. Usually their eyes glaze over, and they look for any excuse to move on. Photographs that have different points of focus may just be the trick.

With the  camera to sell at $399 and $499, it’s at a price point that is very close to top-of-the-line compact point-and-shoots, and some of the 4/3 styles, giving it plenty of competition.

One thing to keep in mind, although this camera boasts an 8x lens with an aperture of f/2, the picture file size tends to be smaller when you compare it with the larger conventional cameras, because of its technology.

This is fine for small files on the Internet, but if you are looking to make larger photographic prints, this could be an issue.

This camera is really simple to operate, a touchscreen for exposure, a zoom slider, and two buttons for power and shutter. How simple is that? No flash, no need to focus.

The real question: Is it the technology that consumers want? It’s a cool way of looking at photographs, but will it capture the minds of today’s fickle technology buyers?

Check out additional light-field photos at this Lytro photo gallery.

Read more reviews and photography tips by Robert Lachman

1 Comment

  1. October 21, 2011, 2:50 pm

    it's a gimmick like a stereograph. instead of taking 2 different pics eye-width apart, they take a bunch of pics in the camera's whole range of focus.

    there's a pic of the leaves in focus. there's a different pic of the spider in focus.

    if u look closely at the giant lens in the pics, you'll see how some of them look different and get an idea of how it works.

    By: guest

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