A couple weeks ago at SXSW, I got to see the Lytro folks showing off their new “light field camera.” In case you haven’t heard of this, it’s a new type of camera that captures light data (a.k.a. “light fields”) rather than light focused on a 2D plane like all cameras – digital or film – have done for the last 150+ years.
CameraSim is not really a tech/gadget blog, but the Lytro camera represents such a profound development in the history of photography that I feel compelled to document it here.
But I’ll keep it short. Here is what I saw:
Shoot now, focus later
This is without a doubt the killer feature. Because the camera captures light fields, you focus after you’ve taken the photo. You focus using the camera’s touch-enabled LCD, or with the bundled software after transferring the photos to your computer (mac-only for now). In that way, what RAW is to “exposure,” light fields are to “focus.”
Put simply, this camera is sexy. It weights about as much as a smart phone, and with few controls (only a shutter button and strip where you slide to zoom) it is not intimidating to use. It’s almost Apple-like.
I did have some nitpicks, however.
The small touchscreen makes interacting with your photos on the camera rather tedious, and it’s not a very impressive display from a color or resolution standpoint either. Granted, my eyes are accustomed to Apple’s retina display, but it just seems like Lytro cut a corner here.
Low, low rez
You can export standard 2D images (JPG, PNG, etc.) but only at 1.2 megapixels. This will of course improve in future versions, but I’ve not been limited to resolution like that since 1997.
No motion blur
This can be good or bad. Light field technology captures all kinds of data in that precise moment, but it doesn’t currently capture data over a span of time. In other words, you can’t do any long shutter stuff like motion blur, light streaking, etc.
I might learn to appreciate this somehow, but I don’t like that the photos are square. It just seems like Lytro threw composition out the window, or perhaps they intended it to be yet another task offloaded to when your photos are on your computer.
These nitpicks are unfair because I’m comparing the Lytro to my DSLR camera, and even Lytro says that this camera is not a DSLR replacement. It’s an amazing device, and I’m eager to see how it fits into the photography landscape in the coming years.
If you want to geek out for a several minutes, check out the Lytro presentation videos below: