Lytro is an amazing little camera that will pretty quickly become the main topic of conversation with any crowd when you start snapping pictures. I could explain what it does, but it's far easier to show you. Have a look at this picture, and then start clicking on different parts of it
Spotlight is a very 'visual' website and we use a variety of tools and media to complement our content. A few days ago, our new Lytro cameras finally arrived and will be using it on some upcoming posts.
Unlike a traditional digital camera that has a flat sensor and takes a flat picture, Lytro records the angle the light hits the sensors. This means that you can refocus the image post-production, and either export it as a regular JPEG or upload it to lytro.com and share it as an interactive photo.
Having used the camera for the past few days, I can say this is immediately addictive to view pictures taken with this camera. When reading through the National Geographic on my iPad, I felt a twinge of frustration that I couldn't adjust the focus of these beautiful photos. My wife, being more of a photographer, argues that this takes away the artistic control of the photographer and I grudgingly agree, but the uses are definitely there when applied correctly.
And since the Lytro camera records angles of light, all the photos taken now will be able to be converted to 3D images once the software upgrade is released. Lytro has already demoed this and is committed to expanding the capabilities of the camera to 3D. In short, this is the future of photography. However, there are a few 'buts.'
First, one needs to draw the distinction between 'neat' and 'application.' You can take plenty of neat pictures as the lytro.com website demonstrates, but $399 is a lot to pay for gimmicky photo taking. Our hope at Spotlight is that when it comes to covering events that rely heavily food photography, there will be a benefit to allowing the reader to focus on what they'd like to see.
For example, in this photo the object far in the back is so blurry you can't even recognize it until you click on it:
With food photography there's a similar benefit. You can click around the photo and see each aspect of the plate in greater detail:
There is a downside to the technology. First, it offers no benefit to relatively flat pictures including portraits. Unless there are multiple objects of focus, the Lytro provides no discernible benefit. It's more about the ratio of distance, than distance itself. Have a look at this picture:
Even though there are a variety of distances, refocusing the image offers you no benefit. Contrast this to this photo that Jen took:
There's a second downside to the current Lytro technology. Each photo contains a lot of data and gives you this incredible ability to refocus on objects after taking the photo, and soon you'll see your photos in 3D, but when you look at any of these images you're essentially looking at a 1.1 megapixel photo based on the resolution.
Here’s an example of a JPEG export. Keep in mind that this is the same picture in Lytro, but it has been exported with two different focal points:
Lytro's response to this is stressing that the photos have the same resolution that most photos posted on Facebook get shrunken to, and while that's true, the photos remind me more of the photos we'd see from the original digital cameras (that were also around 1 megapixel). The colours don't quite pop, and there's an unfortunate graininess in lower light.
$399 is not cheap, but Lytro is bringing in an advanced technology to the consumer market. The only other company that produces these types of cameras is Raytrix. They start at $4000 for the basic model with the same megapixel level as the Lytro, or you can go with the 3 megapixel option for $30,000. Expensive.
I have no doubt that this light-field technology is the future. Interactive photos are just one use of this camera, but in my mind being able to take a picture and then refocusing the attention of the shot in post-production is a fantastic option. I would definitely feel better if this camera was able to do 3 megapixel exports of flat images instead of the current 1.1, but clearly this is quite cost (and likely size) prohibitive.
From a design perspective, the camera works really well. It's definitely modelled in the Apple-esque side of the world where form, function and efficiency are top priorities. There's one button on the bottom to turn it on and off, and one button on top to take a photo. There's a touch-sensitive strip just beneath that to zoom in and out. Everything else is done via a very responsive touch screen.
Overall I look at this purchase the same way I looked at buying my first digital camera, in that it has capabilities no other camera can give you. But keep in mind that if you do make the purchase, you're a very early adopter. Also, it's not available in Canada just yet so unless you have a father-in-law in the US to place the order for you (thanks Irv!), it'll be difficult to get. And much to Suresh's chagrin, the software to get the images from the camera is, for the time being, only available for Macs, but Windows software will be available sometime in 2012 (according to the company).
Enjoy our coverage using the Lytro camera, and tell us what you think.
Written by Mark Bylok
Mark Bylok enjoys his vices. When travelling, he can frequently be seen enjoying the ‘national’ drink of choice and going to traditional bars. As an avid eater, he frequently decides where to go or stay based on the restaurants he wants to visit. Whether it’s jumping off a bridge, or repelling down a mountainside, Mark likes to explore all the locations that take advantage of a destination’s natural landscape. When he gets homesick, he sneaks off to a local British pub that serves beer on tap. At home, he has an extensive whisky collection and he’s a bit of a tech-head.