I wrote about Lytro being set up a while ago but last week they announced their product line up and specs of their forthcoming cameras. Lytro is a company that is bringing cameras to market that uses a technology called “light field photography”. The cameras capture light in a different way to a normal camera. As if by magic, once a photo is taken, the focus can be changed.
One thing I would say about its design is that its form is obviously dictated by its need to have a long lens inside. I don’t like the idea of having to hold the camera like a telescope, I would much rather that the screen be on top of the camera so it could be used like a TLR camera.
The killer feature for me, aside from the magic of refocusing is that it turns on instantly and pictures can be taken with no shutter lag. Shutter lag is one of the reasons I have only owned one compact digital camera. I can’t stand it.
If you check out the Lytro specs you can start to get an insight into some previously unknown details. The pictures are captured in a proprietary format so they can be refocused later. The files that the Lytro camera produces will be a wapping 45 megabytes each – that’s about 4x the size of the RAW files that my 5D mark 1 produces. Lytro does not state the file sizes but you can work it out that if the 8GB model stores 350 pictures they would be 45 meg each.
They did not mention what the resolution of a rendered image would be, all they say is that the images produced are “HD quality interactive pictures”. The standard definition of HD, if you are talking about TVs, is an image with a vertical resolution of 1080 pixels. If you compare that to the resolution of an image from an iPhone 4 that is 2595 x 1936 pixels its pretty low resolution by todays standards. But an image that is 1080 pixels tall is good enough for internet use.
What is apparent from the press release is that they are really going for the “living picture” idea where other people explore and refocus your images via a web app (like the image above). The living pictures will be embeded all over the web, much like the way you embed Youtube videos. As a photographer I don’t want people to be able to refocus my images, I want to set the focus myself and put the finished image out there. It would be like putting my raw files on the web, then letting people tweak them in Photoshop until they where happy with them.
There was no mention of the ability to change the depth of field after a shot had been taken. I find this a really disappointment as that was one of the aspects that really excited me when I first herd of the technology.
As the camera stands its definitely aimed at the consumer market which was always Lytro’s intention. If I had money to burn I would preorder one now but as it stands the lack of aperture control puts me off. That said it looks like an amazing device and I sure the next generation of cameras will be amazing.
This sort of thing has the potential to disturb the practice of photography, such that terms that we use such as Aperture and Depth of Field, (currently under the command of the photographer) will no longer have any meaning.
Perhaps it’s a bit like Size or Brightness or Sequence. Whereas in the paper era these were firmly under the control of the photographer/printer, in the screen/internet age the end-user has their say on what these are. They can pause the show and go back, tweak the monitor, or resize the image. It’s still recognisably the photographer’s work.
What will remain is the photographer’s choice of subject and their interaction with it.
By the way, I would guess that the Lytro images (more like holograms, actually) will render to 720-type HD images not 1080!
As for Aperture, it will need to be wide open to get all the angles of view sampled by the imaging device. I daresay you could process the raw data to emulate any aperture you wanted.