Monday, October 31, 2011

A look at the Lytro Light Field Camera

My first reaction is that this could be a really cool system. My second reaction?  Well, a number of concerns go flashing through my mind.

My concerns? Well, I notice a couple of issues that make me wonder if this system is designed by people familiar with photography who are developing new technology, or by tech geeks who are playing with photography. One is good, the other? Not so much.

Looking at the corporate team, I am seeing a lot of tech, not a lot of photography.  However, a quick scan of Ng's thesis is encouraging.

Some of my concerns have to do with the actual physical design of the camera itself.  Was the design influenced more by the marketing department or by actual, working professional photographers?

I had a pretty negative initial reaction to the shape of the camera, but after playing with its possibilities in my head for a bit, it is growing on me... slowly and slightly.  I'd have to use one for a day to really know if I like it or not.

These concerns extend far beyond the physical design to the basic camera settings.  A lot of the functionality of the camera is not shown in these videos.  I know I want a multitude of settings, from automated settings (your basic consumer point and shoot settings) to really specific manual controls over everything (aperture, ISO, shutter speed, et cetera with conventional cameras, though I am not sure if or how these apply to light field photography).

Though I am far from an expert on the nuts and bolts of digital photography technology, I am not sure how their resolution specification ("11 Megarays: the number of light rays captured by the light field sensor") compares to the more familiar megapixel. Then again, I've also been saying this for about ten years: the focus on megapixels is a bit of a red herring in digital photography.  Here is a good explanation of my views by someone who has done the research: The Megapixel Myth.

Another dirty little secret is that they are not available for PC users yet. Mac only.  That rules me out for the time being (not that I wouldn't love a Mac if I could afford one), but the PC software is in development.

I would love to test drive one of these bad boys, at the very least.

Here is an interesting (Flash?) simulation of how the software works on the Lytro website:

Additional links:
The technology explained:
Ng's Thesis:
Ordering Information:

Additional videos:
Overall, these videos are not as good as C-Net's, but they do get into a few more details. This first video shows the software functionality well, the next ones the use of the camera itself.

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