What if we told you there was going to be a new camera on the market in the next couple of months that would allow you to focus your shots after you’ve taken them? The camera in question doesn’t look like a regular camera; it isn’t from a camera maker you have heard of (probably); and it could change the way we take photos in the future, forever.
Well that’s what the Lytro camera is promising, and Pocket-lint stopped by the Lytro offices in Mountain View, California to have a quick play with the new model due out in early 2012, and find out what it's all about,
The technology behind the Lytro camera is completely new. It works by capturing 11 million rays of light within a specially designed sensor and lens. What that means in English is that you are capturing all the light in your scene, which in turn allows you to change the focus after the fact. That differs completely to the usual method used within a traditional camera.
If that sounds a tad confusing, that’s because the science behind the technology is, eh... a tad confusing. Lytro’s founder and creator has been working on the technology for years, has received a PhD along the way, and then, after setting up Lytro in 2006, has spent the last 6 years trying to turn the technology that needed a room and a super computer into something pocketable for consumers to use.
Rather than creating just another tech "tick box" to be implemented in other camera brands - in other words licensing the innovation out, the company has chosen to launch a dedicated model - and the new camera was born.
That new pocketable camera is the Lytro Light field camera that has a rectangular shape, unlike conventional cameras.
Coming in three different colours: silver, blue, and red; there are no obvious buttons and no moveable parts. Two thirds of the camera is made from an anodised coloured metal that houses the lens that shines the light on to the specially designed sensor. After that is the processor for the camera and at the rear is a tiny 1.46-inch LCD touchscreen that you can use to view pictures and manage your images out and about.
Although light in weight, the design is a strange one. It is likely to be too big to fit in a jean's pocket, but not big enough to warrant a separate bag and because the lens is what it is, the camera is long in length (think DSLR with lens) rather than flat like many of today's compact models.
Likewise the screen on the rear of the Lytro camera is so small it is of little use to you when it comes to viewing your images. The LCD screen quality wasn’t that good either. In fairness to Lytro it might have been because only 2 hours previously we had spent a good hour with the 4.65-inch Super AMOLED touting Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which is absolutely stunning, but we still expect better.
Get passed the design and taking pictures is easy. Not having to worry about focus points, or focusing at all is certainly liberating as all you have to worry about is framing the shot.
The camera features an 8x optical zoom and that is controlled via a hidden touch sensitive slider that’s hidden within the chassis on the top of the camera. The zoom was responsive and quick as you don't have to worry about focusing.
Images are stored as a .lpf file on the camera’s 16GB or 32GB storage and you can store them for free on the company’s website.
Because of the filetype the camera stores pictures in (Lytro refer to them as living pictures), you won’t be able to use your current image editing software like Photoshop or iPhoto. Instead you will have to use Lytro’s own software, which is currently only available for Mac users.
You can, of course, view back your images on the small screen and start playing with the focus there and then, however we wouldn’t recommend it.
The software is basic, but does work, allowing you to see the shots you’ve taken and, if you wish, spending hours focusing on different elements within the picture. You can then choose to share your "Living pictures" or export them as a jpeg once you’ve got the right focus. In the future you’ll also be able to view them as 3D photos - something we tried and were very impressed by. It is a software update that can be applied retrospectively to the images.
A neat trick, inspired by Kodak's Easy Share button on its cameras, is the ability to highlight your favourite shots on the camera, the software then knows which ones to download first.
That urge or need to change the focal point of the shot will ultimately change the way you take pictures (we found the experience is very much like composing a 3D photograph) and once you are done you can then get the software to create you an iFrame to embed on Facebook or your blog, just as you would with a YouTube video.
We weren’t able to take any images away with us, but we were able to quickly look at them in the software on a computer at the Lytro offices.
Our test shots were in an office building with very flat light and seemed rather soft, something other journalists, who’ve also seen the Lytro, agree with.
However, the test shots on the company’s website and those shared by Lytro on its Facebook page suggest a different story.
Our not so perfect experience could be down to a rather unflattering light, or perhaps the fact that the models we played with were prototypes and not final production models.
We will reserve judgement for the time being until we get a chance to do a full Lytro camera review.
The Lytro camera is a fascinating approach to photography and one that we suspect will eventually become a technology that is the defacto for the industry.
Even from our brief play we could see that never having to worry about focusing your shots again will change the way we take photos, and mean that you’re unlikely to get a bad pic (i.e. out of focus) in the future.
However, as it stands, it is very early days. The screen needs to be better; we need PC software if this is to go mainstream, and the fears about soft images to be resolved for it to become more than just a gimmick. Something it is clearly not.
Like the first digital cameras, you have to start somewhere, and this is an impressive somewhere to start.
The Lytro camera is available via Lytro.com on pre-order. The 16GB model costs $399 while the 32GB model costs $499. Lytro says that it currently doesn’t ship internationally meaning to get it outside of the US you’ll have to call in a favour with an American friend or use an international shipping service like Bundlebox.
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