The future of photography is out of focus

How a group of inventors have engineered the future of cameras – and why it’s going to change the world for the better…

Think of the worst photo ever taken of you. Is it slightly crinkled and buried in the back of a family photo album or still haunting you on Instagram?

If Lytro is right about reimagining the picture, your next worst photo could be interactive, refocusable and embedded all around the web.

In 2012 Ren Ng and his company, Lytro, transformed two decades of light-field photography research into a small tube camera that looked like a toy kaleidoscope. It could shoot first, focus later and create what Lytro calls “living pictures”. Much more practical than 100 DSLRs in a rack at Stanford University.

Then this summer, it released the gorgeous, US$1600, pro-level Illum light-field camera. It captures four times the amount of light as the previous proof of concept, has a 30-250mm lens that can focus on objects literally touching the glass and a Lytro button to help photographers make the leap to composing pictures with multiple subjects and viewing angles.

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Forget Megapixels, meet Megarays Lytro isn’t just reinventing photos, it’s reinventing cameras and lenses too.

Lytro says the Illum has a 40 megaray sensor – a megaray being a measurement of light-field capture and 40 being a pretty big improvement over the original’s 11. Each picture taken with the Illum is an eye-watering 50MB.

The Illum looks a lot more like a regular DSLR than the first Lytro. That beastly lens, the angled 4in touchscreen on the back, the hot shoe for flashes and accessories.

But there’s no autofocus, no shutter delay and the design forces photographers to shoot lower to allow more of the scene to be refocused later. And because traditional camera components transform into software then “anything with a lens and a sensor” can be a light-field camera. Since Lytro lenses don’t need focusing optics, lenses could get both cheaper and far less weighty.