Lytro’s promise to take the focus out of photography intrigues, but can it prove to be more than a party trick in a box?
Get ready to have your mind blown. Hit the shutter on Lytro, the world’s first consumer light field camera, and you don’t capture just one shot but every possible photo that could be taken through its 8x zoom lens.
Lytro – computational photography
Computational photography uses powerful processors running cutting edge algorithms to crunch optical data. It can banish out-of-focus snaps, improve exposure and correct distortion, even create 3D movies from the smallest lenses.
The Lytro does just one of these – refocusing images – but promises more in the future. Inside the camera, an array of microlenses sits between the lens and a traditional sensor. The lenses project thousands of minuscule images onto the CCD, allowing the camera to capture a complete four-dimensional ‘light field’ that includes the direction and intensity of every ray of light.
The Lytro can then calculate what a picture would look like with any focal setting – from macro to infinity. Loading each image takes a few seconds, then refocusing is almost instantaneous.
Lytro – easy to use
The design is as eye-popping as the images – a square anodised aluminium telescope peering into the future.
And using the Lytro is as simple as its innards are complex. A one-handed touch-sensitive zoom and lightning-fast shutter reduce shooting to bare essentials. Gestures across the touchscreen let you navigate, ‘favourite’ and delete shots in seconds, and you can easily touch to refocus.
Lytro – creative mode
Swiping up the screen enters Creative Mode. This unlocks the full 8x zoom and lets you shoot ultra close-ups – even up to the front element of the lens itself. Use with care, though, as telephoto shots reduce the multi-focus effect.
Sadly, the tiny 1.5in touchscreen is rather too small and lo-res – there’s nothing futuristic about it other than its responsiveness. It washes out in sunlight, smears in the dark and, ironically, makes it virtually impossible to see what’s sharp and what’s not.
Lytro – uploading to a Mac
The real magic happens when you upload (very, very slowly) to Mac computers (PC software is coming soon). Here, images can be refocused with more finesse, then shared as interactive ‘living pictures’ to social media. 3D features are promised shortly.
Lytro – verdict
Revolutions don’t come cheap. It takes every pixel of the Lytro’s 11MP sensor to capture the detailed light field information, meaning that output JPEGs are a measly 1.2MP in size. And the lack of flash photography or video feels more steam era than space age.
There’s no denying that this does feel like a step towards the future. With a bump up in resolution for both the pics and the LCD, this could be something quite remarkable. Let’s hope for a Lytro Mk II.
More of a toy than a serious snapper but the next photo revolution begins with the Lytro