A Look Inside Lytro’s Light Field Camera

Lytro‘s groundbreaking light field camera is finally landing in the hands of customers, and to give people a better idea of how the camera works, the New York Times has published an interesting diagram that shows what makes the camera tick. Here’s what DPreview has to say about the camera:

The Lytro LFC is so unlike any conventional camera that it doesn’t make sense to score it in comparison to them. Ultimately, though, we’re not convinced that the Lytro either solves any existing problem or presents any compelling raison d’etre of its own. If it were higher resolution or allowed greater separation or could produce single lens 3D video it might generate a lot more excitement. As it is, it feels like a product arriving before the underlying technology is really ready.

All of which is a great shame, because Lytro has done a great job of making a credible consumer product out of a piece of fairly abstract scientific research. It’s quite possible that in the hands of the right people it will result in some interesting creations but we just don’t yet see it as a mass-market device.

The New York Times came to the same conclusion — that the technology is revolutionary, but the product isn’t game-changing… yet.

A Review of the Lytro Camera (via Photojojo)

  • keirinrcr

    As cool as this concept is, I have a number of issues with this camera, the largest being that it really doesn’t change the way people consume photography as an end product:

    No standard out-of-the-box image formats (JPEG, GIF or PNG) short of a custom Flash or HTML5/CSS3 implementation supports viewing a photo in the manner that the Lytro records it (multiple focal points)

    Even IF a consumer interface supporting Lytro’s format was produced, you could readily “hack” traditionally taken photos to effectively simulate multiple focus points with added benefits: more precise control over your composition, vastly superior image quality and master images that can be repurposed b/c of higher resolutions.

    Increase the resolution (or image quality) and develop a standard way for consumers to view Lytro photographs and you might have something worth considering (at least, for me).

  • Ni.kon

    I don’t think DPreview called the technology revolutionary. Unless that’s what “before the underlying technology is really ready” or “a piece of fairly abstract scientific research” means.

  • jdm8

    It seems the first thing they need to do is to make browser plug-ins to make it easier to distribute, given that the Internet is the way most people show their photos these days.

    It seems most of the drawbacks are really just because it’s a very new idea, despite that, it seems quite polished for a first public access.  Every new technology has growing pains.  I imagine higher resolution, etc. will come soon enough.  Now that it’s available to the public, it’s just a matter of whether the public sees this as worth supporting.

  • Ndt

    This really reminds me of something that is just too way ahead of its time. Maybe in a few years when a company like apple works out a way to integrate this into a cell phone and makes the technology seamless,  everyone will think its genius. 

  • Ken Aaron

    keirinrcr The Lytro doesn’t record multiple focus points, it records the direction of light rays, the light field, and that allows the software to refocus the image. I’ve also read many comments stating the same effect can be created via multiple images with different focus points then somehow layering these together to give the same effect. I have yet to see anyone deliver that. Do you have an example to offer us? It’s not the same and that would be a lot of work. As for sharing the images, they’re meant to be shared online, unless there is a way to change the focus point of a printed image, that is. And since it’s a new product that doesn’t behave like other photos, standard formats don’t apply, they can’t support what these files do.
    This is a new product that is in it’s infancy. It’s really meant for early adopters and tinkerers who want to play with something new. I’m sure Lytro will be watching what people do with the camera. Also, they have hinted at future software upgrades to expand the capabilities. The Lytro is what it is, and isn’t a solution to any specific problem, yet. I can’t wait to get mine so I can see why it does. I think there is great opportunity for creativity with it, even with it’s faults and limitations. I just wish people would stop expecting that something completely new should behave similar too and at the same level as a mature DSLR when it’s a different technology.

  • Ndt

    Hi Ken. Good points you raise. This kind of bashing we see by people really turns my stomach sometimes. It has been particularly evident with the release of the 5dmk3. every armchair phototographer wanna-be has come out of the woodwork with an opinion, and most of them cant see the forest through the trees, all they can do is pinpoint one or two features that wont suite them personally  and they rip the thing to shreds. 
    If companys like Lytro didnt do crazy stuff like this which the majority of internet forum trawlers cant be bothered to see the potential in, then nothing would ever get done, not withstanding that camera companies have brought out some of the most advanced technologies ever seen in the last 5 years or so and all people seem to do is whinge about the price.

  • punktoad

    Yes, most people couldn’t afford Apple’s Lisa but then the Mac changed the publishing industry. Artists will surly find unique uses for the Lytro and so will hackers.

  • gabrielserna

    what the people at Lytro failed  to convey well is the 3D shooting capabilities and the programmable/scriptable nature that the camera has.

    If read and hear that with firmware updates the capabilities can be expanded for 3D time-lapse were the focus point can move and various other ways to take advantage of the variable focus through scripts after the fact  and how what is captured isn’t were the change in thinking has to be but how a creative professional will use this flexibility to make  possible images happen that in the past could never been done without multiple cameras or much more expense.

    But then again big problem it the form factor too. It could of had a periscope layout to make it flatter shaped more like a point&shoot and that alone would have made it seem more akin to what people are familiar to shooting with versus the current “spyglsss” shape that is hard to hold normally.

    I’d like to have seen a rolliflex layout or a 8mm film camera “gun” layout to make holding it easier to stabilize and it wold sill not look like other cameras too much if they wanted a “different’ look

  • keirinrcr

    @KenAaron:disqus and @ab0c04f1beabbc2832a54e46487a4a4c:disqus: Don’t get me wrong, I think any tool that has the potential to change or enhance the way we create/photograph is worthwhile and notable, and as I said before the Lytro is a cool concept and product. I can think a multitude of ways artists, creatives and developers can take advantage of the technology, in the future.
    Therein lies my point however… that the camera still doesn’t enhance the way a photographer would be able to present their work to a larger audience. If you want to bring an image from the Lytro to a web browser, you still have to present such image in a static format (JPEG, GIF, etc), or, create a user interface or unique experience that would allow anyone with a web browser to view the media the way it was meant to be recorded. I would still like to see some way (whether developed by Lytro or some 3rd party) for the platform to be presented in a more easily accessible/distributable manor. 

    Until that happens, the camera and format as they have been developed, are largely a tool for photographers to play around with on their desktops with no appreciable/accessible way of sharing their work.

    Re: Simulating the Lytro’s infinite focus points — It’s not tough at all and in fact Lytro’s website present a multitude of examples through their preview gallery (presented in flash), however the way the images that are presented there don’t give me the impression that the camera provides an infinite number of focal points. Based on this, HTML5, CSS3 and/or Javascript could easily simulate the same experience taken with multiple exposures through traditional photography, it really isn’t difficult at all. I’d even say the stereoscopic animated GIFs around the internet provide a similar experience, albeit robbing the user of input.

  • Spamanaut

    But I like to look at printed photos!