Toshiba Building a Lytro-like Smartphone Cam That Lets You Refocus Post-Shot


Lytro is currently the only camera on the market that lets you refocus photographs after they’re shot, thanks to its fancy schmancy (and proprietary) light field technology, but it won’t be the only one for long. Toshiba is reportedly developing its own Lytro-style camera that will target a different segment of the photography market: smartphone and tablet photographers.

Takashi Kamiguri over at The Asahi Shimbun reports that the company has already developed a tiny camera module that can do the light-collecting deed. It sounds very much like what Lytro offers, except in a much smaller package.

Lytro's camera fits on the palm of your hand. Toshiba's new camera module fits on the tip of your finger.

Lytro’s camera fits on the palm of your hand. Toshiba’s new camera module fits on the tip of your finger.

Toshiba’s device is packed with a super dense array of half a million lenses that are each 0.03mm in diameter. The array directs the light onto a tiny sensor measuring 5x7mm. Each lens captures an ever-so-slightly different view of the scene, all of which are combined into a single photograph using special algorithms.

Like the upcoming Toshiba smartphone camera, Lytro's device also uses an array of many micro lenses placed in front of a standard sensor.

Like the upcoming Toshiba smartphone camera, Lytro’s device also uses an array of many micro lenses placed in front of a standard sensor.

In addition to generating refocus-able photographs, the new camera has another enticing feature for ordinary consumers: the ability to capture photos that are perfectly sharp in every area of the frame.

It seems that offering Lytro-like refocusing in a smartphone camera would have distinct advantages over Lytro’s standalone camera offering. In our view, the Achilles’ heel of the system is that the photographs require proprietary software just to view and share them. This presents a major inconvenience for people who are used to sharing standard image types (like JPEGs) and for people who would rather not have to host all of their photos on Lytro’s servers.

On the other hand, many consumers who shoot and share photos on their smartphones are already used to being in a sandbox environment. Instagram has shown that an entire photo ecosystem can be offered through a single smartphone app. Toshiba could do the same thing, and one-up Lytro in terms of ease of sharing.

The new camera will reportedly hit the consumer market by the end of 2013, and Toshiba is currently looking for smartphone manufacturers who are willing to use the module in their wares.

(via The Verge)

  • Duke Shin

    Am I the only one who thinks Lytros aren’t worth all the hype?

  • Samcornwell

    Imagine a tool that could draw an image onto paper,
    Imagine that tool, a camera could make pictures in colour,
    Imagine if this camera could make images without film,
    Imagine if it automatically detected the correct settings,
    Exposure, Aperture, ISO, even the focus…
    Imagine now, a camera that could focus after the picture was taken,
    Imagine such a camera could see in 360 degrees,
    Imagine a digital sensor so powerful it could handle all light at one time,
    Imagine a camera that didn’t need a human being anymore.
    We sit down at our computer, take a digital file made on the after-focus, 360 degree, high dynamic range, 1 trillion mega pixel camera
    …and make the photo we want, without even pressing a button on the camera.

  • michaelp42

    Hope Toshiba can actually get some part of the image in focus for the final version. The sample photo is awful!

  • Duke Shin

    You mean Google Street View?

  • Trevor

    Lytro’s fail is that they didn’t open up the image format as an open standard. Why they didn’t is beyond me. Great technology, poorly executed.

  • John die

    What I don’t understand is that with a tiny sensor like this everything should already be in focus?! …

  • dll

    Maybe the opposite is the point. It could be neat if you could get shallow DSLR-like DOF with a smartphone camera.