Reprogramming a Lytro to Make a Bad Camera Slightly Better


An industrious programmer managed to reverse-engineer the original Lytro light field camera firmware and opened it up to allow live streaming, full remote camera control, and custom code execution.

The endeavor was undertaken by a Github user who only goes by “ea” but Aleks on Twitter.

“I’ve recently spent some time playing with and reverse engineering this curious piece of tech that was a first consumer-oriented, though odd-looking, lightfield camera called Lytro,” Aleks says.

“The killer feature of this new technology was the ability to refocus the image after it was taken! The bad side was that the software was pretty bad, the camera was trying to solve a problem that didn’t exist and the whole endeavor mostly failed.”

Lytro was founded in 2006 and went out of business in 2018. During that time, the company launched three major products: the original $400 “light field” camera, the Illum, a larger $1,600 system that looked more like an actual camera, and finally a 360-degree light field system that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. All of its camera systems were commercial flops.

The original Lytro camera.

The company’s entire business model was based on the concept of the “light field” camera, which created three-dimensional-like “photos” that could be refocused in post-production. Over the lifetime of the company, there was widespread debate on whether or not what its cameras did was actually using novel technology or was just a gimmick.

But, as spotted by Hackaday, Aleks found enough in the unique camera to try and give it a new life.

“Although it failed as a commercial product, the Lytro camera has some pretty nifty tech (only one of which is very high optical zoom),” Aleks says.

“It is my hope that somebody out there has a cool idea that would benefit from having full software control over the camera. If you are interested in the details, read on. Otherwise, feel free to play with supporting software under lytroctrl.”

After digging around in the camera’s raw firmware, Aleks stumbled upon code that turned out to be what he describes as a kind of “unlock” feature. When triggered, it provided a host of things including a command shell, LiveView stream, Code execution, and direct lens control. Aleks wrote a python library that would interact with the Lytro camera over WiFi to expose these new features, the code for which can be found on his Github.

Aleks says that he did not need to make any physical modifications in order to play with the software, though warns that it is possible to brick the camera. But if successful, Aleks provides the instruction on how to reprogram the Lytro camera to function as a webcam and be operated remotely with full control over its zoom and focus systems.

Unfortuantely, this code only works with the original light field camera and isn’t compatible with the Illum since it was running Android.

The full breakdown of what Aleks did and how to replicate his process can be found on Github.

Image credits: Head image via ea, Github