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Lytro Cam Lets Photogs Shoot Fast, Focus Whenever

Lytro Cam Lets Photogs Shoot Fast, Focus Whenever

The new Lytro camera uses Light Field technology to create digital images that may be focused after the image has already been shot, saved and loaded onto a computer. Lytro's makers compare pictures taken with Light Field to recording a studio session with a one-track recorder versus a multi-track recorder.

By John P. Mello Jr.
03/01/12 3:26 PM PT

A camera that allows photographers to control the focus in a picture after it's shot is set to start shipping on Friday.

Lytro camera
The Lytro camera.

The Lytro Light Field Camera looks like an old slide viewer, measuring 1.61 by 1.61 by 4.41 inches.

At one end of the camera is a f/2 lens and 8x zoom. At the other end is a small LCD touchscreen that measures 1.46 inches diagonally.

Exposure can be set by tapping the screen. After taking a shot, focusing effects can be performed on the screen too.

Because the screen is small, most shutterbugs will want to move their images to a computer for editing. The camera comes with special software for Macintosh computers. Windows software is being developed.

The Lytro comes in a red 16 GB model ($499), which can hold 750 pictures, and 8GB blue and gray models ($399), which can hold 350 shots.

Many Rays of Light

What makes the Lytro stand out in the digital camera market is its use of Light Field technology. It allows the camera to capture much more information about a scene than can be done by a conventional digital camera.

Lytro's makers compare pictures taken with Light Field to recording a studio session with a one-track recorder versus a multi-track recorder. Traditional digital cameras are like capturing all the instruments in musical piece on a single audio track. The Lytro is like giving each instrument its own track and the photographer the power to blend those tracks creatively.

Conventional cameras describe the sum total of light rays striking each point in an image. Light Field captures the color, intensity and direction of all the rays of light flowing into the camera.

Inside the Lytro there's a conventional camera sensor plus an array of micro lenses that capture light from different angles and perspectives, explained Popular Photography Technology Editor Philip Ryan.

"That light can then be combined into an image with singificantly fewer pixels but which lets you choose the point of focus," he told TechNewsWorld.

Underwhelming Camera?

Despite the cutting-edge Light Field technology in the Lytro, as a camera, some critics have called it underwhelming and expensive compared to its conventional peers.

"The current product is pretty rudimentary," Ryan noted."So it's a bit of a novelty right now."

More features are planned for the Light Field technology, but point-to-focus is the only one rolled out this week, he explained.

"There's not a lot you're getting there just yet," he said, "but I trust they'll roll out more over the course of the year."

Photos captured with the camera can be output in the popular JPG format, Ryan continued, but the maximum size is small -- 1080-by-1080 pixels, or about 1.1 megapixels.

Important Creative Tool

Ex Post Focusing may be attractive for photographers because it reduces the number of decisions that have to be made at the time of capturing a picture, although it doesn't entirely remove the need to provide a point of focus for the photo.

"You need to put that point of focus somewhere because where you put it when you capture it does affect the refocusing capability," Ryan explained.

Controlling the depth of field and focus is one of the most important creative tools that a photographer has, observed David D. Busch, creative director of the David Busch photography guides.

"The ability to do that later, if they can get that perfected, can be very important in the future," he told TechNewsWorld.

Sinking Kodak

For many photographers, though, the Lytro is just an interesting tech toy.

"Right now it's a gimmick," Busch opined.

"What they're doing right now is interesting," he continued, "but it's more of a gadget to play with, and its high prices are probably subsidizing further research."

But today's toys can sometimes become tomorrow's standard, he added.

"Right now, it's not practical, but you could have said the same thing about digital SLRs in the early 1990s because they cost $30,000 and had 1.3 megapixels of resolution," he observed.

"But they grew into the technology we have today that's taken over and put Kodak out of business," he added.


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