Light Field Camera

posted in: The Tools | 2

Well, this is interesting…

Some time ago, I read about a revolutionary new idea in cameras; focusing after taking the photograph.
Having had autofocus occasionally grab the wrong thing in a photo, this idea intrigued me.  The idea that a camera could simply capture all the available light, store it in a photographic format, and let you choose later where you wanted to focus seemed, frankly, like an impossibility.  It seemed like science-fiction.  Well, apparently, the future is now, because this camera actually exists.  The inventor of the camera has started a company called Lytro and is selling a light field camera by the same name.  Or, rather, they’re taking orders for delivery in the Spring.  There are two different cameras, with the only differences being color and the size of the internal storage provided.  The 8 gigabyte versions will run $399 and the 16 gigabyte version will be $499, according to their website, which would hold 350 and 750 photos respectively.  The camera will have software needed to manipulate the raw photos built into it and usable or installable via USB.  So far, though, according to Wired, there’s only a Mac version, though a Windows version is planned.
The camera itself looks like a giant lipstick, to me, and is about the size of a decent flashlight.  Gizmodo has the best photos of it, with some decent size references.  There are only two buttons; a power button and a shutter button.  Remember, there’s no need to focus while taking the photo.  Also, the LCD screen on the back apparently allows for whatever minor controls they allow you, or feel you need.  The company claims that the Lytro camera is optimized to work in many low-light situations.  Or, as they put it, “No auto-focus, no shutter lag, no unnecessary modes, dials, or settings. And no flash, because Lytro can handle many low light settings. So, no obstacles to the perfect shot.”

I’ll be honest, I like the idea.
Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think that this camera will replace most DSLRs, but I do think it will replace a lot of the lower end of consumer digital cameras.  Eventually.  As one commenter on the Wired article wrote, this almost seems like a prototype or a proof-of-concept device.  For one thing, I don’t like the form factor on it.  I’d like something to sight through, as opposed to pointing it like a flashlight and relying on the LCD for framing and focusing.  Yes, maybe I’m old-fashioned, but, well, I like what I like.  And, I don’t think I’m alone in that.  Also, more and more digital cameras are adding the ability to shoot video to their feature set.  Something that the Lytro doesn’t seem capable of or designed to do.  Of course, this is their first model, so perhaps there will be future models that can do that.  I doubt it though, based on my understanding of the technology.  I don’t think the software would be able to handle capturing video and being able to retain enough information to dynamically adjust focus later.  Of course, data storage technology is changing and improving all the time, so that all may change.
I’m also not entirely sure I buy the lack of a need for a flash or a tripod mount, either.  Sure, photography is about capturing light and, supposedly, the Lytro captures all available light, but when it is too dark, how do you add light without a flash?  Do you just shine a flashlight into whatever you’re shooting?  Again, with the shape, size and design of the camera, I’m having a hard time picturing how you’d manage that.  Same thing for a tripod mount.  Do they really have a camera that shoots so well we don’t ever have to worry about camera shake again?  Even in low-light conditions?  I’m not quite convinced.

But, again, don’t get me wrong, I do like this camera.
I like the idea of it and the ideas behind it.  While I’m not a big fan of how it looks so far, I do appreciate the ability to easily carry it with you everywhere you go.  After all, the best camera is the one you have with you, right?  And, that’s the thing, I think this camera is meant for the fairly well off consumer who wants to take, basically, advanced snapshots.  It’s not meant for high-end photography enthusiasts, but tourists and the casual photographer who really only wants to capture the moment.  That may change, but, right now, that’s how I see it.

It will be interesting to see how the market receives this camera, especially after the novelty has worn off a bit.
What do you all think?