Review of the Lytro Light Field Camera

The technology

Anyone who will take the time to look at the technology that drives the Lytro will find it to be impressive. What’s more significant are the possibilities that the technology holds for the future of photography. Instead of watering down the info, you can read about the hardware for yourself here:   http://www.lytro.com/science_inside

Interestingly, the light field technology natively has the ability to capture 3-D images. Therefore, the current device is physically capable of capturing this type of image. It is expected that a software update will unlock this feature at a later date.

Technique

As would be expected, using the Lytro is a bit different from using a standard camera. For example, when taking a portrait, a photographer might select a lens that will create a soft bokeh. In fact, I have used this technique to hide a less than attractive background. The refocusing ability that makes Lytro unique ensures that whatever is in the background of your photo can be focused on – there are no secrets in these pictures. Traditionally, a photographer may have been able to focus on one or the other, the Lytro puts a bit more pressure on a photographer to have both interesting foregrounds and backgrounds.

Image Quality

Despite having a constant f/2 lens, any moderately low light photos will be laden with noise. Here is an image I took indoors with ambient (window) lighting on a partly cloudy day at about 3pm:

The images can be exported as JPG files which are 1080×1080 in size. This means that if you were to print one of the images at 300dpi, the image would be 3.6” square (there are no other export options).

Outdoors with sunny weather is really where the Lytro shines. The images are vibrant and show very little noise. Here is an example:

Software

A software application is used to import the images from the camera onto a computer (currently only Apple computers are supported). The app is very basic. It allows you to select the default focus point, share the pictures to Facebook and your account on Lytro’s website. The images are organized by date and you can “Star” favorite images. No other manipulation or editing is offered.

Final Thoughts

The Lytro is clearly a first generation product. Even so, the technology shows immense promise. I had been looking for a small, everyday point-and-shoot camera. I had hoped the Lytro would fit the bill. However, I do not believe this to be the case. While the images the camera takes are novel and ideal for sharing on the internet, I wouldn’t bother getting any of them printed for posterity – the camera in the iPhone takes higher resolution images. While it would be nice to have the ability to do some soft editing of the images, it seems that the Lytro is sort of the digital equivalent to the Poloroid – what you see is what you get. In this regard, it certainly keeps the photographer ‘honest’ when it comes to altering the images they take. But make no mistake, the Lytro is in its element online. Yes, viewing a photographers images is enjoyable, but nothing draws someone into a picture like being able to focus anywhere in the image. The Lytro brings us one step closer to being able to ‘explore’ images like Harrison Ford did in Blade Runner.

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