The Lytro & Digital Light Field Photography

“This dissertation introduces a new approach to everyday photography, which solves the longstanding problems related to focusing images accurately. The root of these problems is missing information. It turns out that conventional photographs tell us rather little about the light passing through the lens. In particular, they do not record the amount of light traveling along individual rays that contribute to the image. They tell us only the sum total of light rays striking each point in the image. To make an analogy with a music-recording studio, taking a conventional photograph is like recording all the musicians playing together, rather than recording each instrument on a separate audio track.”

In 2006 Ren Ng published his thesis about Digital Light Field Photography from which the opening quotation above has been taken. In early 2012, his Lytro was the ”first consumer camera that records the entire light field — all the rays of light travelling in every direction through a scene — instead of a flat 2D image”. In other words, you do not need to focus but can change the depth of field after shooting. Here’s a great example (click on the foreground when the image loads):

Last weekend I purchased an 8GB graphite Lytro camera and promptly read the Beginner’s Guide. The Lytro is best employed when there is an object very close to the lens, another large very large subject in the distance and something in between. My first photo is a very modest effort compared to the excellence at the gallery here or the ‘exploding ornament’ below but I have the concept now and hope to produce some interesting images in coming weeks and while in Japan, with my family, early next year. You can learn more about this new photographic concept and how the camera works by watching these brief videos.

Who should buy a Lytro?

Why would anyone need a Lytro? I liked the answers at the Lytro website (screenshot below):

I use my iPhone most days, a full frame Nikon D700 with several lenses certainly accompanies me more often than not and now, the Lytro, makes a third camera. Each tool has different strengths/weaknesses and unlimited potential to assist me capture images of my worlds.

What are the weaknesses?

There are currently a number of limitations for photographers using the Lytro and one should consider the following issues prior to purchase:

  • there’s a dearth of editing tools with not even the most basic functions (crop is surely needed urgently)
  • the price – it is a very expensive toy at $499 or $599 for the 8GB and 16GB models (NB Australians are once again fleeced by a tech company as the American prices are 20% less)
  • there are limited places one can display the photos (Facebook, the Lytro website and an embedding into a WordPress blog) and you have to upload to your online Lytro gallery first
  • the noise in the photos (not from the camera ;) )
  • it is hard to see the screen at the back when framing shots outdoors
  • I have (unbelievably for me) lost the magnetic lens cap already
  • It is not great in low light or indoors

What does the future hold for Lytro shooters?

It seems that the company is more likely to innovate with software updates than new camera releases. For an emerging company the complexity of producing, supply and delivering a new model of camera too often is obviously costly and challenging. Hopefully this means that Lytro shooters can expects some good value from online innovation and software updates. For example, on 4th December, the next software update for the Lytro will add ‘perspective shift’ which looks very cool and a selection of filters. During the course of the first year of having this product on the market Facebook, Twitter and WordPress have been enthusiastic and now have integration for sharing Lytro images. The WordPress plugin seems to work well, as you can see from the images in this post. There’s also Chrome extensions for Google+ and Pinterest.

I recommend having a feed from the Lytro blog.

Where can I get one?

Early this year, when the company first started shipping the camera, it was not possible to buy online from the USA or in Australia. Paxtons is now selling the camera in Sydney or you can have it delivered by this company. Other Australian stores are few and far between but here’s a complete list of other outlets (Myer do not seem to know anything about the Lytro when I asked at the CBD store). I have a Lytro tag at my Diigo account that may be of interest if you want to read more about the camera.

Anyone bought a Lytro yet – or have hopes Santa will deliver? ;)

Feature image cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Darcy Moore: http://flickr.com/photos/darcymoore/8201604859/

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DISCLAIMER

The views expressed at this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

4 Comments

  1. I went to an afternoon photowalk with the Lytro people a month or so ago at Circular Quay. I’m not sure what to make of them. I liked the macro capabilities which were amazingly sharp but the other stuff left me a little cold despite having that wow factor as in the examples you’ve shown here.

  2. Steve Turner:

    Testing the comment feature re problem Darcy, feel free to delete this without making it live :)

  3. A wonderful innovation. Thanks Darcy. I had no idea this had been achieved in a camera. It will certainly be a useful addition to my array of cameras. I think I will wait till I am in Singapore, shortly, to pick one up.

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