The Lytro: Light Field Camera. Say Goodbye to Focussing?

Looking like a sci-fi version of the kaleidoscope my mum bought me for my 5th birthday, the Lytro is the distilled essence of breakthrough physics simplified for use by snap-happy amateurs.

So what is it?
In a nutshell, the Lytro is a digital camera that allows the user to capture an image first and choose the point of focus later!!. Did I hear you say “what the?!”.

I’ll be honest, based on the initial marketing hoopla surrounding its announcement, I dismissed the Lytro as a gimmick that might do well as a Christmas present for those suffering from sloppy-focusitis. But digging deeper, it turns out there is a mind-boggling amount of genuinely breakthrough science behind the Lytro, making it quite possibly one of the first truly ground-breaking bits of technology to come our way in a long time.

Each point of focus is selected *after* the image has been captured

At the heart of the Lytro is something called “plenoptic” or “Light Field” capture. The main things to get excited about are:

  • Refocusing: Users are able to refocus images after they are taken.
  • Speed: Because there is no need to focus the lens before taking a picture, a plenoptic camera can capture images more quickly than conventional point-and-shoot digital cameras.
  • Low-resolution: Users will be able to convert Lytro camera’s proprietary image into a regular JPEG file, however it can not be refocused thereafter. The resulting image has 1080 × 1080 pixels – roughly 1.2 megapixels.
  • Low-light sensitivity: the ability to adjust focus in post-processing allows the use of larger apertures than are feasible on conventional cameras, thus enabling photography in low-light environments without a flash.
  • 3D images: since a plenoptic camera records depth information (which allows it to focus at variable depths), stereo images can be constructed in software from a single plenoptic image capture.

There’s an online demo of the Lytro showing how the images can be “tweaked”. The Lytro also introduces several innovations in interface design, including iPhone like gesture enabled touch-screen and zoom control built-into the case itself.

The guys at Gizmodo have done and an awesome hands-on review of the Lytro. They actually gutted one completely to reveal that the little camera might be kitted out with blue-tooth and wi-fi capabilities too.
And the propellor-heads at Wired give a great run down of its innards</>a.

The candy-bar sized camera is set to retail for US$399-499 (depending on which colour you choose).

But the piece of news that’s created a bigger stir is the fact that iGenius Steve Jobs apparently met with Ren Ng, inventor of the Lytro, just before Jobs passed away. Apparently Ren said he’d send “an email outlining three things he’d like Lytro to do with Apple”.

The magic of infinite focus from the comfort of your iDevice? The mind boggles!

I’ll leave you with a neat video that shows how the camera works.