Since 2011, Lytro has been banging the drum for light field camera technology. They’re now ready to release their second camera, and while it might be a little less accessible to the average photographer, it looks like it will do a lot to advance the use of light field technology among artists and other media types.
Light field technology might need some introduction. The end result of the technology is pictures that can be edited after being taken. But, we’re not talking about slapping on filters, getting rid of red eye, or even some of the more advanced Photoshop features you might be familiar with. With light field pictures, you can actually re-adjust focus, tilt, perspective, and depth of field at any time after taking the picture.
That might sound familiar – Google’s recently released Google Camera app promises the same features, on your plain old smartphone. So, why the need for a separate, high-priced camera? Basically, what Google Camera does is a trick to approximate what this new camera, Lytro Illum, really will do. Google Camera takes several shots at once, with different focus points – so, when you’re adjusting focus post-shot using that app, the app is creating a new picture out of a combination of stills. Lytro Illum only takes one shot, but that one shot is malleable – this is great for artists, because there’s far more control over exactly how and where focus or other effects are changed on the photo.
This happens because the Illum doesn’t capture megapixels, which are basically flat – it captures megarays. The Lytro Illum has a 40-megaray light field sensor, which means it’s capturing entire rays of light, including three-dimensional information like the angle of the light ray. So, when you re-adjust focus, you’re re-adjusting based not exactly on a three-dimensional image, but on a three-dimensional data set.
The results look a little like three-dimensional images, though. With an Illum picture, you can shift perspective back and forth, giving off the illusion of depth. Ultimately, it gives the photographer even more control post-shot – much more than is possible with a regular DSLR. The people behind Lytro think that eventually, light field photography will be the only kind of photography, and who knows, they might be right.
The Lytro Illum, unlike Lytro’s previous camera, looks like a DSLR. It has that 40-megaray sensor, along with an 8x optical zoom lens, f/2.0 aperture across the entire zoom range, shutter speeds as high as 1/4000 second, and proprietary software capable of processing the images coming through. That said, your pictures won’t exist in their own little world – you can still export them to Photoshop or Aperture for further editing, or share them immediately to social networks.
Lytro Illum will drop in July for $1,600, but you can get one for $1,500 if you pre-order before July.