What Is Lytro?

By Sam Gibbs on at

Lytro, the pocketable camera based on light field technology, was formally launched yesterday -- but what is this lipstick-looking thing? What's so special about it?

 

It's a camera...

Lytro Camera lens

It snaps pictures like any other camera and comes with 8 or 16GB of built-in storage and an 8x optical zoom.

 

...that can shoot first, focus later...

Lytro camera

With Lytro you'll be able to snap a picture without having to first set the focus. The camera captures the entire light field of the image, allowing you to pick a focal point later with software. It essentially means anything in the shot can be in focus; all you have to do is select it later and hey-presto a fantastic shot.*

*Talent still required

 

...using light field technology...

Lytro works using light field technology. It's not a new technology -- the first developments were made over 15 years ago -- but Lytro is the first camera to bring it to us mere mortals. A light field is the paths of all the light rays travelling through a set space, in this case your field of view. By capturing all that information it allows you to pick a focus point using Lytro's software for anything within your shot.

 

...captured using hundreds of tiny lenses...

Lytro Lens assemblyAccording to Lytro, the camera works by replacing many of the physical components of a traditional camera with software representations. This allows the fancy series of lenses infront of the sensor to capture and project the light field of your target subject onto the sensor. The lens isn't actually just one lens -- it's a micro lens that has hundreds of tiny little lenses that deflect the light as it comes into the camera onto a light field sensor.  It's then able to record both the direction of travel of the light rays and their intensity.

The result is a virtual representation of the scene in software that can then be re-built and manipulated to give you the desired image.

 

...producing an ever-changing, non-static image...

The 'why' is the real kicker here. You can essentially produce more than a static, set image. Using software on your Mac (Windows software is in the works) or embedded in Flash or HTML5, you can create living images that people can click on to bring different parts of the image into focus (as you can see in the image above). It gives you a greater perspective; allowing you to just shoot once and capture everything you want in sharp focus. No need to think about which focal plane you want to capture first. If you want to export it like a traditional image, you can simply choose your focal point and produce a traditional photo for print or sharing.

 

...that lets you focus on any part of the photo...

You could say that Lytro is for those of us who can't use a traditional camera, who fail to create in-focus shots no matter how hard they try. Yes, Lytro will be a boon for them -- but in reality it should allow you to capture that split-second image from all planes of focus.

You're at a football match; you've got your Lytro in hand -- Wayne Rooney lines up to take a free kick. Imagine one shot where you could focus on Rooney; the ball he's just sent sailing through the air; the wall as they jump and grimace expecting a ball in the face; the anxious keeper who's rushing to the post in a desperate attempt to keep the ball out; and finally the raft of fans starring motionless in heated anticipation behind the goal. I might be getting ahead of myself here -- there's no way the Ref would let me wander onto the pitch to get that kind of amazing shot, but you get the idea.

 

...but unfortunately you can't buy one yet.

Right now you can pre-order a Lytro, which will ship in early 2012, but there's a catch -- it's only available in the US for the time being. With a bit of luck we'll see some making their way over the pond within 2012, but for now that's all the information we've got.

If you're interested, be sure to check out our American cousins' hands-on with it and check out the Lytro site for more information.