16 cameras in one: Light promises smartphone size and DSLR image quality

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Light L16: multiple images from different lenses combine to give wider dynamic and focal range than a single camera can capture(Credit: Light)

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Light is a new silicon valley startup that’s focused on the holy grail of photography. A camera the size of a smartphone, that takes photos the quality of a 52-megapixel DSLR, zooms optically between 35 and 150mm, shoots great images in low light, and lets you select focus and depth of field after you shoot.

It sounds like more than one camera can handle – and that’s because it’s actually 16 cameras in one. The Light camera squeezes in 16 tiny smartphone-type cameras, each with its own inexpensive small lens at focal lengths between 35 and 150 mm. When you take a shot, up to 10 of these cameras fire at once, focusing on different points and taking different exposure levels.

After you shoot, the output of those 10 cameras is combined in an imaging algorithm, creating a much larger photo than an individual small sensor could handle, and a wider dynamic range than your typical smartphone sensor could produce by itself. Since the image also contains multiple focusing points, you can select what you want in and out of focus, and choose a depth of field up to an f/1.2 equivalent after you shoot.

Output is JPG, TIFF or RAW DNG, and while there’s no facility yet for a hot-shoe or remote flash, you do get a dual-tone LED flash on the back. You can shoot video, but in doing so you chop the image down to a single lens, and lose the composite quality. Pricing is set at US$1,699 – or $1,299 if you pre-order now with a $199 deposit – and delivery is promised for late US summer 2016.

The thinking is to produce something as pocket-portable as a smartphone that can deliver pro-level camera quality – and it's a compelling argument. But one of the reasons a good smartphone camera is so handy is that you don't even have to think to bring it along with you. It's there. The L16 might be pocket-sized, but as a single-function device you're still going to have to remember to bring your camera along with you.

It’ll take some hands-on experience for us to wrap our heads around this one –smartphone cameras are getting better every day, but to claim you can combine 10 of them and get an image to rival a decent DSLR with quality glass … that’s a big call.

The image processing involved in combining shots from different focal length lenses boggles the mind. How do you correct for the distance compression between a zoom lens and a wide so the images even line up? Presumably there's some very clever people working on this jigger, so we're keen to see how they've solved these problems – particularly while making it a seamless and simple process for the shooter.

Still, it's a fascinating idea and we look forward to testing one! Take a look in the photo gallery for sample images.

Source: Light

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