Digital Cameras

Lytro light field camera lets users adjust a photo's focus after it's been taken

Lytro is planning to release a consumer-oriented light field camera, that allows users to shift the focus in a picture after it's been taken (Photo: Lytro)
Lytro is planning to release a consumer-oriented light field camera, that allows users to shift the focus in a picture after it's been taken (Photo: Lytro)
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Lytro is planning to release a consumer-oriented light field camera, that allows users to shift the focus in a picture after it's been taken (Photo: Lytro)
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Lytro is planning to release a consumer-oriented light field camera, that allows users to shift the focus in a picture after it's been taken (Photo: Lytro)

For those of us who grew up with film cameras, even the most basic digital cameras can still seem a little bit magical. The ability to instantly see how your shots turned out, then delete the ones you don't want and manipulate the ones you like, is something we would have killed for. Well, light field cameras could be to today's digital cameras, what digital was to film. Among other things, they allow users to selectively shift focus between various objects in a picture, after it's been taken. While the technology has so far been inaccessible to most of us, that is set to change, with the upcoming release of Lytro's consumer light field camera.

A "light field," first of all, is the amount of light traveling in every direction, through every point in space. Regular digital cameras simply combine all the light rays, and represent them as one amount of light. Using a microlens array and a light field sensor, however, light field cameras record the color, intensity and vector direction of all the rays separately. Algorithms programmed into onboard software are then able to sort through all that data, and make it into one image.

As mentioned, one of the things that this technology makes possible is the ability to shift focus between foreground, middle, and background objects within the frame, in a photo that has already been taken. If users prefer, they can also choose to have everything in focus.

Pictures can also be taken in lower light, shutter lag is greatly reduced, and both 2D and 3D images can be obtained from the same shot. Even when viewed in 2D, users can still subtly adjust the viewing perspective after the fact - if they think that a certain photo would have looked better had the camera been located just an inch to the right, for instance, they can adjust the shot accordingly.

Lytro is based in Mountain View, California, and was officially launched just yesterday. Founder Dr. Ren Ng has already announced that a commercial light field camera should be available later this year, and that it will be "competitively priced." Adobe also has a prototype product, that may eventually see production.

In the meantime, you can check out the Lytro-taken photo below. Just click on different areas of it to shift the focus.

20 comments
Terry Penrose
Amazing Tech
Daniel Rannoch
I\'ve got to say that after having visited their site and seen the example pictures, I\'m not entirely convinced that this camera adds much value to a photo. Maybe it\'s the examples they have used but changing the focus of the pictures didn\'t enhance them, and if anything made an acceptable picture bad. All that said, this thing will sell because it sucessfully removes the need for any thought in photography. All we\'ll end up with are photographs that have as little to do with photography as Facebook friends have to do with friendship.
Mihir Panchal
insane!
Douglas Walsh
I just clicked on areas of the above pic, and when I selected one area, the spot I had previously clicked on went back to being unfocused. This contradicts what the article says, i.e., \"If users prefer, they can also choose to have everything in focus.\". Sorry, folks....focus one, unfocus another is what happens.
Dave Brumley
That is so cool! But will it be affordable? Probably not for me for awhile...but it\'s nice to see a glimpse into the future.
Stuart Saunders
Amazing. What are the memory requirements?
Brian Callender
@Mihir Panchal The example is just demonstrating the effect. Having the whole pic in focus would not be demonstrating anything.
Hiram Maxem
This totally takes the Photographer\'s experience to a whole new level! Truly revolutionary, I can only begin to imagine where this new tech will lead, in the hands of artists this is something of power indeed, basically more choices for the post process of photography, BRAVO! (Canon, better license this stuff right away!)
Drifter
Crazy, a true point and shoot...the shotgun approach. My only concern is, what is the quality of the image, once I decide a focus?
Madigan CM
Well, maybe with some development these cameras will see professional use, but as far as I can tell the images are pretty low quality, which isn\'t a very good trade off for being able to change the focus post-exposure. Images look like they were taken with point-and-shoot cameras on a very high ISO... close objects have decent focus but background objects are still somewhat blurry when \"selected\". I\'m dying to see the camera itself and the specs involved...