One of the biggest problems with cameras is their focus time. You can’t take the shot until the focal point is just right, or the shot is worthless. Enter Lytro, the camera that captures the entire light field in front of it. That means no more focusing before you take the picture. Let this video give you peek at how easy it is:
The camera captures all light in front of it, and intelligently compiles it into a picture file. You then transfer the files onto your Mac (it’s Apple-only right now, Windows users must wait until 2012) and use the software to change the focal point, allowing you to make minute adjustments that have never been available in post-editing before. It’s pretty amazing.
Want to see how awesome it is? Head on over to their example page and click around the picture to select different focal points. The form factor seems a little odd, but so is the result. The (tiny) viewfinder on the rear of the unit is touchscreen, and allows you to play with the picture just like the PC software, although it’s hard to see on such a small screen. There is a small touch-sensitive 8x optical zoom slider on the top of the unit along with the power button, and the shutter is on the bottom, allowing for one-handed operation.
How does it work? Well, they’re keeping that to themselves, saying that instead of collecting light particles, they’re collecting rays. Every pixel of the picture is in focus, which means you can go back and change the focal point, as it magically knows the depth of each pixel in relation to the others. This is done by measuring the “color, intensity and vector direction” of each ray of light. The f/2 aperture allows for the shallow depth of field you can fiddle with as well as light collecting, and there is an array of micro-lenses that probably helps a lot. The Light Field Engine (1.0!) translates this data into the resulting file, and that engine is transferred with the picture, allowing you to fiddle with it anywhere.
It starts at $399 for the 8GB unit (graphite or blue), which holds 350 images, and there’s a “red-hot” version which is 16GB and holds 750 pictures. Not quite as you’d imagine for ground-breaking technology, but you have to pay the Apple tax as well. No word on how well it works in low-light situations, but one reporter says she wasn’t impressed. Also available is an iPhone app which allows you to display the full power of the software.