Saturday, October 22, 2011

Lytro Light Field Camera Part 2

I posted the first part of my thoughts/observations on this topic previously.

I've been thinking some more about the resolution issue. As I mentioned in my previous entry it seems to be the case that the just announced camera, even though it is described as capturing eleven million light rays generates 2D images in the 1080x1080 range. I also speculated that higher resolutions were not possible because not enough information was gathered to calculate each pixel accurately when the resolution is pushed beyond that point. I still think that is true, but I also suspect that we'll see steady improvements in the resolution possible from the data gathered by this first generation camera, at least up to a point. In the typical 2D photography world the quality of images enlarged beyond their initial resolution has improved over the years as computer scientists have discovered better methods of interpolating and computational resources have increased. I'm guessing we'll see a similar phenomena with light ray cameras.

Keep in mind that a decade ago utilizing this technology required a room full of highly powerful computers and many cameras. We're not talking about a mature and well understood field at this point. If I'm right than we may see good quality 2D images being generated from images captured with these first generation cameras at better than one mega pixel some day.

There has been some grousing about the file format of the images being non standard. This is a bit like complaining that Chinese language text files do not use standard 7 or even 8 bit ASCII. Yes, that's a very esoteric and obscure reference. Don't worry if it is meaningless to you. My basic point is that Lytro is doing something that cannot be easily encapsulated in any existing file format.

Don't expect Photoshop or any other image manipulation software to be able to read their image files any time soon, if ever. The most likely short to mid term outcome is that companies like Adobe will utilize Lytro's software to generate a conventional 2D image that can then be edited in Photoshop. You would have to rewrite Photoshop, or any other image editing software from the ground up to deal with the data that Lytro is capturing because light wave photography makes the differences between still images and video seem relatively trivial.

That huge technology/paradigm shift just might be their biggest hurdle. What they are doing is so new and complex that third party support is going to be very hard to come by. I don't see any mention of an API being made available by Lytro to manipulate these images but I'd hope that is fairly high up on their roadmap because even with that as a leg up they're likely going to be an island onto themselves for the next couple years even if things go well.

The last thing I wanted to touch on here is the contention that with phone cameras being ubiquitous Lytro doesn't stand a chance since their technology currently requires a stand alone device. That may be true if Lytro is assuming/planning on this being a mass market device but I don't think that is the case. Not everyone wants/needs a digital SLR camera but enough people do to keep several large companies such as Nikon and Minolta churning out new models each year.

Along the same line of thought; I think people tend to look at the simplicity of Lytro's initial offering and equate it with a simple point and shoot. The thing is, the Lytro camera isn't simple because it's a "cheap" camera, it's simple in large part because the technology allows Lytro to leave out a lot of stuff that a traditional camera would need/have.

Hmm, I suppose the Lytro camera's simplicity might be a liability as well given the price point. If you don't understand the technology at all then the fact that the only things you have control over are the zoom, where the camera is pointed and when the shutter button is pushed might give you pause if you're contemplating spending $400 or more for this camera.

Personally I like Lytro's chances but I have to weight that opinion against the fact that I'm a lifelong technology geek that gets easily excited by stuff like this. Most of the people backing Lytro seem to fit into the same profile. The proof of this technology will come in the marketplace. I have my fingers crossed that they'll do well because I'm really interested in seeing what a third or fourth generation product might look like.

Image by Road Fun via Flickr
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