Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lytro Light Field Camera

The @Lytro camera in action (apparently it's s...
Lytro announced and showed their first product yesterday. The shape was a bit of a surprise to me. If you haven't seen it looks a bit a matchbox that stores the long wooden matches people use to light fire places. It's actually very pleasing aesthetically with only three controls. An on off button, a shutter button and a touch sensitive zoom area that didn't appear to be visible in the video I saw. The square shape translates into square pictures as well which is an interesting choice. I'm not sure if the square aspect ratio is a result of the industrial design they chose or the technology being used. It may be a bit of both.

If you don't know anything about Lytro then you owe it to yourself to do a bit of research on light field technology which is at the heart of what they are doing. Essentially it allows this camera to capture much more information which in turn allows you to post process the images it captures to be 3D or change the focus to be at any depth of field. It's very cool.

Of course all this power does have a trade off and that is resolution. The people at Lytro got noticeably uncomfortable any time that topic came up in the video I saw and tried to change the discussion to focus on "mega rays" rather than "mega pixels". It turns out the first Lytro camera is capable of capturing around eleven mega rays. Based on what was said, that translates into a traditional 2D picture that is about 1080x1080 which doesn't sound very impressive until you take several things into consideration.

First, you aren't capturing just one image at that resolution; you're capturing many. Being able to change the depth of view after taking the picture is a huge advantage. It also seems likely to me based on the ability to do 3D images and video on this technology that I've seen on YouTube that you can somewhat play with the perspective of the picture as well. If you're a photographer this means you have a lot of additional flexibility and control.

Next, it's almost certainly the case that you can in fact generate higher resolution images from the data that is gathered. The problem you're going to run into though is the resulting image will become less and less sharp as you up the resolution. This is what happens when you increase the resolution of any digital image of course. The difference here is that the images generated from Lytro pictures are composites created from the database of rays that the camera captured when the image was initially captured. It seems like at a ratio of ten or so to one you have enough rays to create a picture that is clear and sharp. As you up the resolution beyond that point there are not enough rays to calculate every single resulting pixel with certainty so the sharpness of the image drops. I'm going to guess that the resulting loss of clarity is actually less severe than when a traditional image is upscaled but that is pure speculation on my part, as is most of this paragraph.

One interesting thing they've done is make their initial offering available in three different colors and two different storage capacities. Normally this would mean


Different choices, but there are only three. Two of the three colors are available with eight gig only while the third color choice is only available with sixteen. I suspect this serves two purposes. First, it reduces the number of product variants they need to get to market. When your a startup that is a good thing from a logistics and operational standpoint. The next is it makes it very easy for people in the know to tell the difference between the top of the line model (available only in red) and the standard models. It's fashionable to deny it, but a lot of people prefer it when they can somehow differentiate themselves from the masses and this setup allows for that.

The base 8Gig models are $400 while the $16 gig model is $500. I saw some grumbling online about this but the prices seems about right to me. Hard core geeks are going to buy one due to the cool tech factor and serious photographers are going to buy them because the capabilities of the camera are interesting and potentially revolutionary. I don't see either group worrying too much about a $ four to five hundred purchase. Heck, lenses can run many times that cost.

There were a few more topics I wanted to talk about but I'm running out of time. I may make another entry tomorrow. I've put  in an order for one of the eight gig models. It should be hear by March 2011 based on their current estimates. I'm really looking forward to seeing how this technology works.

Image by TheNickster via Flickr
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