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


June 22, 2011

Lytro is planning to release a consumer-oriented light field camera, that allows users to ...

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.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth

Amazing Tech

Terry Penrose
22nd June, 2011 @ 09:36 pm PDT

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.

Daniel Rannoch
23rd June, 2011 @ 05:52 am PDT


Mihir Panchal
23rd June, 2011 @ 06:40 am PDT

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.

Douglas Walsh
23rd June, 2011 @ 07:28 am PDT

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.

Dave Brumley
23rd June, 2011 @ 07:33 am PDT


What are the memory requirements?

Stuart Saunders
23rd June, 2011 @ 07:59 am PDT

@Mihir Panchal

The example is just demonstrating the effect. Having the whole pic in focus would not be demonstrating anything.

Brian Callender
23rd June, 2011 @ 09:41 am PDT

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!)

Hiram Maxem
23rd June, 2011 @ 10:00 am PDT

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?

23rd June, 2011 @ 11:04 am PDT

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...

Melodic Madigan
23rd June, 2011 @ 11:24 am PDT

I can see grate use of this type of camera in engineering, medical and the military field.

Mac Sharry Gerard
23rd June, 2011 @ 03:56 pm PDT

Well this is definitely interesting. I haven't fully made the transition to digital photography, largely due to the difference in control of depth-of-field. I know it has to do with "aperture priority," but dammit, the old way was so simple compared to these feature-laden digital cameras with zillions of buttons and menu options. I don't need all of that, and I want my toaster to make toast, not financial decisions. If some manufacturer made a digital camera that you use exactly like an analog SLR, I'd be first in line, but I'm not sure what this new "light field" technology portends, but it's clearly "disruptive." I'll bet Canon, Nikon, Panasonic et al are champing at the bit to get in on it.

23rd June, 2011 @ 06:59 pm PDT

"Using a microlens array and a light field sensor..." I wonder whether this will enable cameras to act more like the human eye and capture high-contrast scenes in a single frame? that would be more useful than changing focus on an existing scene.

24th June, 2011 @ 08:01 am PDT

I'm just an amateur, but so many of my first choice pictures are ruined by not quite being in focus. Normally of people or fleeting moments. It kills me.

Being able to correct that after the fact would be amazingly good. I'd want one, for sure, as long as it's not ridiculously expensive.

The focus doesn't seem too good on the subjects furthest from the camera, though. Still, it's pretty impressive

24th June, 2011 @ 08:48 am PDT

I think that this technology leads to cameras equipped with wide diameter lenses with no adjustable aperture. Large diameter lens would give very fast exposure (shutter speed controlled by firmware). Depth of field and focus are adjusted in post... as are stereo pairs or even multiple views to compose as continuous stereo pairs horizontally or even vertically.

A lens 3" in diameter could correctly capture the average inter-pupilary distance so it could capture a stereo pair in one shot.Multiple views in the same exposure... all teased out through software that processes vector data pixel by pixel. These could be multiplexed into a glasses-free hologram.

I suspect that resolution in still images will be an issue at first but improve as chip resolution improves.

David Hlynsky
24th June, 2011 @ 09:15 am PDT

as usual the naysayers are highly critical of this awesome new technology.Most of these saddos probably ride a Harley, have receeding hair and a ponytail ! Thanks Lytro for making the taking of good photos easier.

24th June, 2011 @ 08:22 pm PDT

its seems almost magical

Designman Mano
26th June, 2011 @ 12:04 am PDT

Everyone who says its not yet perfected technology, or your taking the skill out of photography has sorely missed the point.


David Stanton
30th June, 2011 @ 07:15 am PDT

I fully agree with Gerard Sharry who said (I quote only part of it): dammit, the old way was so simple compared to these feature-laden digital cameras with zillions of buttons and menu options. I don't need all of that, and I want my toaster to make toast, not financial decisions. If some manufacturer made a digital camera that you use exactly like an analog SLR, I'd be first in line.

11th July, 2011 @ 08:47 am PDT

There are 3 or 4 layered images here, not an actua Lytro photograph as it appears to be pretending to be.

This has all the hallmarks of a hoax as I can't seem to find anyone outside of Lytro who has used this camera and oddly no Lytro group on Flickr...

Afraid that I agree, it would take the thought out of photography, this would be for snappers with more cash than sense.

Shame it looks like a con.

Martin Coton
2nd November, 2011 @ 09:01 am PDT
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