When Lytro announced plans for consumer-oriented light field cameras, we were instantly smitten by the idea of being able to re-focus images after taking them. However, the quirky kaleidoscope-like form factor and low resolution of its first camera meant it was only ever going to be a hit with the most ardent early-adopter. Now the firm is back with a second-generation light field camera, the Illum, and things have got a lot more serious.
Unlike its predecessor, the US$1,500 Lytro Illum is instantly recognizable as a camera. However, the way the light field camera works is very different to other devices on the market. Rather than capturing a 2D image by combining the light which falls on the sensor, the Illum records the color, intensity and direction of every light ray flowing into the camera. This gives it a three-dimensional understanding of the subject, and means users can adjust focus, tilt, perspective shift and depth of field, after taking a photo.
At the heart of the new camera is a one-inch-type 40-megaray light field sensor with Lytro’s patented microlens array technology. That's considerably larger (both in physical size and resolution) than the one in its predecessor. While Lytro thinks about the sensor in terms of millions of rays – and a comparison to megapixels isn't ideal – this would equate to roughly 5 megapixels if the "living pictures" were flattened for printing or 2D display.
On the front of the camera, there's a beast of a lens which offers a 30-250-mm equivalent zoom with a constant F2 aperture, and an extreme close-focus macro capability. It also has dual electronic rings for zoom and focus control. Around the back, most of the camera's rear is taken up with an angled 4-inch articulating LCD touchscreen with 384k dots. There's also a minimalist button and dial layout which can be used to adjust various settings, including shutter speed, which reaches 1/4000 of a second for capturing high-speed action.
Using the processing power of the quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU in the Illum, Lytro's in-camera software is able to provide live interactive depth feedback, showing the relative focus of all objects in the frame. This is particularly important because Lytro users have to think about composing images in three dimensions, and need to have a better understanding of depth-of-field than is necessarily required with traditional 2D photography.
Images are stored on an SD card and can be shared via the built-in Wi-Fi. The Lytro desktop tools for Mac or Windows allow users to transform their images into dynamic animations by zooming, changing the focus, depth-of-field and perspective. Interactive versions of the images can also be embedded online or viewed and manipulated via a new iPad app where the gyroscope is used to give a sense of three-dimensionality.
Lytro says it is targeting experienced professionals and enthusiasts with the Illum. It's made from magnesium and aluminum and measures 86 x 145 x 166 mm (3.4 x 5.7 x 6.5 in) and weighs in at 940 g (2 lb 1 oz). It also has a tripod socket and hot shoe which supports all leading flashes.
The Lytro Illum can currently be pre-ordered for an introductory price of $1,500 and is expected to start shipping in July.
Check out the video below to see the Lytro Illum in action, and how the resulting images can be manipulated.
Product page: Lytro Illum