Cameras

Lytro Camera First Look: It's Small, Deep And Cheap

We’re live at the Lytro camera launch, getting our first look at the world’s first consumer light field camera.

We’ve covered the Lytro before, but today’s launch event is the first time we’ve seen it in person. Light field cameras let you focus after the fact. They’re quite different than ordinary cameras. We’d wondered how big this thing would be. (Stanford’s light field camera array is huge.)

Turns out, it’s quite small (as you can see it fits easily in Lytro founder Ren Ng’s hand). According to Ng, it packs in an 8x optical zoon, has a constant F2 aperture, and captures 11 megarays of light. (That’s 11 million rays of light). The little anodised aluminium body has but two buttons, one for the shutter and another for power. There’s also a zoom slider. It packs built in software, similar to the Flip. The blue and graphite models have 8GB of storage and will cost $US399, the red model is 16GB and costs $US499.

They on sale now at Lytro.com and will ship in early 2012.

The Lytro ships with its own software that you’ll need to import and process images. The software is Mac-only currently, but a Windows version is on the way. It has built-in tools for uploading online. If you upload to Facebook, it can store the focusing tools with the photo itself, otherwise the photos are saved as LFP (light field picture) files, and stored on Lytro’s website. You get unlimited photo storage with the camera.

Ng shot a demo photo of the journalists covering the event, uploaded it to Facebook, and then demonstrated how he was able to focus the photo after the fact online. It was kind of crazy.

The big innovation is basically the camera’s micro lens (pictured). It has hundreds of tiny lenses in it that break up the light before it gets to the image sensor, capturing the direction that the light is travelling in in addition to just getting the sum total of the light. That’s what makes the after-the-fact focus possible. It’s basically capturing the geometric data about the direction light is travelling and using that to re-build the scene. The other end is software, both in the camera and when it’s photos are posted online. When you post a photo, it includes the light field engine data, using Flash for desktop and HTML for mobile to let someone focus on different points in the photo.

Hands on, it was impressive. The camera comes on as soon as you press the power button, and is ready to shoot. The shutter was extremely fast, I’d guess a half second or less. After you take a photo, you can tap the touchscreen to focus in on a particular area.

Two immediate quibbles. First, some of the shot were a little dark if I wasn’t shooting right by natural light. Second, there’s no way to take a shot with infinite depth of field, although Lytro says that’s on the way too.

Here’s the press release:

Lytro, Inc. Unveils the World’s First Consumer Light Field Camera

Groundbreaking new camera instantly captures interactive, living pictures to share with friends and family online

Mountain View, CA – October 19, 2011 – Today, Lytro, Inc. (www.lytro.com) unveiled the first Lytro consumer light field camera, introducing a new way to take and experience pictures. Unlike conventional cameras, the Lytro light field camera captures all the rays of light in a scene, providing new capabilities never before possible, such as the ability to focus a picture after it’s taken. The pocket-sized camera, which offers a powerful 8x optical zoom and f/2 lens in an iconic design, creates interactive ―living pictures‖ that can be endlessly refocused. The camera is available in two models and three colors, starting at $399.

The Lytro is the only consumer camera that lets people instantly capture a scene just as they see it by recording a fundamentally richer set of data than ever before. Lytro cameras feature a light field sensor that collects the color, intensity, and the direction of every light ray flowing into the camera, capturing a scene in four dimensions. To process this additional information, Lytro cameras contain a light field engine that allows camera owners to refocus pictures directly on the camera. When the Lytro’s living pictures are shared online, the light field engine travels with each picture so anyone can interact with them on nearly any device, including web browsers, mobile phones, and tablets-without having to download special software.

The Lytro’s sleek design was created with simplicity in mind. With no unnecessary modes or dials, the camera features just two buttons-power and shutter-and has an intuitive glass touchscreen that lets pictures be viewed and refocused directly on the camera. While the Lytro camera houses complex technology, it is fundamentally easy to use, opening new creative opportunities for anyone interested in sharing their favorite memories with friends and family.

The Lytro camera’s features include:

—Form follows function: The Lytro’s unique compact design is driven by its 8x optical zoom lens, which features a constant f/2 aperture. The Lytro’s anodized aluminum body is lightweight yet sturdy. At less than eight ounces, the Lytro puts remarkable power in a pocket-sized camera.

—Proprietary light field science: The Lytro is the only
camera that captures life in living pictures. Its innovative
light field sensor captures 11 million light rays of data (or 11 megarays), including the direction of each ray, something conventional cameras don’t do. The light field engine then processes the data into a picture that is displayed in HD quality.

—Unparalleled speed: The Lytro’s speed ensures that people never miss a moment. It turns on instantly and has an instant shutter. With no need to auto-focus, the Lytro has no shutter delays.

—Low-light sensitivity: By using all of the available light in a scene, the Lytro performs well in low- light environments without the use of a flash.

—Significant storage: The Lytro is available in both 8GB and 16GB models, storing 350 and 750 pictures respectively. In addition, our first camera owners will enjoy free storage for the light field pictures they’ve uploaded to Lytro.com.

—Seeing in 3D: Coming soon! Captured as a full light field, all pictures taken with the Lytro are inherently 3D. Special light field algorithms, available in 2012, will be applied to the light field pictures to enable viewing on any 3D display and to enable viewers to shift the perspective of the scene.

The Lytro light field camera is accompanied by Lytro’s desktop application, a free software download that easily imports pictures from camera to computer. Currently available for Mac OS X, the desktop application lets people view, interact with, organize and share their light field pictures. Lytro pictures can then be uploaded to Lytro.com to be shared via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or as links in email messages. Once shared, Lytro’s living pictures allow viewers to live the moment with the photographer and explore a scene like never before. Viewers can continually interact with Lytro pictures – focusing them over and over – expanding the creative possibilities of each and every shot.

Concepts related to the light field and computational photography have been researched in academic circles for more than a century. Light field science was the subject of Lytro CEO and Founder Dr. Ren Ng’s Ph.D. dissertation in computer science at Stanford, which was awarded the internationally- recognized ACM Dissertation Award in 2007 as well as Stanford University’s Arthur Samuel Award for Best Ph.D. Dissertation. Dr. Ng’s research focused on miniaturizing light field technology into the body of a single camera to make it practical for everyday use.

The digital still camera market is large and growing with $38.3 billion in worldwide revenue in 2010 and expectations to increase to $43.5 billion worldwide by 2015.* Visual storytelling is universal, with 60 billion photos shared on Facebook in 2010, projected to reach 100 billion photos by this summer.

“Light field photography was once only possible with 100 cameras tethered to a supercomputer in a lab,” said Ng. “Today it’s accessible to everyone in a camera that’s small and powerful, but incredibly easy to use. Our goal is to forever change the way people take and experience pictures, and today marks our first major step.”

Pricing & Availability

The Lytro camera is available in two models: 8GB ($US399, 350 pictures, in Electric Blue or Graphite) and 16GB ($US499, 750 pictures, in Red Hot). It is now available to order at Lytro.com and will ship in early 2012. The Lytro desktop application will be available initially for the Mac operating system; a Windows version will be available in 2012.