Missing a shot due to a poor boot time is crappy, and losing a shot to terrible auto-focus is worse. Imagine if you could boot a camera in a matter of milliseconds and take a shot that you can refocus after the fact? That's the brilliance of Lytro, and the best part is that it's already here. After months of waiting, it's finally on sale in Australia, and we've been playing with it for some time now. Should you buy it this window into the future?
Editor's note: The Lytro has been out in the US for a while, but this is the first time the camera has officially come to Australian shores. If you like, you can go and read the review from our feed a little while ago.
What Is It?
The Lytro is a camera shaped like an enormous tube of lipstick and captures the light field around a particular image. That means, the camera not only captures the colour and intensity of light like a normal camera would, but it also detects and records the direction in which the light is travelling. By doing so, the nifty Lytro software can pull any part of an image into focus after you've snapped your shot.
For example, if you take a photo at a party of two people posing in the foreground, but you surreptitiously wanted to shoot your friend making out with someone in the background, Lytro will let you focus on both the randy friend or the foreground posers after you've snapped the image.
There is so much to love about the Lytro camera. It genuinely opens up the door to new and exciting types of photography that you have never even thought of doing. For a camera junkie, that's exciting stuff.
The whole thing is engineered beautifully around a series of lenses in the brightly-coloured, anodised aluminium barrel, and a light-field processor in the rubberised end-cap. The processor used to be the size of a supercomputer, but now it can all be done in incredible miniaturised form.
The ability to refocus a photo after you've taken it is truly astonishing. You don't realise just how valuable this will be to photographers — both amateur and professional — everywhere until you've tried it. Check out these examples I've been playing about with. Click an image to refocus it and double-tap to zoom.
As you can see, sharing a Lytro image is now better than it ever has been, too. A little bit of Lytro magic means you can share "living pictures" to Facebook, Twitter and on Lytro.com. The company has told me it's going as fast as it can to add more networks like Flickr and 500px.
The Lytro software works cross-platform now, so that anyone with both Mac and Windows 7 (64-bit) can muck about with Lytro.
The Lytro camera itself is capable of 8x zoom — operated by a virtual slider on top of the unit — and sports a lens that constantly shoots at f/2. The most impressive thing about it is the camera's macro performance. You can perfectly refocus beautiful images captured just millimetres away from the lens, which makes things like wildlife photography and still life shots that much more exciting.
Try these for example. Zoom in with a double tap or single tap the image for refocus.
The most important thing about the Lytro though is what it represents. The ability to focus photos post-capture is truly incredible and it's only going to get more advanced from here. Stay tuned for our interview with the founder and inventor of Lytro later on to see where this amazing technology is going next.
Amidst all the good of the Lytro, there are a few things that remind you this is version 1.0 of the technology.
The screen mounted to the viewer's end of the Lytro camera, for example. It's shaped a lot like the previous generation of iPod Nano, but sadly, it's not as bright or as crisp. Viewing angles are poor when not viewed straight-on, which makes taking some photos difficult to compose, especially those where you're pointing up at the subject.
Another major detraction from the Lytro's impressive rap sheet is its poor low-light performance. Images snapped in low-light barely register on the tiny in-camera screen and when viewed on the desktop application, they're pixellated, noisy and badly exposed. Manual controls have today been released for the Lytro so we'll see if that makes low light performance any better when we test it in coming days.
The last real problem with the Lytro is the price. It's a niche product that not everyone is going to need. Sure, everyone will probably enjoy using it, but not everyone is going to find it worth the money you're shelling out. The 8GB will set you back $499, while the 16GB will run you a total of $599 — not exactly within every amateur shooter's budget. You have to be an enthusiast to justify this sort of a spend, and there's always the risk it will start gathering dust on the shelf if you get bored of taking light field shots.
Should You Buy One?
I'm going with yes on this one. Absolutely you should buy it. Why? You'd buy it to compose some of the craziest images you've ever seen with a consumer device. Buy it just to say you own the coolest camera currently on the market. Buy it so that when your kids are refocusing the images they capture on their Google Glass version 12 in the near future, you can tell them how you owned the first camera that was able to do that.
The Lytro isn't going to replace your compact shooter and it won't even make a dent in your DSLR, but it puts the fun back into composing images cool quirky images. If you're a lover of photography, it's hard to pass up the Lytro camera as a second- or even third-shooter.
You can get the Lytro from selected retailers all over the country as of today. Here's the list:
• Queensland: Bentleys Camera House (Indooroopilly, Robina, Carindale), Digital Camera Warehouse (Brisbane) • Western Australia: Camera Electronic (Perth) • Victoria: Croydon Camera House (Croydon), Digital Camera Warehouse (Melbourne), Michaels (Melbourne CBD), Myer (Chadstone) • South Australia: Diamonds (Adelaide) • New South Wales: Digital Camera Warehouse (Sydney), Paxtons (Sydney CBD, Bondi Junction, Parramatta, Chatswood), The New Camera House (Lismore), Myer (Sydney CBD) • Tasmania: Myer (Tasmania) • Canberra: Myer (Canberra)
It's also worth noting that the inventor of Lytro, Dr. Ren Ng, will be signing Lytro cameras purchased at Paxtons on George St in Sydney from 12:30pm today.