Lytro Light-Field Camera Review: I Have Seen The Light...Field

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.

What's Good?

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.

Click for more...

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 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.

What's Bad?

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.



    I would like to buy one, but I genuinely don't know why I would need one. I already have a NEx 5 DSLR, and carrying both wouldn't make sense now would it? What genuine uses can I have this for as opposed to the DSLR?

      A bit off topic but isn't a Nex 5 an SLD (single-lens, direct-view) as opposed to a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex)?

    Where is the shutter release located? I can't see it on the pics!

    Real reviews by people who actually know about photography, rather than ones gushing over the (slightly dodgy) technology implementation.

    "The Lytro LFC is so unlike any conventional camera that it doesn't make sense to score it in comparison to them. Ultimately, though, we're not convinced that the Lytro either solves any existing problem or presents any compelling raison d'etre of its own. If it were higher resolution or allowed greater separation or could produce single lens 3D video it might generate a lot more excitement. As it is, it feels like a product arriving before the underlying technology is really ready."

    Is there any info on how many megapixels it has? Or is there some reason this is irrelevant?

      It's kind of irrelevant. The Lytro doesn't measure the resolution in megapixels, it measures it in megarays. I'll let Lytro explain:

        Not sure how you can say it's "irrelevant".

        Sure, "megarays" makes much more sense when describing the sensor itself, but people need to know how much detail they'll actually get in their output images, and the number of pixels is crucial to that.

      Output resolution is 1.2MP
      About the same as a webcam.

    That is cool but i am not going to rush out there and buy one, it seems like a cool toy but at $500, i might wait until the price comes down a lot before buying one.

    wait until the next version is out...

      That's not the new model. It's exactly the same.

      Lytro has one camera, the one we reviewed. It captures a whole lot of data that it still doesn't use simply because Lytro haven't had the time to write software for it. Today it released a firmware update to the existing Lytro that adds the manual controls and released the camera (in two new colours) to US store shelves and countries around the world.

        Car makers have used "new colours" as new model features for years. Why should camera makers be different? :)

    It's funny that you would baulk at a $600 price tag because I can guarantee you all that your parents spent double that on a VHS video camera just to shoot vids of you scoring your first own-goal and chasing the dog around the yard in your underwear.

      Firstly, my parents never owned a cam corder.

      Secondly, so? For five hundred dollars I could buy, a second hand dslr, a go pro which I could buy two of, or a phone, where while we might sacrifice quality is twice as portable as either of them and does a lot more.

      It's a neat trick, but the majority (not necessarily you!) of people just upload to Facebook and be done with it, so we'll miss out on the camera's most fun feature.

      The technology needs to go further and the price needs to become more competitive before I'll look at it personally

    So can you just point this in random directions and snap away or do you actually need to wait for some time first?

      You can just click away in random directions, no need to wait for autofocus (because there is none). It's sort of identical to those old disposable cameras with their "infinite" focus setting.

    For most casual/novice users camera shake is a bigger issue than out of focus pics.

    What is the file format it shots in? Jpeg? Can you import the photos from the camera into a program like Lightroom or do you have to use their software? I've all so heard that the photos you take are stored on lytro server after you upload them to your computer. Is that true?

      I believe the file format is a proprietary one: ".lyt" or similar. That being the case, one can only edit the pictures within Lytro's software, since 3rd party applications have no idea how to handle all the extra information that is used to create the Lytro "magic". Once you've decided on final focal points though there's no reason you can't convert it to .jpeg or similar but you'll no longer have the light field data stored with the picture.

    Can I take a photo, adjust the focus on my computer and then export it as a still/non-refocus-able image? Say to use as a desktop image, get a print or whatever. If so, what kind of resolution can I get out of it?

    I’m going with no on this one. Depth of field appears very poor. F2? Even portraits need some depth of focus. Happy to stand corrected but appears like a kid's toy at Christmas. Fun for a short while then... Pick it up on E-Bay.

      It's a toy now, but it the future of photography.
      Too bad that they have chosen not to license out the technology to camera manufacturers.

    I just can't see how anyone could possibly recommend buying one of these, except as a toy. An expensive toy.

    I *love* the idea of plenoptics (been following developments at SIGGRAPH for at least a decade), but no way is it ready for consumers yet, and the Lytro shows exactly why. The examples Luke posted really hammer it home - small, fuzzy, and anything indoors is crippled by noise. When it gets enough quality under its belt (a few years yet) it'll be awesome, but right now it's firmly in the 'gimmick' category.

    Almost every picture I've seen has been composed solely to show off the refocusing, rather than artistic merit. The refocusing is cool at first, but doing it as a viewer do it gets boring very quickly. And when the photographer could make that choice at capture time with a real camera AND get a far better picture that can be displayed full-screen without looking like it was taken by a VGA camera phone from 2003, why wouldn't you spend the money on a cheap DSLR or even a decent P&S instead?

    I'm certain the Lytro's unique feature will eventually be useful rather than gimmicky, but not until the huge quality tradeoff is reduced dramatically. Until then, the pictures it gives you are barely good enough for web thumbnails, and enthusiasts will just be disappointed (also $500 poorer).

    Went to [email protected] Sydney just now. Salesman doesnt know about it and he said I better come back in few days time.. not impress by the false alarm.

    I agree with DPreview, the tech just doesnt feel ready. But I am so totally getting one when it reaches A3 print level quality, imagine a massive touch screen photoframe on your wall that you could refocus. how cool would that be!

    I think $400 is a little much for a cute social network camera, fascinating though it may be, it's a whole lot of interesting technology that doesn't actually do anything is the case with social networks. $400 for an interactive "living" picture with resolution not fit for anything beyond the web isn't my idea of ground breaking advancement in photographic technology.

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