You've never seen a camera that looks like this. Its flat black visage is like the face of some terrible spider. It's called the Light L16, and it may not look the part of photographic tool, but it hopes to accomplish the impossible: professional quality in an (almost) pocket-sized device.
With traditional cameras, in order to ramp up image quality, you have to ramp up the size of the digital sensor. The best pro cameras have the largest sensors, roughly the size of a 35mm film frame. The problem is that large sensors are very expensive. Moreover, they require huge lenses in front of them, which make for very large and heavy cameras.
The Light L16 works an entirely different way. Inspired by the small and cheap smartphone sensors we all know, the device incorporates 16 entirely separate sensor and lens modules. They each take separate images (10 to be exact) at different focal lengths, and are combined to create one huge 52 megapixel picture. The lenses range from 35-105mm.
The guts of Light
The people behind Light are claiming that in addition to resolution, the camera performs amazingly in low light, and produces detail that is even sharper than pro DSLRs. I was able to take a look at some of their sample photos, and while it's impossible to draw any conclusions from a limited set of pre-picked photos, my first impressions were that image quality was indeed terrific. Here are some scaled-down samples, which are nice, but don't prove much about the camera's ability.
Image quality is only part of the equation. With so much information being collected by multiple lenses, Light L16 gives you the option of controlling depth of field after your snap your photo. A touchscreen interface on the back of the camera will let you choose what parts of your image are in focus. We've seen similar wizardry from the light-field technology of Lytro. I was less than sold on their products when the were introduced, and I have similar scepticism about Light.
Photographers are picky about their workflow. It has to be fast, and it has to be flexible. If a device like the L16 limits the way you can take pictures, whether because of limitations in shutter speed, processing time, or output format, it will be a hard sell for people so used to traditional workflows.
I asked about these types of issues, and the Light team assured me that I would feel right at home with the new camera. However, I still have my doubts, and since I was only able to handle a non-working prototype of Light L16, we'll just have to wait until it comes to market to really have an idea for how it all works.
But Light's main customer is supposed to be the non-professional who just wants terrific images in a small and easy-to-use device. Its familiar smartphone-esque form factor and modern touch interface should broaden its appeal.
Unfortunately, its price is another matter. The L16 is on target for availability in late Summer 2016 for a cost of $US1700 — yes, a huge chunk of change. You can pre-order it for roughly the next month for a special price of $US1300. It will have to impress in a big way in order to inspire such feats of spending.
Oh and we should note that the hole covered design is giving me hives. It seems like a huge oversight. People with intense trypophobia are going to bug out when they look at this camera. They probably already closed this post. And that's too bad because the camera has some neat ideas.
It's incredibly cool to see people reinvent a gadget that has remained remarkably static for so many long years. Light will no doubt be one of many such attempts to forever change our concept of photography.