Normal photography just isn't good enough to capture the world for virtual reality. 360° videos are nice and all, but they're flat and lifeless compared to a proper 3D environment. Light field cameras are the next step for real-world VR, allowing light to be recorded in a more nuanced way. If you want to see the results, Google's created a VR experience using light fields and made it available on Steam.
As Google VR senior researcher Paul Debevec explains, light fields are simply a better way of doing things when it comes to making VR content:
Light fields are a set of advanced capture, stitching, and rendering algorithms. Much more work needs to be done, but they create still captures that give you an extremely high-quality sense of presence by producing motion parallax and extremely realistic textures and lighting ... With light fields, nearby objects seem near to you — as you move your head, they appear to shift a lot. Far-away objects shift less and light reflects off objects differently, so you get a strong cue that you’re in a 3D space.
Unsurprisingly, showing the benefits of light field is difficult using still images alone. While a video doesn't hold a candle to a VR headset, the clip below does a decent job of getting the message across.
The good news is, if you own a HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or a Mixed Reality unit, you can try Google's light field VR demo right now via Steam. The system requirements are on the high side, but that's to be expected for VR.
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.
What's going to slow down adoption of light field is the cost. Google modified a GoPro Odyssey Jump, placed it on a rotating mount and stuffed it with 16 LF cameras. I'm sure the price will come down over time, but for now, don't expect oodles of these experiences.
[Google, via The Verge]