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The Lytro Camera: Impressive Technology and Some Big Drawbacks

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the light-field-of-dreams dept.

Input Devices 220

waderoush writes "The venture backers behind Lytro, the Silicon Valley startup that just released its new light field camera, say the device will upend consumer photography the way the iPhone upended the mobile business. This review takes that assertion at face value, enumerating the features that made the iPhone an overnight success and asking whether the Lytro camera and its refocusable 'living pictures' offer consumers an equivalent set of advantages. The verdict: not yet. But while the first Lytro model may not an overnight success, light field cameras and refocusable images are just the first taste of a revolution in computational photography that's going to change the way consumers think about pictures."

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220 comments

first poast (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309235)

didn't need any refocusing to get #1, bitches.

GNAA
GNAA
GNAA

New medium awaiting new aesthetics and exploration (5, Insightful)

wanderfowl (2534492) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309261)

Right now, it seems like the majority of Lytro pictures are technology demos, a fire hydrant in the foreground and a building in the background, or some equivalent, which just invites you to click both and move on. You can just hear the enthusiastic early adopter in the background of these pictures saying "OK, _now_ click the building! Whoa! Cool, huh?!". These shots are, to my mind, the photographic equivalent of arrows or spears coming out towards the audience in early 3D movies. Gimmicks which break the fourth wall, saying "Hey, remember, you're looking at a Lytro (tm) image, not just anything!".

I can't wait for real photographers and artists to actually find situations, styles and aesthetics where Lytro sorts of cameras can be used in a way that both effectively uses the new capabilities of the format _and_ produces something artistically and aesthetically wonderful. I think the technology has a ways to go, but right now, the biggest problem facing Lytro (and light field photography) is that it's a new medium that nobody has a clue how to use effectively.

Until we reach that point where people see a great Lytro picture and actually feel inspired, it's going to be tough to sell what is currently a low-spec camera with one big gimmick. So, if you want Lytro to take off, buy one for the craziest artist you know.

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (5, Interesting)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309291)

My first thought was that it could be great for video; no need to bother with precise focus while shooting if you can refocus when you edit. However, I'm guessing that it would require a huge data rate.

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309339)

My first thought was that it could be great for video; no need to bother with precise focus while shooting if you can refocus when you edit. However, I'm guessing that it would require a huge data rate

My thought as well

I am curious to know if there is a site that can tell us how big the data rate we are looking at

Anyone ?

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309667)

I'll show you my buttnudeness.

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (2)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309701)

According to this [pcworld.com] Q/A session, a little larger than normal picture files. What that actually means, I don't know (could be mostly marketing).

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (1)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309459)

My understanding is that this was used (the concept, not the camera) to film some of the 'bullet time' like scenes we see in movies now.

It might be one of those technologies that is just now coming into prosumer and consumer levels of affordability.

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309569)

WTF is a prosumer? Fucking marketers are destroying the language.

P.S. You suck.

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (2)

Zelucifer (740431) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309623)

It's actually a useful portmanteau of professional and consumer, distinguishing an area of cost and feature above that of a typical consumer and below that of a professional. Usually used in reference to serious hobbyists.

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309947)

Let's try these words then - amateur, hobbyist, enthusiast. "Prosumer" is an inane neologism created by marketing idiots that are too stupid to use a thesaurus.

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39310195)

"Amateur," "Hobbyist," and "Enthusiast" imply nothing about the level and quality (or "quality") of the involved equipment. Don't overload terms like "Hobbyist" to include connotations of having expensive, yet sub-professional-grade material. Unless you *want* marketing to win by implying "hobbyists" gotta buy expensive stuff? You're just objecting to "prosumer" for emotional reasons, not actual, practical ones.

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (1)

mysidia (191772) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309553)

The absence of a SD card slot is a huge drawback. Who's gonna fit a light field video stream of decent quality on 8gb of memory?

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (1, Interesting)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309593)

no need to bother with precise focus while shooting if you can refocus when you edit.

Why do we need "focus" at all? Why not have photographs where everything is in focus? Depth of field is an artifact of lenses, whether they're in your eye or in your camera. A light field could change the entire notion of a photograph, away from trying to imitate the eye to creating a visual record of a scene that actually records everything that is there. No need for depth of field at all.

As usual, when the artists get hold of this technology, they'll do something that has nothing to do with some 20th century film concept of "throwing focus". I could see this especially happening with very large arrays of sensors, creating ultra-high resolution images and allowing the eye to do the work instead of the camera lens.

Heck, for all we know, two dimensional imaging might become archaic altogether and this technology will be just a historical novelty like stereographs. They'll look back at 3D movies as a curious step toward true three-dimensional imaging.

Anyway, I get the feeling that this proof-of-concept product is just a come-on to get one of the bigger electronics companies to buy them out. I'll be shocked if we start seeing light-field cameras from this company on the market as commonly as regular digital cameras.

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309645)

Why do we need "focus" at all? Why not have photographs where everything is in focus? Depth of field is an artifact of lenses, whether they're in your eye or in your camera.

Focus can be used in composition to guide the viewer to the important elements in the story. Just as "left", "up","down", etc. define the field of view, so does focus.

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (3, Informative)

Entropius (188861) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309749)

Depth of field effects are considered part of the art of photography, much like amplifier distortion is part of the art of playing electric guitar. People pay a great deal for the capacity to get *narrower* depth of field: compare the price of Canon's 85mm f/1.8 and f/1.2 lenses. People most often buy the f/1.2 as a very very narrow depth of field portrait lens, rather than a very very low-light lens. Other lenses are known for the particular way that they throw backgrounds out of focus -- Nikon will even sell you one where you can choose exactly how the background is defocuses.

I think this trend in photography is overblown (I don't see the appeal of portraits where half of one eye is out of focus), but there's no doubt that artistic manipulation of depth of field is a big part of the art.

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (2)

As_I_Please (471684) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309821)

No technique ever becomes archaic; it becomes an artistic choice, like black-and-white photography. Same with focus, which probably won't ever go away since it's so intrinsic to how our eyes work. I agree that this could be a huge development once artists figure out what to do with it.

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39310129)

No, it's not. Our eyes have an amazing depth of focus to them, much more so than cameras do. Right now I'm looking through a range of about 30m and the difference in focus is minimal compared with what my camera would handle.

The technology is probably going to end up ending up like Foveon, never being perfected to the point where it's of use to the mainstream photographers. I'm sure that there are some neat things that can be done with it, but it does render much of what photographers do as moot. Plus, none of the images I've seen are acceptably sharp, which is especially problematic as they're presumably meant to show off.

Why don't they make the whole picture sharp? (1)

prakslash (681585) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309863)

All the information is obviously there since you can "explore" the image. Clicking on any point in the image either brings nearer objects into focus or farther objects into focus. So, obviously, each point in the 2-d image is encoded with additional information that associates that point with a nearer focal plane or farther focal plane. So, why not computationally merge / stitch together a bunch of sharpened nearer areas with a bunch of sharpened farther areas to get an overall sharper picture? People may find that useful.

Re:Why don't they make the whole picture sharp? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39310035)

Because images where everything is sharp look just like the ones you take with a cheap cell phone.

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (-1, Flamebait)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309321)

Right now, it seems like the majority of Lytro pictures are technology demos

How does Lytro differ from Google Street View?

Re:New nigger awaiting new jigs and coons (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309517)

You're just such a nigger I can't believe it...

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (2)

Johann Lau (1040920) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309599)

It would absolutely rule for news and performance photography I guess (or insect macros :D). I'd say it rather increases the opportunity to not miss shots or botch them, but I wouldn't hail this as some radical new medium just yet. I mean, this stuff is already possible with still scenes, a tripod and patience... setting the focus or getting all in focus is nothing new, to put it mildly, and anything that can be done with that is already being done -- but now you can do it on the move, or without knowing what to focus on before hand. Which is obviously great, but I wouldn't hold my breath for "inspiring Lytro pictures", mostly because, wtf is that even supposed to be. It might help people get non-blurry photos though, and it'll be awesome for pervs on the beach haha :P

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (1)

Idbar (1034346) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309963)

You see, I think the main failure is thinking that this is something for the photography experts. No, this, to me, if for all those taking candid shots in a party, that later realize half og the pictures are out of focus because they see through a cheap viewfinder our a poor rendering from a cellphone's display and failed to see the pictures are out of focus. Professional photographers who know what to frame and focus and do it really fast through the viewfinder of a professional camera may not be the primary target of systems aimed at simplifying picture taking.

Where's the problem? (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 2 years ago | (#39310067)

The real problem with this technology is that there is no problem. For the most part portable compact cameras have sensors so small that your average happy snap is sharp across the range anyway. As for the other end of the spectrum, DSLRs have 50+ AF points and memory cards are so spacious that there's no reason not to re-shoot if you think the focus may be off slightly.

The technology is revolutionary, but it isn't solving any problem. People have been taking tac sharp photos for hundreds of years so why should anyone spend money on a camera that may allow you to refocus after instead of a camera that takes better sharper images, and simply does a good job up front?

Personally I don't see the point, and by comparing it to the iPhone I think the writer doesn't see the point either.

Re:New medium awaiting new aesthetics and explorat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39310205)

There's going to be nothing beautiful about what this device is used for -- it's going to be used by surveillance "professionals" and paparazzi to further erode people's privacy.

Of two minds? (4, Interesting)

Compaqt (1758360) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309265)

Seems Xconomy can't decide whether they like it or not:

The original title seems to have been "The Lytro Camera is no iPhone but it's revolutionary anyway".

going by the URL fragment:
the-lytro-camera-is-no-iphone-but-its-revolutionary-anyway

The current title is the less positive "The Lytro Camera Is Revolutionary, But Itâ(TM)s No iPhone" (Note: Not being an iPhone is a negative in a Stevebot's eyes.)

Re:Of two minds? (5, Informative)

waderoush (1271548) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309343)

Author here, from Xconomy. I changed the headline to make it shorter and catchier, that's all. I'm not of two minds. I was impressed by the technology, but I said that Lytro needs to make some changes such as enlarging the screen before the value of the device will be completely obvious to consumers.

Re:Of two minds? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309581)

I'm not of two minds.

You're a three-minded nigger: you only ever think about fried chicken, watermelon, and fat white women.

Re:Of two minds? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309795)

"Now I'm no psychologist, but to me... That sounds like projection." -Cave Johnson

Re:Of two minds? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309859)

Author here, from Xconomy. I changed the headline...

PHHHHT!
Dude thinks he's George Lucas.

How do you use it for pr0n?? (2)

catalina (213767) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309267)

Usually the first adopters.....

Re:How do you use it for pr0n?? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309443)

Finally you can click on the pussy and tits to bring them to the focus!

A pity... (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309275)

The capabilities of light field cameras have that fun 'technology indistinguishable from magic' touch to them that the impressive-but-evolutionary spec bumps of markedly superior conventional digital cameras don't(It's like playing with your favorite eccentric retro computer from before the Great Standardization: at this point, anything that old is a painfully limited toy; but it is different. Your top-of-the-line-screaming-monster of a PC, on the other hand, is brutally capable and impressively cheap; but practically point-for-point familiar to the p90 running Windows95, with all the performance related numbers bumped by a few decimal places).

Unfortunately, though, the move to release it at a (barely) 'consumer toy' price point really led to a product slightly too compromised to be useful: The optics you need for the light field capture eat so much of the sensor's available resolution that the resolution of the images you can get out of the thing is hovering slightly below 1 megapixel. Yes, the ability to spit out that paltry image at all sorts of focuses, after the fact, is damn cool; but for $500, you could get a high end P&S that could iterate through a series of 10MP shots at different focus points, at time of shooting in a few seconds, netting much of the benefit along with resolutions that wouldn't be ashamed to show up on a $20 webcam.

I'd love to see the same technology applied at a price point and form factor where the sheer sacrifice of available pixels wouldn't be so keenly felt.

Re:A pity... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309371)

Unfortunately, though, the move to release it at a (barely) 'consumer toy' price point really led to a product slightly too compromised to be useful: The optics you need for the light field capture eat so much of the sensor's available resolution that the resolution of the images you can get out of the thing is hovering slightly below 1 megapixel.

I'd love to see the same technology applied at a price point and form factor where the sheer sacrifice of available pixels wouldn't be so keenly felt.

The reason the camera is only 1 megapixel has nothing to do with the optics. The technology requires many pixels in the imager for each pixel in the resulting image. So, the CCD (or CMOS imager, I don't which it uses) probably has at least 10MP, despite the output of only 1MP.

It's a fundamental limit of the technology, and it'll be a while until we see more than 2 MP using it.

Re:A pity... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309501)

I'll admit that 'the optics' was colloquial; but the microlens array is the part of the path where the mapping of multiple CCD pixels to a single available output pixel happens.

As you say, the technology only works if your sensor has enough pixels behind each microlens(and, since very high resolution digital sensors and the necessary supporting processor and storage are more expensive than very fine-grained polymer microlens arrays, the economic limits on the sensor they could afford presumably drove the choice of the microlens array they put on top of it), so the lightfield result will necessarily be much lower resolution than the conventional result; but the microlens optics are the operational location where that reduction happens...

Re:A pity... (1)

zalas (682627) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309823)

Yes, right now it is limited by the technology (a full frame sized sensor with 2 micron pixels would be really sweet for this, but I suppose process would be really expensive), but eventually it will be limited by physics itself. For example, if you were to somehow be able to make a sensor array whose pixel pitch dipped way below half the wavelength of the light you are capturing and if you used microlenses at the wavelength of light, you wouldn't really be able to capture any more three-dimensional/refocusing information anymore.

Re:A pity... (1)

AmberBlackCat (829689) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309477)

So you're limited to a 1-megapixel image? If that's the case, I bet I could take a blurry 12-megapixel picture, resize it to 1-megapixel and sharpen it, and it will look just as good. But the camera will cost less.

Re:A pity... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309549)

Light field stuff in general isn't(you are always limited to a substantially lower resolution than your available sensor(s) would suggest, because the technology requires multiple sensor pixels to be mapped to each microlens; but getting larger and higher resolution digital sensors is one of those problems that can be solved by writing sufficiently large checks); but this particular camera is. Presumably, to hit the $500 price point.

You get get to compute your choice of 1 megapixel images at various focuses; but no one output shot is higher than 1024x1024...

Being able to focus after the fact feels like science fiction; but the ability of contemporary cameras to dump several images per second even on the low end, and simply change focus slightly between each one, means that the brute-force-and-ignorance approach nips dangerously close behind for reasonably static subjects.

Re:A pity... (5, Informative)

donscarletti (569232) | more than 2 years ago | (#39310047)

I bet I could take a blurry 12-megapixel picture, resize it to 1-megapixel and sharpen it, and it will look just as good.

No you can't. You just think that because you don't understand how an aperture works.

Camera lenses focus by directing light through a small hole. At the point of focus, any light which bounces off an object then hits the lens will be directed in such a way that it hits the sensor in exactly the same place as it would have if it had bounced exactly at the center of that hole to begin with, meaning all light from that position hits the same place, giving a sharp image. Away from the point of focus, light bounces off the object, then when it hits the lens, it bends either too far, or too little, giving a soft edge. Thus when an image is out of focus, then the light projecting onto the sensor is actually wrong, no amount of sensitivity will fix that. This is why optics and focus have always been the most important part of getting a nice image out of any digital camera.

A light field camera fixes this by capturing the direction of the light and reconstructing an image of where the light actually came from, not just where it hits the sensor. Thus it can calculate a 100% in focus image covering the entire depth range without having to focus. Previously, only a relatively small range of distances could be kept in focus, and for that it was required to have a small apature and either a long exposure or a grainy image (cellphone style). Now you can have a sharp image with a wide range of focus without motion blur or grain and that's fantastic.

Resizing a 12 megapixel image into 1 megapixel will give you the same image, with less grain, exactly the same image as if you had stuck a 1 megapixel sensor in to begin with (lower resolution sensors of the same size format give less grain because of larger size per pixel and lower photosensitivity). It will never be any better than the image projected on the sensor to begin with, so it doesn't get you anywhere.

Re:A pity... (1)

zalas (682627) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309809)

Yes, the ability to spit out that paltry image at all sorts of focuses, after the fact, is damn cool; but for $500, you could get a high end P&S that could iterate through a series of 10MP shots at different focus points, at time of shooting in a few seconds, netting much of the benefit along with resolutions that wouldn't be ashamed to show up on a $20 webcam.

Do remember that the Lytro captures its image at one instance (okay, technically integrated over a short period of contiguous time), so while for static scenes your approach would work, it wouldn't work all that well with dynamic scenes. Personally, I'd like see more artistic photos such as say a black balloon covered in starry speckles bursting with a figurine of the baby from the end of 2001 inside.

Re:A pity... (2)

thsths (31372) | more than 2 years ago | (#39310143)

> that the impressive-but-evolutionary spec bumps of markedly superior conventional digital cameras don't

That is an excellent point. Specs are getting better, but cameras are not, as you can see in make expert reviews. In fact many of the latest generation cameras make worse pictures than the generation before. The specs are lies served to us for marketing purposes, but the functionality suffers.

The Lytra can't compete on specs or image quality (actually the images are pretty bad, if you look closely). But it brings a new idea to the table, and a chance for some real progress again. I agree with the author: the current version is pretty much a technology demo, a gimmick. The real work is integrating this idea into a normal camera.

Of course the next step is already around the corner: full 3D scanners, where you can move around in the picture. Well, they exist, but they are not practical for the consumer market, and may not be for some time.

DPReview has a review (5, Informative)

AaronW (33736) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309281)

DP Review [dpreview.com] has a review of this camera. It sounds like it has a long way to go. Due to the way lightfield works, the final resolution is fairly low, in this case only 1024x1024. I don't know if there's really a way around it, since they're substituting resolution for the depth of field focus feature.

Re:DPReview has a review (3, Interesting)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309317)

DP Review [dpreview.com] has a review of this camera. It sounds like it has a long way to go. Due to the way lightfield works, the final resolution is fairly low, in this case only 1024x1024. I don't know if there's really a way around it, since they're substituting resolution for the depth of field focus feature.

But that's still high enough for the vast majority of people's snapshots. 1024x1024 yields a 5"x5" print at 200dpi, while most people seem to be satisfied with 4x6" prints.

It's certainly not going to satisfy a pro or serious amateur, but for everyday snapshots, even the current level of the technology is a big step forward since it can eliminate every out of focus shot (though camera shake is still an issue)

Re:DPReview has a review (1)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309357)

it's worse; there's also a lot of noise if the subject is not very well lit. since they claim this will be (partially) fixed in firmware, maybe they haven't gotten dark-frame subtraction [wikipedia.org] to work yet?

Re:DPReview has a review (1)

Entropius (188861) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309771)

Dark frame subtraction is only useful (and used) for shutter speeds above one second -- this is true for cameras from the cheapest 1/3.2" sensor on my old Panasonic FZ3 to the rather nice Four Thirds sensor in my DSLR.

More likely, each output pixel requires taking only part of the information from the input pixels (since you've got to do something other than "average them" to get the light field information), exacerbating the noise.

Re:DPReview has a review (3, Interesting)

sunderland56 (621843) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309359)

But that's still high enough for the vast majority of people's snapshots. 1024x1024 yields a 5"x5" print at 200dpi, while most people seem to be satisfied with 4x6" prints.

With no ability to crop or zoom, though. Consumers don't frame their shots very well - so having tons of excess resolution helps pull a decent print out of a crap image. With the current Lytro it's hard to frame shots well.

The Lytro can't fix camera shake, either, and (a) the camera is an unusual, hard-to-hold shape with (b) a crappy LCD. If they took the lightfield guts, and packaged it inside a traditional SLR-style body, they could both make it easier to hold the camera steady, and add a large LCD and real viewfinder.

Re:DPReview has a review (3, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309491)

But that's where Lytro misses the bus... It's priced above the average consumer's price range, requires more fiddling and diddling, and requires Lytro's proprietary web based software - all to produce a picture that would be the pride of 2002.

It ends up being a solution in search of a problem. Too much for consumers, too little for prosumers and professionals.

Re:DPReview has a review (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39310063)

I think the article had it right, sort of: these are bound to be embedded in certain specialty devices. They're great for 3D capture, for example. It's not going to make it as a camera on it's own. People who pay a lot for cameras generally lust after shallow depth of field for it's artistic effects. People who don't use whatever camera is at hand, usually the one in their cell phones.

Re:DPReview has a review (4, Funny)

grcumb (781340) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309649)

DP Review [dpreview.com] has a review of this camera. It sounds like it has a long way to go. Due to the way lightfield works, the final resolution is fairly low, in this case only 1024x1024.

Low res? No worries, just use the ENHANCE button. Problem solved.

Regards,
David Benton
Crime Scene Investigations, Miami PD

Re:DPReview has a review (1)

mysidia (191772) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309927)

Low res? No worries, just use the ENHANCE button. Problem solved.

I'm assuming the Enhance button actually replaces the original 1024x1024 image with a 4096x4096 goatse pic. Which would be a good reason for people to call the Lytro a toy camera.

Re:DPReview has a review (2)

muon-catalyzed (2483394) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309731)

DPReview: we haven't 'got it'. So it is what we have suspected all the time, a VC trap. The game of Litro has only one winner, the guy who got the funding.

Re:DPReview has a review (2)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309787)

Due to the way lightfield works, the final resolution is fairly low, in this case only 1024x1024. I don't know if there's really a way around it, since they're substituting resolution for the depth of field focus feature.

Well, it's the first generation consumer lightfield camera. The first-gen digital cameras weren't that great either - they were overpriced and underperformed (you were lucky if you got VGA images).

It's a New Kind Of Camera(tm). There's a lot of refinement that can be done, but the first generation model is put out there to see how the consumer reacts. If people show interest, a second generation model with better capabilities will be produced. If it doesn't, well, it'll flop.

There's a chance for consumers to be very interested in this - just snap the picture and worry about focus later.

Heck, maybe there's interesting research to be had with a light-field camera that doesn't take up a wall of camera sensors and associated computing power behind it.

Re:DPReview has a review (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39310071)

Due to the way it works, light field cameras will always have a fraction of the resolution of regular cameras and/or poorer low light performance. Really, poor focus isn't usually a problem with modern cameras. Most of the shots people think are poorly focused are probably actually motion blurred because the camera had to use too slow a shutter speed in order to make up for it's crappy low light performance. And this camera is worse.

Revolutionary? Yeh right. (5, Interesting)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309287)

...that's going to change the way consumers think about pictures.

You're overestimating the average consumer: You believe they think prior to taking a picture. Having gone through enough cell phones left abandoned and dropped off at the lost in found before finally pressing 'm' in the phone book and calling their mom to say they lost their phone at my workplace... I can say with a fair degree of confidence most people take pictures of themselves, themselves with friends, more pictures of themselves and... (guys only)... pictures of inanimate objects that they never share or send to anyone. Ever. They're usually things like sign posts, car wheels (not actual cars, this would be too obvious), or random corners of buildings. From this, I can deduce that no actual thinking occurs for at least 95% of your everyday consumer's use of a camera.

Re:Revolutionary? Yeh right. (0)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309395)

they won't have to think. eventually there will be services to "professionalize" your light-field photos (possibly this service will be bundled into specially-marketed lines of camera in the "razor and blades" style). this process will be at least partly automated, with the left-over work done by low- to medium-skilled employees in production line fashion. bottom line is, instead of hiring a good professional photographer for an event, you can just have your staff or wedding guests run around with lytros and then either 1) use some specialized software to optimize them, much like red-eye correction is done now; or 2) if it's a very special occasion, pay a company a few hundred bucks to optimize them using audited production-line labor.

of course, the result won't be as good as a real professional photographer mostly because there won't be any mise en scène, but hey, most "professional" photographers really aren't that good anyway and as you said, people don't think. it'll be 90% as good for 10% the price, and hiring a photographer will become like hiring a valet: exclusively for the quite rich.

of course, this is the business side. on the art side, creative people will figure out new forms of photography to fully exploit the light-field.

Re:Revolutionary? Yeh right. (1)

Spodi (2259976) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309521)

And those 95% are not the target consumers. It is that other 5% - the ones who spend money on cameras like many here do on computers. Also, just because you think the picture is worthless, that doesn't mean it is. I don't take pictures often, but the ones I do are to help me remember something worth remembering. You may see "just some building", but the one who took it may see "where I first saw the woman who is now my wife".

Re:Revolutionary? Yeh right. (2)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39310077)

The people who spend lots of money on cameras want shallow depth of field and selective focus. That's why they spend even more money on lenses.

Re:Revolutionary? Yeh right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309643)

my phone is full of inanimate objects that i don't share with anyone. never realized it was such a big phenomenon.

Re:Revolutionary? Yeh right. (1)

mlush (620447) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309665)

...that's going to change the way consumers think about pictures.

You're overestimating the average consumer: You believe they think prior to taking a picture.

I think your sampling is a little biased, I think you'd see a different patten of photos if you were to compare cameraphones and cameras so, I'll be a little more generous to the average consumer

What they think is 'I want a photo of that' and what they want is the photo to look like what they saw, and that means no blurred bits. The eye auto-focuses on whatever its looking so people perceive the world with an near infinite depth of field. Creating an image that does not look like what was seen is art, I'd hazard most people are looking for a record and can't be bothered to post process.

Re:Revolutionary? Yeh right. (1)

Entropius (188861) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309781)

Then get a cameraphone, or just set your camera to aperture priority and dial in the highest aperture and the highest ISO you can stand.

Re:Revolutionary? Yeh right. (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39310093)

Know what the biggest difference is between generic amateur snapshots and wow photos?

Depth of field.

The awesome photos are almost never the ones with everything in focus. But if you really want that, the cheaper your camera the more likely it is to achieve it.

Re:Revolutionary? Yeh right. (1)

schlachter (862210) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309755)

there might be a high correlation between people not thinking before using their cell to take a pic and those who lose their cells. just saying.

anyways, there's not much need to think now with digital photography. each incremental photo costs nothing.

back when i had a film camera, i'd think before each photo i took. they were precious resources.

Re:Revolutionary? Yeh right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39310037)

>Having gone through enough cell phones left abandoned and dropped off at the lost in found before finally pressing 'm'

Pervert

Revolutionize crap photos, perhaps (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309303)

Given the resolution tradeoffs that are inherent in the design, I can see this theoretically "revolutionizing" camera phones or cheap point-and-shoots... perhaps. But I'm not sure I believe even that, given that people won't take a few seconds even now to crop their photos, sharpen them (even automatically), or adjust the white balance. Most people just seem to throw whatever photos they've taken up online - no editing, no triage, no nothing.

I can't see this making a difference with the higher-end market, in any case. People who are at least somewhat serious about their photography will almost certainly pick much higher resolution with the need to focus over an refocusable image that has just a fraction of the resolution.

Re:Revolutionize crap photos, perhaps (2)

topham (32406) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309335)

Nokia announce a phone with a camera sensor that's 41 Megapixels. -If- you can combine that sensor with the Lytro lens in a small camera assembly you'll get sufficient resolution to be used for more than just gimmicks.

Re:Revolutionize crap photos, perhaps (2)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39310101)

Nokia is already using all those pixels for their own gimmicks... and getting a 5 MP image out.

If you used that sensor with a light field lens array you'd end up with a camera that had truly horrible low light performance. And low light performance is probably THE thing that makes the biggest difference for typical snapshots.

Re:Revolutionize crap photos, perhaps (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309497)

I'm waiting to see how long it takes professional photographers to realize that they can do things with camera that cannot be done with any other camera. How about a photograph where the nearfield is in focus, midfield ie defocused, and the farfield is in focus. Being able to focus different areas of the image at arbitrary depths will have some great artistic applications.

Re:Revolutionize crap photos, perhaps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39310013)

How about programming the pictures to change the focus themselves? Kind of like a photographic lava lamp, or maybe stereo-grams. I might buy a few of these and give them to my kids just to see what they come up with since they don't have set ideas about photography.

Re:Revolutionize crap photos, perhaps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39310019)

Can be done for anything that's not fast moving with good cameras already.

Re:Revolutionize crap photos, perhaps (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39310109)

It's easy enough to do that with a few minutes in Photoshop and a couple of shots, without the $500 low resolution camera. Not that you'd want to very often. Such a thing would scare your brain.

The web is cluttered with shit photography (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309307)

Stop adding to the clutter with your lame images. 

Summery accidentally a word... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309311)

The whole thing!

Read thesis (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309353)

For those more interested in the technology, Ren Ng's thesis is available on Lytro's website (at the bottom of the "Science Inside" page). I read much of the thesis at it the other day after reading an article about the camera in the New York Times. It's a well written thesis and explains the technology in a few simple ways and more rigoroursly.

The best explaination to me was that the microlens array is effectively reimaging the lens onto a small array of pixels under each microlens. (The micolens is placed at the usual focal plane of the camera and the # of microlenses is what determines the resolution). Each pixel therefore sees only a small aperture of the lens. A small aperture gives a very large depth of field. You could just use one pixel under each microlens to create an image with a large depth of field, but you'd be throwing away a lot of light. You can be more clever, however, and reconstruct from all those small aperture images the image at any focus. At different focuses, the light from any location is shared among multiple microlenses. (i.e, it's out of focus - so it's blurred at the focal plane). However, it's not out of focus at the pixels, since remember each pixel only sees a small aperture and has a large depth of field. It's then just a matter of adding the right pixels together to create an in-focus image at any effective focal plane.

Poor image quality all around (3, Insightful)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309363)

Many people have noticed in the online samples that you can't focus clearly on far-away objects; they sorta get sharper, but not anywhere as sharp as foreground details. So that awesome picture of you on top of a mountain? You'll be nice and sharp, but the background never will be. Kind of spoils it, when the whole point is to be able to click and have one or the other be super sharp, right?

Also, it needs absurd amounts of light according to Gizmodo, or image noise becomes horrendous. Which is not surprising, given how hard Nikon and Canon are pushing the edge of what's possible in their sensors + image processors, and how small the individual lenses are. Great for sunny places. Not so much for indoors.

Gimmick (1, Insightful)

kelemvor4 (1980226) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309489)

Seems like it has gimmick written all over it to me. It's got some optical problems like purple fringe (for example on the shot with the cup of water in the foreground), unacceptably low resolution, and it requires software like flash to view the photos. If they could get the thing into an SLR body so you could put decent optics on the front, and beef up the sensors so the final output resolution could be 10 or more megapixels, then they might have something. As it is, this reminds me of the 3d cameras that are around or even the kodak sticker cameras.
The worst part is the price tag is so high you're approaching the point where you could get a real entry level SLR for the same money.

Just because they involve a novel idea relating to focus does not mean they've created a good product.
Maybe they can get Vince Shlomi to sell it for them....

Re:Gimmick (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309907)

Just because they involve a novel idea relating to focus does not mean they've created a good product.

And just because they haven't created a good product doesn't mean this isn't incredibly cool technology that will be revolutionary when it matures.

Forget image capture, I want the display. (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309503)

When will we get a light field display? It's only logical that you'd need both to truly leverage this invention. And seeing as you can get displays with >300 dpi resolution today, it's only a matter of time before displays have enough resolution, and computers have enough processing power to display light field images.

Not impressed yet... (1)

dalias (1978986) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309511)

I'm not going to write this thing off yet, but the demos I've seen so far don't seem to match the claims of how "light field photography" is supposed to work. In fact all the demos are pretty much what you'd get if you put a camera on a tripod and took 2 or 3 photos of the same subject with the focus adjusted, and then linear-interpolated between them to make an animation...

Blade Runner (1)

flyhigher (643174) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309529)

Ridley Scott gave us a foreshadowing of *something* like this, exactly 30 years ago. If you were around back then, did you think what Deckard was doing was (a) impossible, (b) something nobody would ever want, or (c) a taste of the future?

http://criticalcommons.org/Members/ironman28/clips/bladeRunner3DphotoH264.mov/view [criticalcommons.org]

I wonder if Lytro drew any inspiration from the movie?

They will be good.. eventually (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309537)

First off the way this new technology works is actually pretty awesome. Instead of detecting the light that hits the lens, this camera detects the polarization of the light that is hitting it.
IE: It records the light's angle as it hits it.

They should definitely increase the processing power on the camera itself, it needs to process these images into a usable file format on the fly. Also they need to create/collaborate on more powerful and nimble software. You can save an end result as a regular file, but together it is more like a .psd file.

This camera is very simple right now. With the right direction this could eventually be used in advanced video recording and other technologies. It could even be made simple (or complicated?) enough to be used in AI or robotics, even security.

Well whatever, I hope they succeed!
-zef

Better 3d? (4, Interesting)

dmomo (256005) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309547)

Part of what makes 3d movies look fake is that the viewer cannot focus on anything other than what is "in focus" as per the Director. I imagine it would be possible to use this technology paired with some sort of eye tracking tech (which also exists). This would move us a step closer toward a more realistic immersion.

Re:Better 3d? (3, Insightful)

Gordo_1 (256312) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309607)

Ok, but then you have to watch it alone because while I'm focusing on the tree in the background, you're focusing on the foreground...

Re:Better 3d? (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309619)

how is that different from 2d? you cant ignore what the director wants you to see and actually focus in on the distant object in the background, its a basic principal of camera optics

upend consumer photography the way the iPhone (-1, Flamebait)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309615)

upended the mobile business?"

so ... virtually no effect at all?

there were internet connected smartphones well before iPhone. yes they may not have been as sleek, yes they may not have been as sexy, and yes they may not have had the pretentiousness to patent a fucking rounded rectangle ... BUT there were palm phones, linux phones and even CE phones a quater decade before the precious iPhone first played a farting santa / cat app

iPhone upended the business world just like every other apple product, only for the small and easily distracted, no one replaced their pdp11 with a 4K Apple II, no one dropped their IBM for a ///, and for nearly 2 decades you only saw mac's in the graphics department.

Wait for licensees (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309621)

The company is acting like Apple with their one-size-fits-all approach. News Flash: You're not Apple.

Wait for them to license this tech to other companies unless you're the gottahaveitnow type. You know who you are. The rest of us thank you for subsidizing our tech that's had all the bugs worked out and doesn't suck.

Fool, meet money, soon to be departed. (1)

p51d007 (656414) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309671)

Why would anyone buy one of these IN THEIR CURRENT mode? It's an idea in search of a purpose. I've been shooting photos for almost 40 years. Unless you are drunk, can't hold a camera steady, what's the use? If you are serious about photography, don't waste your time on this toy.

Useful for analysis and brainstorming sessions (1)

Vijaysj (1003992) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309721)

Imagine being able to have a 3D image of the model that you want to analyse...Being able to focus on different sections, zoom in, discuss, zoom out and refocus on another section of the model etc...

Re:Useful for analysis and brainstorming sessions (1)

Frankie70 (803801) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309813)

Imagine being able to have a 3D image of the model that you want to analyse...Being able to focus on different sections, zoom in, discuss, zoom out and refocus on another section of the model

Can't you already do this with traffic cameras. Atleast that's what they show in the movies & TV serials.

It's interesting, but ultimately a doomed idea. (4, Insightful)

Gordo_1 (256312) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309735)

Let's list some of the significant drawbacks of this first version which we can realistically chalk up as a technology demo:
* Camera is shaped weird and appears awkward to use. If form follows function, I'm not sure what the function is.
* Cheap last-gen LCD display.
* Output is only 1MP (1024x1024).
* Sensor is really small
* Lens is cheap
* Limited depth of field
* Raw light fields have to be sent to Lytro server for processing
* Only a handful of focus points can be chosen
* In focus range is limited
* Photos are converted into lame Flash animations

Now, let's re-imagine this as a serious photographers tool a few years down the road:
* It's a DSLR with real interchanegable lenses and huge hi-rez LCD display
* Let's say the camera can even magically switch from "classic" to light field mode with a toggle switch.
* Huge full frame sensor allowing light field output at 6+MP with high dynamic range and low noise at high ISOs
* Depth of field choices much broader and limited only by lens chosen
* Effective focus range is much improved
* Raw lightfield processing can be done on your local computer, allowing precise control over number and position of focus layers. Alternately, assuming processing speed is available, perhaps focusing points can be chosen in real-time within the finished image blob.
* Output as multiple jpegs, flash or HTML5, etc.

Now what?
Well, you still have these limitations if you use light fields:
* You're basically giving up some amount of image resolution for the ability to focus after the fact. DSLRs and even consumer cameras already have excellent auto-focus modes that when used properly generally nail focus in decent light. It's not the biggest or even second biggest problem I see in photos online. Bad composition and inadequate lighting are generally much bigger problems.
* If you chose the wrong focus point when shooting, sure you can fix your mistake, but if focus is off due to camera shake or motion blur, you're SOL.
* It's basically useless in images with large depths of field (think large landscapes where everything is essentially in focus)
* Makes no difference on a printed page, except you have one more tweak available during editing.
* Still gimmicky. After everyone has played around with a few of these photos interactively, they're bored and move on.

Re:It's interesting, but ultimately a doomed idea. (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39310151)

"* Huge full frame sensor allowing light field output at 6+MP with high dynamic range and low noise at high ISOs"

Or I can get a regular huge full frame SLR with higher resolution and much better low noise performance. And no, switching the sensor into regular or light field mode isn't going to be easy.

Simular effect with simple filter (5, Informative)

pavon (30274) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309737)

The Lytro camera has special optics that basically separates the light entering the lens from different angles. Knowing the rough angle of the light rays allows you to combine them in different ways to change the focal length of the image, as opposed to a traditional camera, in which they are permanently combined as the CCD captures the light at a set focal length. This comes with a trade-offs as light from each set of angles is essentially captured as a separate image, giving you say 12x12 sub images on the CCD, so the resolution of each sub-image is much lower than you would get using the full CCD for an image.

Since Ren Ng published his seminal paper making the connection between refocusing a light-feild and Fourier Slice theory, there has been additional work which shows that you can achieve the same thing using a simple filter, rather than a whole new set of optics. The benefit of this is that it is cheaper to manufacture, and you can easily switch out the filter to adjust the trade-off between image resolution and depth of field, but come with an additional cost of a slight loss of total light (due to the filter). Here is one of those papers [umd.edu].

There are two basic approaches. The first heterodynes the light (a filter acts as multiplication) such that light that enters at different angles is shifted to different frequencies. So with this approach you get "subimages" in the frequency domain rather than the spacial domain, which can be seperated and recombined in software. The result and trade-offs are essentially the same but with simpler hardware.

The other is based on refocusing as a deconvolution operation, but the filter modifies the point-spread-function of the camera, such that it's frequency response doesn't have any zeros, so you don't loose data at those frequencies like you would with a simple rectangular aperture.

WTF? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309799)

The iphone is a turd. No matter how much you polish a turd, its still a turd. Why compare anything to a turd?

just a touch on things to come (2)

planckscale (579258) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309917)

Imagine when cameras suck an entire event in it's full 3D life-like quality. So you have a dome of some sort, it has millions of high res cameras with full Lytro effect, kind of like a retina. And you can almost go back in time when you stick your head in the flexible LED chamber complete with eye movement trackers and brain control motive predictors. Or just use glasses and 3D earphones. Things will focus as you look at them. You could even insert keystrokes into a virtual terminal embedded into the stream. Not unlike tron or something because you pull all senses into the stream somehow, in any manner you know of to play back at some point when the technology can catch up. I've been tripping on how cameras are kind of like time portals - albeit only into the past, but they way they catch "reality" and hold it, is to me a little creepy.

Just waiting for ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39309983)

... Lytro porn! (And then there's Rule 34 ...)

All those pixels and nowhere to go (2)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#39310173)

It's now possible to make imagers with so many pixels that finding some way to use them is a problem. This is one way. Another way is to have more colors. There's a camera with around 100 different color filters, which is interesting for some scientific applications and for machine vision. 3 color sensing is a human eye thing. Some birds have 22 different spectral sensors, which is useful in picking targets through foliage. There's also interest in having more dynamic range, so that you don't have to worry about exposure or lighting as much.

The next thing may be image polarization, by having multiple polarizers per picture. This would be useful in eliminating glare after the fact.

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