Friday, July 22, 2011

Lytro Brings New Focus

A new kind of camera may hit the market late this year
I’m in no way qualified to write about photography.  But I love technology developments, and this specific topic really interests me.  So please forgive me if I get the photography details wrong! Better yet, add comments at the end to set me straight.
Last month a company called Lytro started to make big news by announcing that they would make a new kind of camera available this year based on light-field technology. The implication, we’re told, is that we’ll be able to focus after pictures are taken. Upload and view the picture that you take on a computer with the appropriate software, click the portion that should be the primary focus, and the magic happens.
What that means for the user is that a picture can be taken without stopping to focus.  Even auto focus takes time that sometimes causes us to miss a photo. Ren Ng, the man behind Lytro, claims that the motivation for this project was that he was tired of missing shots of kids on the go who don’t stop long for photos.
A few other companies have worked with this technology in the past, but weren’t able to make a commercially practical product. The part of this that’s really new is the price point and form factor. Those that worked with light-field tech in the past never delivered a moderately priced consumer camera, and that's exactly what Lytro says that they'll do.
The Lytro camera will necessarily make a trade off, however. It may sacrifice 50% or more image resolution.  Whether that matters much probably depends on the kind of pictures you want to take.
Would a camera that allows you to take pictures without waiting to focus be of interest to you? Do you like the idea of being able to select the focus area after the fact? Leave a comment and let us know.

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  1. You've got the photography details right, though I'd clarify one piece. You write, "Even auto focus takes time" -- in fact, autofocus takes the majority of the time between pressing the little button and the start of the capture. If you pre-focus your camera, you'll find it's actually very responsive. Most can be pre-focused by pressing halfway on the button and holding it there.

    Modern compact cameras have gotten a LOT better about this over the last several years, but there are tradeoffs. In this case, responsiveness is traded off against lens quality, low-light performance, focus accuracy, battery life, size, and weight. Light-field cameras change the equation to a different set of tradeoffs -- it's not yet clear whether it's *better*but I think the potential is there for a completely new direction in photography.

  2. Thanks Mark! Glad to have input from those who know cameras and photography. I'm looking from the outside in.