Kiss Auto-Focus Goodbye!

By now you have probably read something about Lytro and their new Light Field camera technology (mentioned in the previous post). If not, here are some tech highlights pulled from Lytro’s web site: Lytro light field diagram illustrating how light field technology works

  • “The way we communicate visually is evolving rapidly, and people’s expectations are changing in lockstep. Light field cameras offer astonishing capabilities. They allow both the picture taker and the viewer to focus pictures after they’re snapped, shift their perspective of the scene, and even switch seamlessly between 2D and 3D views. With these amazing capabilities, pictures become immersive, interactive visual stories that were never before possible – they become living pictures.”
  • “The team at Lytro is completing the job of a century’s worth of theory and exploration about light fields. Lytro’s engineers and scientists have taken light fields out of the lab – miniaturizing a roomful of cameras tethered to a supercomputer and making it fit in your pocket.”
  • “The light field is a core concept in imaging science, representing fundamentally more powerful data than in regular photographs. The light field fully defines how a scene appears. It is the amount of light traveling in every direction through every point in space – it’s all the light rays in a scene. Conventional cameras cannot record the light field.”
  • “Recording light fields requires an innovative, entirely new kind of sensor called a light field sensor. The light field sensor captures the color, intensity and vector direction of the rays of light. This directional information is completely lost with traditional camera sensors, which simply add up all the light rays and record them as a single amount of light.”
  • “By substituting powerful software for many of the internal parts of regular cameras, light field processing introduces new capabilities that were never before possible. Sophisticated algorithms use the full light field to unleash new ways to make and view pictures.
  • Relying on software rather than components can improve performance, from increased speed of picture taking to the potential for capturing better pictures in low light. It also creates new opportunities to innovate on camera lenses, controls and design.”

To get a real sense of what Lytro is doing you have to look at their gallery of sample images.

It doesn’t take much thought to believe that the potential of this technology is huge. Even though the initial product Lytro will offer is aimed at the consumer market, it’s easy to see that light field technology could be used in so many products and markets. As with many new high-potential technologies, it congers up a million questions…

  • How will light field technology impact the future of traditional camera manufacturing? Will Lytro license their technology?
  • How will the major camera manufacturers embrace light field technology? Will they take a “not invented here” stance? Will they create their own versions of light field sensors?
  • Does a light field sensor require a special lens?
  • Do Lytro images require a special viewer application/plug-in/whatever? Could I simply define the focus in post and then output the file as a jpeg for print?
  • What about light field sensors for video capture? (My puny brain turns to spaghetti just imagining the possibilities for video.)
  • What kind of software is needed to post process a Lytro image? Can a light field sensor record and save Raw image data like a standard CMOS chip?
  • What’s the bit-depth of a Lytro image? For that matter, what’s the resolution of a Lytro image? Can a Lytro sensor be made large enough for a medium format camera back?
  • Will the major image editors, (Photoshop, Aperture, Lightroom, Capture One Pro, etc.) be able to open and manipulate a Lytro image.
  • Could I build an HDR from images shot with a light field sensor?

OK, I’m going to stop here. My head is going to explode!

It will be very interesting to watch how this rolls out, to see whether Lytro will be able to drive their technology to a point that it can actually shift the entire imaging industry as we know it today. Or, will this become another gimmick like 3D that is fun for a while and gets boring quickly? Only time will tell.

I’m hoping Lytro has great success because the potential is mind-boggling and the impact on digital imaging could be tremendously valuable to everyone in this field.


Image diagram property of Lytro

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