CES 2012: Lytro Photowalk

Dpreview had a chance to have a closer look at the Lytro light field camera during an event an the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas. The Lytro camera is getting close to production stage and the first cameras are to ship next month. Initially the camera will only be available on lytro.com but the team is in talks with various retailers to expand their sales channels. Retail price for the blue and grey versions which come with 8GB internal memory will be $399. The red 16GB model is $499.

The technology is based on capturing information not just about the colour and brightness of the light entering the camera, but also the direction it has arrived from. This information can then be re-interpreted as if the camera had been focused at different depths into the scene, giving an image that the viewer can re-focus and 'explore.'

According to Jason Bradley, professional photographer and one of the system's beta testers, this first incarnation of the light field camera is all about 'having fun with a new toy'. Eric Cheng, Lytro's Director of Photography adds that the camera is targeted at gadget lovers and early adopters but also at photographers who simply appreciate the possibility of taking a quick snapshot without having to worry too much about your focus points.

Eric Cheng, Lytro's Director of Photography, explains the advantages of the new system to members of the press. The camera's shape is very different to conventional cameras, with a very minimalist approach. On the top of the camera the only two controls are the shutter button and an (almost invisible) zoom panel.

Eric says the camera's user interface is at this stage not quite final yet but pretty close. Image quality is also still being optimized before the first units become available. In use the interface is very minimal, with only a shutter button and a zoom slider on top of the camera. A couple of other functions and the image review can be controlled via the responsive touch-screen. It's definitely an interesting exercise to try to throw some image elements out of focus and then 'refocus' them in review mode. That said, the screen on the camera is a little too small and low resolution to fully appreciate the effect. On the computer screen the process becomes more fun.

The model we've been using today has an experimental 'Advanced Light Field Mode' that wasn't in the previous examples we've seen. Cheng makes clear that its behavior isn't 'final' and it may not appear in this form in the cameras that customers recieve. We hope it does, as it's an interesting addition to the camera's capabilities.

In standard mode, the camera's lens is set to the equivalent of the hyperfocal distance in conventional photography (the closest point of focus that renders objects at infinity as acceptably sharp). For instance, at wideangle, it captures a depth of field of approximately 4 inches to infinity, and the final image allows re-focusing at all points in between. The Advanced Light Field mode, (as it currently exists) prompts the camera to phyically refocus its lens closer than this, centering the depth of field in your shot around your specified focus point. When this image is refocused on the camera screen or on your computer, the focus can be shifted around that specified point, but not out to infinity. For example if you focus on a subject's eyes, you will, depending on the focal length, be able to shift the focus between their ears and nose.

Our first impressions are that the Light Field Camera is an interesting device, probably not for people committed to conventional photography, but both fun and creative (Lytro has been saying for a while that it is initially focusing on mainstream consumers). However, the Advanced Light Field mode does start to hint at the direction the company might take. As an optional mode, we think photographers will appreciate the additional creative control it offers.

The screen on the back is used for composition. You tap on it to set your focus point and exposure. In review mode you can refocus the image and zoom in, again by tapping or double tap respectively. The camera feels solid and is nicely made with an aluminum housing and a rubber grip.

Click here to read our interview with founder and CEO Ren Ng, in which he explains the camera's technology

Comments

Total comments: 140
12
nocklebeast
By nocklebeast (Jan 13, 2012)

Would it be too difficult to extract some basic specifications for the camera from Lytro? Like shutter speed and ISO range?

1 upvote
Jogger
By Jogger (Jan 13, 2012)

Basically heres how it works. It has a VERY small sensor. ie. everything is in focus, for each pixel you also know its depth.

In post process, you can selectively blur based on the depth of the pixel... i.e. the out of focus areas you see are digitally created... i.e not real.

0 upvotes
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Jan 13, 2012)

No.

One capture point on the sensor does not relate to one output pixel.

Small sensor, nothing in focus, but information about where all the light has come from.

Post processing reassembles images of the original scene and can calculate that as if a low-resolution conventional sensor was in front of or behind where the actual sensor was.

6 upvotes
kenw
By kenw (Jan 13, 2012)

As mentioned already your analysis isn't correct. There is a very well written thesis on the topic, you might consider reading it.

0 upvotes
huyzer
By huyzer (Jan 13, 2012)

Look up plenoptic camera. I believe that's how it works, not like what you're saying.

3 upvotes
CameraLabTester
By CameraLabTester (Jan 13, 2012)

This type of camera has great many uses... like for security recording, monitoring capabilites, etc.

But for high end artistic photography, advertising, and media requirememnts... maybe not (yet).

It's a great invention... now it needs to find a reason for a great need for it...

1 upvote
jmellas
By jmellas (Jan 13, 2012)

There's always a need for convinience and options, e.g. where to focus AFTER the fact. What remains to be seen is whether it's implementation will be correct for current market conditions... and that remains to be seen.

0 upvotes
WesternSage
By WesternSage (Jan 15, 2012)

Yes, for example, taking photos of toddlers running around a living room. It would be wonderful to adjust focus so your little munchkin is sharp instead of the teddy bear!

0 upvotes
Leesound
By Leesound (Jan 21, 2012)

You'd imagine "pro's" using cutting edge human tech to do their stuff daily would give more leeway to moving on, but lol no - just to remind you - the Earth aint flat and like your counterparts thought back then, I hope the innovaters ignore you , progress involves baby steps and somettimes bold steps, you numpties - some ideas your predecessors have enjoyed pooing over the centuries are fact and day to day life now- hence , shat it! Let the people who do - do, and let us buy it when they make it. :p

0 upvotes
Tlipp
By Tlipp (Jan 13, 2012)

"Where No Man Has Gone Before"

0 upvotes
Midnighter
By Midnighter (Jan 13, 2012)

Will DPR ever start doing reviews of advanced mobile phone cameras, or is it necessary that manufacturers first rip out the phone guts in order to get press coverage of what seem to me, in all honesty, to be far more interesting cameras?

3 upvotes
canondigi
By canondigi (Jan 13, 2012)

Plenty of site for that already!

2 upvotes
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (Jan 13, 2012)

Has Lytro dealt with the huge banding problems in shadows and dark areas?

Are they allowing "all in focus" yet.?

Is there a Windows version of the software?

Has Lytro dealt with the artifacts which show up in areas of skin, like faces?

How many charges will the built-in battery take before it fails to hold say 30 percent charge minimum?

Has the software controlling zoom and playback been improved?

0 upvotes
opho to
By opho to (Jan 13, 2012)

I don't get it:

Standard mode "captures a depth of field of approximately 4 inches to infinity, and [...] allows re-focusing at all points in between. The Advanced Light Field mode, [allows you] to shift the focus between their ears and nose."

Why is that 'advanced'? How can a persons nose and ears not be between the 4 inch to infinity range of the 'standard' mode?

0 upvotes
ipribadi
By ipribadi (Jan 13, 2012)

I suppose what is meant is that the advance mode has a DOF shallower than 4in.
With standard DOF of 4in both ears and nose are in focus.

0 upvotes
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Jan 13, 2012)

If you think in terms of conventional photography:

If you focus to the hyperfocal distance, everything between a certain near point (4" in this case) and infinity are acceptably sharp, albeit not equally sharp.

If you focus closer than the hyperfocal distance, then the objects at infinity are no longer acceptably in focus but the depth-of-field is centered on the subject, rather than whatever the hyperfocal distance happened to be.

In this case, the range that's acceptably sharp is the range through which you can refocus the end image. Thus, if you focus on a specific object that's nearer than the hyperfocal distance, you lose the ability to refocus to infinity and the refocusable range is concentrated around the point you chose. (Possibly with highest sharpness at the point of focus you specified?)

This is my understanding, at least.

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
opho to
By opho to (Jan 14, 2012)

Thanks R Butler, but I still don't get it. Are you saying that when it's naturally set at hyper focal I cannot create an image with a smaller d.o.f. than that? If I can't, what's the point of standard mode? If I can create a thin d.o.f. image anywhere between 4 inches and infinity, what's the point of advanced mode?

Are you trying to say that advanced gives a shallower d.o.f. image 'slice' than standard, but over a more limited range?

Comment edited 32 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
jsis
By jsis (Jan 13, 2012)

I don't see the point of this, it's like taking a pic with an infinite DOF (small sensor) and then using photoshop's blur tool to selectively choose which subject would be in focus. This product is too hyped up but it's not really practical since software and a regular iPhone camera can achieve the same effect easily. Much cheaper too.

Also, the bokeh is way too smooth, which can be good, but it looks too artificial.

1 upvote
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (Jan 13, 2012)

Thats not how it works at all. For some reason - thats how it has been demonstrated. But - you dont choose which subject that is in focus. You choose the focus plane.

Bokeh control is one of its greatest advantages.

Low resolution is the biggest disadvantage.

4 upvotes
jsis
By jsis (Jan 13, 2012)

You misunderstood my point.

Choosing focus plane / subject in focus is redundant if the DOF is infinite (ie.the foreground and background subject is in focus). Bokeh control can be done by taking the image with infinite DOF and vary the amount of blur of the subjects that you choose not to be in focus, using photo manipulation software. Doing it straight out of the camera is what this Lytro gizmo does.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
1 upvote
mr moonlight
By mr moonlight (Jan 13, 2012)

It's not like that at all. It's more like taking a hundred photos at every focal point from 4" to infinity" with one click, then picking which one you want to use afterwards.

Selective blurring in Photoshop is very time consuming to do well and 99% of the time looks like crap. I have yet to see any software that can emulate a shallow DOF or change the focus point of an image effectively. This is definitely something very different than what we've seen before and could really change the way we take photos.

2 upvotes
mr moonlight
By mr moonlight (Jan 13, 2012)

Bokeh is not just blur. It's the quality of the blur created by the shape of your lens' aperture blades. There's a huge difference in the way a lens creates blur and software does.

2 upvotes
jsis
By jsis (Jan 13, 2012)

Then in that case this technology will make every photographer lazier taking a photograph. What is the point of taking a hundred photos and choosing one with the perfect focus? You're going to export one picture with the desired focus anyways. If you can't do selective/gradient blurring then you need to practice with your post-processing skills.

1 upvote
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Jan 13, 2012)

Actually, mr moonlight, I think it's fair to define bokeh as the quality of the way out-of-focus regions are rendered.

Because the Lytro camera retains all the information about the direction of the light, it /should/ be able to render those out-of-focus regions however you like. It needn't look like an in-focus region that's been blurred.

0 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (Jan 13, 2012)

@jsis - so if you cant paint an oil painting that looks true to life - why get yourself a camera? ----- I think focussing in the light room is a good idea. I also want a camera with very large DR so that I can choose exposure in the light room. More possibilities is a good thing. ----- I still maintain that the main problem is resolution.

1 upvote
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (Jan 13, 2012)

@Butler - yes the possibility to get whatever bokeh you want is there. Only software is needed. Now - someone have to write that software though. I get the feeling that the Lytro team dont plan to make it easy for third party manipulation tools. And I also get the feeling that they rather aim at fun and entertainment than serious tools themselves. ----- Am I right?

0 upvotes
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Jan 13, 2012)

When I spoke to Lytro CEO Ren Ng in August, he was insistent that they did want to encourage third parties (and aim for serious tools later):

http://www.dpreview.com/news/2011/8/18/lytrointerview

Under the cross-head 'more creativity to come.'

0 upvotes
jsis
By jsis (Jan 13, 2012)

the fact the matter is that this hardware, even though it's first generation, is a novelty. Yes, focusing in lightroom is neat. However, the images it outputs is utter crap and the f/2 lens with 8x zoom doesn't really help with making distant subjects in-focus. Just look at Lytro's gallery in their website, if you focus on the background (at infinity) the image isn't that sharp. The device doesn't really look that compact either, and the fact that it doesn't output high resolution images? I'd imagine that the patents probably has some more useful applications in other fields like medical imaging or microscopy, but to apply it in consumer device is hardly useful.

1 upvote
Le Kilt
By Le Kilt (Jan 14, 2012)

Some are missing the point. But that is because of the marketing ploy giving little detail.
They are offering something that does not give you a jpg, but an interactive image. You get to play with a 540x540 pixel refocusable image. The only way you'll get a jpeg is with a screen capture.
So you'll have to post the photo data on a site (i.e. Lytro's) that has the application to display it and allow you to play with the focussing.
The samples you see are exactly what you'll get, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

0 upvotes
wootpile
By wootpile (Jan 18, 2012)

Can´t wait to try one. Really nice concept and potential 2012 mega X-mas gift idea.

0 upvotes
canondigi
By canondigi (Jan 13, 2012)

I wonder it you can take a shot on your computer, export it, change the focus point, export it, change it again, export it, and so on to effectively get a focus stacked image with one shutter click? That'd be pretty sweet!

Kind of like pushing and pulling the exposure of a RAW file to create an HDR photo....

1 upvote
NetMage
By NetMage (Jan 13, 2012)

Actually, they've shown in the video demos the ability to adjust DOF as well as focus in the PC software - so you don't need to manually focus stack - just tell the software itself to focus stack.

1 upvote
yukonchris
By yukonchris (Jan 13, 2012)

Reminds me a little of the "communicators" in that late 70's or early 80's sci-fi TV program, "Space 1999". Would be interesting to see a good collection of images produced by the camera.

0 upvotes
ijak
By ijak (Jan 13, 2012)

I am really looking forward to the versions of these cameras that have a larger resolution for decently sized enlargements. … I can see a time when my customers, for example a line of musicians at a football stadium are shot by me at a sharp angle, then everyone in the line could log onto my site, and refocus the image so that their particular human is the human in sharp focus, while the rest of the band slides into soft focus. And then select that focus setting for printing. … I think it is going to be cool. … I want it now!

3 upvotes
Le Kilt
By Le Kilt (Jan 14, 2012)

Agreed, unfortunately for the moment 540x540 pixels is all it can produce.

0 upvotes
solsang
By solsang (Jan 14, 2012)

The sensor stores 11 "megarays", which i assume are pixels

Each photo is 540*540=291.600pixels

Thus there can be 38pictures with different focus (4" to infinity)

Stacking a few neighbours should give a good 1080*1080photo

Bigger individual photos would need a huge expensive sensor, right now they do a seemignly well thought through compromize of price and capability.

0 upvotes
BradJudy
By BradJudy (Jan 13, 2012)

I haven't seen it mentioned much, but this technology can also be used to generate an image with essentially infinite depth of field, rather than choosing a particular focus point and using a conventional depth of field. That's how it's used in industry (and why it was developed in the first place) to create very large depth of field without super small apertures (and thus long exposures).

1 upvote
khaw
By khaw (Jan 13, 2012)

That's right. My understanding is one needs the full version of the software on a personal computer for this.

0 upvotes
Le Kilt
By Le Kilt (Jan 16, 2012)

Not a possibility offered here, all you get is the interactive image.

0 upvotes
Rehabdoc
By Rehabdoc (Jan 17, 2012)

Maybe i misunderstand this techZ

Can you produce a higher resolution approximation of this "light field" image today, by programming a high end SLR with good video capability to:

(1) step 1: simply shoot a photo with your camera at a small aperture and very deep DOF to get everything into focus at once.

(1) step 2: shoot full HD video wide open in your fastest frame rate, while smoothly and rapidly bringing focus from infinity to closest macro rapidly, to assign depth and "blur properties" to everything in your frame..

(3) step 3: computer shenanigans.

Or something like that. I'm just spitballing here, but it seems you should be able to do something along these lines.

Amazing tech though. Very cool. I wonder if the tech scales easily to higher resolution or if the difficulties expand rapidly with increased resolution.

0 upvotes
Le Kilt
By Le Kilt (Jan 17, 2012)

Doesn't quite work. The small aperture will most likely not give you a fast enough shutter speed in many conditions.

As you re-focus, you move the lens in or out, slightly changing the image.

Whilst taking video or several shots, subjects can move.

In some cases these issues can be dealt with by computer shenanigans, but not necessarily in a simple way.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 140
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