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