Before the launch of Lytro's new Illum camera, we spoke with Lytro CEO Jason Rosenthal and Founder and Executive Chairman Ren Ng about the the new product, to find out what's been added and improved over the original Light Field Camera.  

The press materials mention that the Illum is geared toward 'Creative Pioneers'. So who are these photographers?

Rosenthal: The number of pictures that have been taken and shared online in the last three years, I believe, eclipse all photos ever taken in the previous 172 years. So if you’re a serious photographer, you’ve lost some of the degree of freedom in terms of being able to visually differentiate your work. 

And that’s really the market that we’re going after with Lytro Illum … It spans from pros to creative professionals to amateurs. The thing that they all have in common is they’re looking for a way to make their work stand out.

The high end of the photography market is about a 22-million-unit, $22 billion per year market. Within that, we think that somewhere within 5 to 15 percent fit this definition.

What's new about the sensor? It's listed at 40 megarays, but how would you explain that in terms that are more relatable to stills photographers?

Rosenthal: It's basically a 4x step up in terms of both number of pixels and underlying resolution, as well as sensor area size ... The sensor in the previous camera was 1/3", essentially a mobile sensor. This is a 1" sensor with an [underlying] 40-megapixel resolution.

It scales in multiple dimensions, so not only are we getting better 2D image quality, but we've also dramatically increased what we call the resolving power, which is essentially... The degree to which you can refocus in an image.

Ng: We’re the only people to make light field sensors, so this thing is totally custom ... This is definitely the only camera that has this thing.

This is a very versatile lens - a bright, constant aperture, lots of zoom, and 13 elements, which is relatively few for a design like this. How are you able to create something like this?

Rosenthal: We designed it in-house and worked with a Japanese partner to build it ... This plays directly into one of the cooler parts of light field, which is this ability to use the additional data that we capture to get breakthrough hardware performances. There’s no lens on the market that’s equivalent to this. 

The reason is that, in the conventional sense, you would’t be able to deal with the aberration correction you’d need across that long a zoom and that wide an aperture. The typical way you’d deal with aberration correction is with glass elements - traditional optics. Since we capture all of the directional data within the light field, we’re able to do aberration correction in software and computation. It’s the first big example of us trading out physical components of the camera and replacing those with software and computation to give the market something you just couldn’t do conventionally.

When did you start working on this camera? Was it a part of the plan before the original light field camera? Or was this based on some of the feedback?

Ng: It was based certainly on some things we learned from engaging with the market and understanding where we wanted to center the emphasis [in terms of the target buyers] ... and then also from access to the supply chain that came from the success of the first product.  

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