Shooting with the Lytro
The camera has two modes: Everyday mode, which allows refocusing across the entire scene and Creative mode, which allows the refocusability to be concentrated around your subject.
In Everyday mode, because the refocusability range is set so that it extends back from infinity, there's a minimum working distance at which your subject will be acceptably sharp. And, just as when dealing with depth-of-field, you need to consider what you consider acceptable sharpness - sharpness drops-off as the subject gets near to the front of that range.
On the LFC, this working distance extends from around 125mm (5 inches) at wide angle, to a 1.5m (5 feet) as you zoom. In fact, the zoom is limited to a 3.5x (around 35-122mm equivalent) in Everyday mode to prevent the working range becoming ridiculous. And, even then, the objects at the front of the range won't be super-sharp - the closer they are, the less sharp they'll be, even when refocused.
|Lytro has created a video to show how to get the best results from the camera (note the need for close working distances)|
Creative mode, meanwhile, gives you access to the zoom's entire 8x (35-280mm equiv.) range. Because in this mode you're able to specify the center of the refocusability range, rather than it being automatically set, you can ensure your subject has the best possible sharpness. It also means you can shoot subjects so they're all-but touching the lens. However, the closer your subject and the longer the focal length you use, the shallower the refocusability range becomes.
As a consequence, the best images (from the point of view of giving the viewer something to play around with), are ones with several depths to explore and where the subject is very close to the camera and the background is a long way away. This can make the 1:1 aspect ratio a little limiting, since it's hard to leave space around your subject for the viewer to go off and explore.
|There's also a video explaining how to use the Creative mode|
In a slightly back-to-front manner, it's the Creative mode that comes closest to fulfilling the early promises of a camera where you can fix focus after shooting, because you can specify where the maximum sharpness is concentrated (And if you're trying to correct the focus in an image, it's likely that you want the maximum sharpness and you probably managed to focus fairly near what you intended). However, it's also the mode in which a camera not really designed for refocusing needs to refocus its lens before you can get the shot, so you don't get the instant-shooting benefits of the no-focus Everyday mode.
Meanwhile the Everyday mode is quick and easy to shoot with but it's also the one that requires greatest thought in terms of arranging a scene and composing a shot in order to give an explorable 'living picture.'
There's also the issue of a strange cross-hatched banding pattern that appears in high-ISO images (and a peculiar rendering of point light sources in those images), but that isn't a primary concern for us, given the other limitations.
At present, plugging your camera into your Mac prompts your computer to download the Lytro software and back your camera up. Once this is done, you are left with a good-looking and pretty rapid piece of software that allows you to arrange your images into groups (called 'Stories'), to export JPEGs or to upload either to the Lytro site or onto Facebook (via the Lytro site).
|Once downloaded onto your computer, you get the first chance to really get a feel for what you've shot.|
Each time you plug the camera in it will download your images and ask if you want to then remove them from the camera's internal memory. Plug in your camera without any images on it and it'll attempt to chivvy you into going out shooting.
The version of the software we're running doesn't allow you to zoom into the images in to see their full 1080 x 1080 resolution. To do that you need to upload to the Lytro site though we're promised the feature is coming. Also, at present the captions you add on the Lytro site are limited to a rather restrictive 255 characters, so the description has to be closer to a Tweet than a novelette.
|The (currently Mac-only) software allows you to arrange your images into groups, export JPEGs and check the shooting details, but not a lot else.|