Conclusion - Pros
- Interesting product design
- Well-developed user interface
- Simple workflow, despite concept's complexities
- Interactive experience sharable on Facebook
Conclusion - Cons
- Very low processed resolution
- Explorable output tends to require contrived compositions
- Small, low-res screen
- Focus slow in Creative mode
- Cross-hatch banding visible in high ISO images
- No control over white balance can leave unpleasant tint under artificial light
The Lytro LFC is unlike any consumer camera we've ever seen before - it captures fundamentally different information and produces output unlike any conventional model. Lytro must be commended for having made something so comparatively consumer-ready without the financial backing or years of experience that the major camera makers can fall back on.
Sadly, we're not fully convinced by the Lytro, conceptually interesting though it is. The limitations of the current LFC, both in terms of final resolution and the limited range of scenes its can bring something interesting to, mean we'd struggle to recommend it.
As a 'don't worry about focus' point-and-shoot, the Lytro isn't terribly successful - sharpness of close subjects isn't great in Everyday mode and the camera can't focus its lens fast enough to make Creative mode a credible alternative. Either way, the final resolution of 1080 x 1080 is simply too low to make it useful for much more than Facebook. The lack of control over any shooting functions, including white balance can also spoil the results.
It perhaps makes a little more sense if thought of as a device for creating 'living pictures' - explorable artifacts for the viewer to play with. Sadly, though, we found that getting the best results out of the Lytro often required rather contrived compositions.
However, we are working a long way from conventional photography and it's not impossible that we haven't 'got it.' When we spoke to Lytro's Founder and CEO, Ren Ng, he made a comparison to Polaroid photography, and we think it's a telling reference point. Polaroids seem ridiculous if judged by the standards of film photography but that didn't mean they weren't capable of offering something interesting and creative. It was a medium that offered something different and it was used both practically and creatively for those differences.
On that basis, there's every chance that the contrivance required to create explorable images might be exactly what appeals to some users.
For now, we think the resolution is too low and that the small sensor means you need rather exaggerated compositions to offer significant refocusability in the resulting file. In the week that Nokia announced a phone with a larger, 41MP sensor, it's hard not to wonder what the Light Field Camera would be like if it was based around that chip. The product would become larger and more expensive and would probably have to sacrifice some of its zoom range but, if that meant higher resolution output and improved subject differentiation, then it might be worthwhile.
The final word
The Lytro LFC is so unlike any conventional camera that it doesn't make sense to score it in comparison to them. Ultimately, though, we're not convinced that the Lytro either solves any existing problem or presents any compelling raison d'etre of its own. If it were higher resolution or allowed greater separation or could produce single lens 3D video it might generate a lot more excitement. As it is, it feels like a product arriving before the underlying technology is really ready.
All of which is a great shame, because Lytro has done a great job of making a credible consumer product out of a piece of fairly abstract scientific research. It's quite possible that in the hands of the right people it will result in some interesting creations but we just don't yet see it as a mass-market device.