New Camera Lets You Focus Photos After the Fact

By Valerie Ross | June 22, 2011 2:13 pm

What’s the News: Lytro, a Silicon Valley start-up, has designed a camera that lets you shoot first and focus later. The camera captures the far more light and data than traditional models, and comes with software that lets you focus the photo, shift perspective, or go 3D after you’ve taken the photo. The company plans to sell a consumer, fits-in-your-pocket model by the end of the year.

How the Heck:

  • Lytro’s camera captures the light field, all the light traveling every direction through every point in a scene. Light-field cameras records data—such as direction, color, and intensity—about each individual ray of light. (Typical digital cameras, on the other hand, also take in information on color, instensity, and—to some extent—direction, but they essentially sum up light in a scene and record the total rather than tallying the information for each ray of light.) To do this, the camera has an array of microlenses behind the main lens, which help break up the light coming in into its component rays.
  • As Lytro CEO Ren Ng told the Wall Street Journal, it’s akin to recording each musician in a band on a different track and mixing the tracks later, rather than recording all the musicians playing at once.
  • This technique has none of the shutter lag of point-and-shoot cameras, which have a fractions-of-a-second delay between hitting the button and taking the photo as the camera focuses.
  • The image is then fed into a software program, which turns that mass of light field data into an interactive image, which Lytro calls a “living picture.” With so much data at their cursor-tip, the photographer—and the viewer—can change the focus of the shot with a simple click. Users can also alter the perspective of the shot, since the image contains information about the lights’ direction, and even make the 2D image into a 3D one, which can be viewed on a computer screen with the help of 3D glasses.
  • To get a feel for how the photos will work, you can try out the interactive image above, or check out the full gallery on Lytro’s website.

What’s the Context:

  • Light-field photography has been around for a while; Ng himself has been working on the technology for eight years, and Lytro is his second start-up based on it.
  • Most earlier forays into the technology, required scores of cameras and serious processing power—not the sort of thing a consumer could carry around, much less slip into their pocket.

Not So Fast:

  • Stephen Shankland at CNET brings up some potential hiccups. Lytro will have to prove it can match the resolution of other cameras; using software to focus your photo lacks the point, shoot, upload-to-Facebook immediacy of, say, smartphone photography; and the living pictures currently run on Flash, turning them into still photos for iPad users, for instance.

Image: Lytro

  • Michael Berry

    Really innovative, I love it. I wonder what the highest quality you’ll be able to get out of these pictures is, though? For 2D photos, will the images be comparable to that of other popular consumer cameras like DSLR’s, or closer to the quality of a still image from a basic digital camcorder (like the Flip for instance)? It’s a totally new type of camera, of course, so perhaps comparing it to the current standard of cameras is doing it a disservice.

    Will be interesting to see not only where this technology goes, but also the new directions artists will take it.

  • david

    photography is dead. long live photography.

    ok, maybe not photography. just the relevance of the photographer.

    long live the editor!

  • Chris

    Typo “instensity”

  • Maria

    Sounds like a break into a new era of photography.
    I personally believe that professional or serious photographers will be the ones to really appreciate this new technology.
    Looking forward to the first DSLR!
    Great idea, I like it!

  • Plenoptic

    I think I’ll wait for the camera that can take 3-D colour digital holograms…

  • Bob D

    What kind of factor is the file size increased by to store the raw light-field data?

  • shane

    Amazing. It is I see it but I don’t believe moment.

  • Schell

    The “living pictures” running on Flash is really a non-issue as developing viewers for other platforms should be trivial. The fact that the “living picture” file format is easily parsed by a Flash application tells me that writing a viewer in C or C++ would be rather simple (and that app would be MUCH faster). I’d love to see the image binary!

  • Pete

    Seems like a good tool to use for particle image velocimetry (PIV).

  • Redshift

    I want one! Or one of it’s improved successors, since I rarely buy into first-gen products.
    Pictures of my baby too often end up blurry, being able to go back and adjust the focus later will be wonderful!

  • Eliot89

    Why is it that every piece of new technology must yield to compatibility with apple products? So people can’t view this stuff on the Ipad. OK… that’s not Lytro’s problem it’s Apple’s.

    Really cool piece of technology. I hope I can get my hands on one soon.

  • Jean-Denis

    Well no it’s not Apple’s problem. Unless as a start up you feel that putting your technology out of reach of 19 millions users – for no good reason, is a smart decision.

    And 19 millions users is a lower bound. I got Flash off my computer 7 months ago, and I haven’t regretted it – ever. My computer is faster, crashes less often, runs longer on battery, can run more programs simultaneously before thrashing, is overall more responsive. Good riddance.

  • mannul

    this is nice technology in world , thanks you for information New camera helps you to focus images after you shoot

  • chris

    call me cynical but i only found 3 or 4 focal points in the picture in the example picture. the picture itself is quite grainy. going by the example i see no reason why you can’t achieve such low quality refocus effect just by using a fully open shutter on a cheap camera and some software techniques to achieve some selective pseudo de-focus. you can clearly see some aberations on the boundary between defocussed flowers and focussed far landscape, for example. the technique of raytracing is used regularly for CG images. the example photo hardly compares to anything other than a very low quality picture. I’m not convinced (yet) that this is anything but some software, akin to the 360 go anywhere in the picture experience in the early nineties.

  • Pippa

    This could be potentially useful as a tool for a quick point and shoot- IF it is compatible with a Mac. (Personally I dislike having to use Windows based computers and even when I do life is indeed better without Flash.) However I agree with Chris – the picture is grainy and the refocus not sharp. I assume this is the best they can do – surely they would not put forward a poor example for it’s promotion – – –

  • Backdrop Photography Stand

    It is Wonderful photo and it is gives the really good picture and superb colors.

  • Kevin

    I agree with Chirs, June 24th. The picture is grainy. Could imagine as a professional showing up to a wedding or other photo shoot with this type of camera? They would probably give you a dirty look. Then there is the picture quality. Being grainy, how could you sell it?
    On another note about the camera itself; Seems pretty cool as a fun travel camera for someone.

  • jeffie

    makes me think of the immersive photos in blade runner… match it with multiple locations and you will have something very interesting

  • Eric

    I’m playing with the images just fine on my iPad, so it must not be using Flash.

  • Matt L

    To those pointing out the picture quality, I agree they don’t seem to be top notch, but this IS the first run of this technology at a consumer level so we should probably cut them a little bit of slack. I imagine that improving the resolution is probably one of the number one priorities for the company.


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