Go to:
Previous Item
Current News
Next Item

The Lytro light-field camera. Photo provided by Lytro Inc. Lytro preps plenoptic camera for 2012 debut
(Friday, October 21, 2011 - 01:36 EDT)

The world's first plenoptic camera aimed at consumer use is only months away from availability in the US market, according to a press release issued by its manufacturer, Lytro Inc.

Plenoptic cameras--sometimes known as light-field cameras--have a couple of main advantages over their traditional digital camera brethren. As well as capturing information on color and brightness of incoming light, the proprietary sensor of Lytro's plenoptic cameras also record the direction of incoming light rays. The end result is a recording of the subject light field, rather than a static image, and using that information it's possible to adjust the image to change the point of focus after capture, or even to generate a 3D view of the scene (this latter to be enabled after launch; initially only refocusing will be possible). Since the lens needn't be stopped down to ensure adequate depth of field, the maximum aperture can be used to help reduce the likelihood of blur from camera shake in difficult lighting conditions. The first generation of Lytro cameras will therefore ship with a fixed-focus, fixed aperture f/2.0 lens, which is said to offer an 8x optical zoom range. No information on focal lengths was available at press time.

There are definitely drawbacks to the plenoptic approach, as well. Key among these is resolution. Although Lytro is advertising its first-gen light-field cameras as able to capture "11 megarays" of light field information, the final output size is much smaller than that number might suggest. Lytro themselves are extremely tight-lipped about the actual output resolution, stating only that the cameras will offer "HD quality". We know that the Lytro cameras will capture a square image, so depending on how one defines "HD quality", Lytro's customers are likely looking at somewhere in the region of 1-3 megapixels for final output images. The cameras will also record only in a proprietary .lfp (light field picture) image format, akin to the raw format in a standard digital camera, with no way to specify the focus point and bake a final JPEG image in-camera. At launch, Lytro will not have software available to handle .lfp files on the Windows platform, and so its cameras will be limited to use only with Mac OS X 10.6 or higher. Windows software will follow later in 2012.

The physical design of the camera itself is also unusual, likely in a conscious effort to draw a dividing line between Lytro's cameras and traditional digital camera models. The first-gen Lytro camera consists of a squared-off, anodized aluminum alloy tube, capped with a 1.46-inch touchscreen display on one end, and the front element of the internal 8x optical zoom lens on the other end. At the LCD display end, approximately one third of the camera's length is wrapped in a silicone skin. Considering that it includes an 8x constant-aperture f/2 zoom lens, it's perhaps not inordinately large, but it's certainly stretching the boundaries of shirt or pants-pocketability. The Lytro is very close to the same length as Apple's popular iPhone 4 and 4s smartphones, but the square tube of the Lytro body is about 4.5 times the thickness of the iPhone, and weighs half as much again. By way of comparison, the outer bounds of the mirrorless Pentax Q interchangeable-lens camera (without a lens attached) actually occupy just slightly less volume than does the Lytro camera. Even when one counts the f/1.9 kit lens for the magnesium-bodied Pentax, the Lytro wins by only a slim 10% market weight-wise.

Lytro's light-field camera will be available in three colors. Photo provided by Lytro Inc. Click for a bigger picture!

Lytro's light-field camera will be available in three colors.
Photo provided by Lytro Inc.

Controls are few indeed: a power button on the bottom of the tube, plus a shutter button and zoom slider on the top. Exposure is set by touching your desired subject on the tiny LCD panel, and the natural, single-handed grip is not dissimilar to how one might hold a cigar between thumb and forefingers, with the bulk of the camera projecting beyond your grip. It's certainly different, but we have to wonder about the possibilities for camera shake and aiming accuracy, compared to more traditional camera designs. Hopefully the bulk of the camera's mass is at the LCD / grip end, improving stability.

Perhaps an even more significant issue is Lytro's decision to place both storage medium and power source inside the camera body, with no way for the end user to replace or upgrade either item. There's no flash card slot at all, and only two capacities will be available at launch: an 8GB model capable of storing 350 pictures, or a 16GB variant capable of capturing 750 frames at a 25% price premium over the base model. Battery life for the Lytro cameras hasn't been disclosed, but once the battery runs out, the camera can't be used until it has been recharged.

For those who absolutely must have the ability to refocus their images after the fact, though, many will likely be able to live with the shortcomings. There's no question it's an interesting product, and technically impressive. On the consumer level, nothing quite like it is yet available from any source. We'd very much like to see Lytro provide more specific information as to output resolution, lens focal lengths, and power consumption, however.

The Lytro light-field cameras go on sale from early 2012. The 8GB model will be priced at around US$400, and available in either grey or blue-bodied versions. The 16GB model, meanwhile, will ship for around $500, and be available only in red. Either model will come with an unspecified amount of online storage free of charge, allowing Lytro camera owners to share their refocusable images online.

The Lytro light-field camera has an 8x optical zoom lens with fixed f/2 aperture. Photo provided by Lytro Inc. Click for a bigger picture!

The Lytro light-field camera has an 8x optical zoom lens with fixed f/2 aperture.
Photo provided by Lytro Inc.

Original Source Press Release:

Lytro, Inc. Unveils the World's First Consumer Light Field Camera

Groundbreaking new camera instantly captures interactive, living pictures to share with friends and family online

Mountain View, CA -- October 19, 2011 - Today, Lytro, Inc. (www.lytro.com) unveiled the first Lytro consumer light field camera, introducing a new way to take and experience pictures. Unlike conventional cameras, the Lytro light field camera captures all the rays of light in a scene, providing new capabilities never before possible, such as the ability to focus a picture after it's taken. The pocket-sized camera, which offers a powerful 8x optical zoom and f/2 lens in an iconic design, creates interactive "living pictures" that can be endlessly refocused. The camera is available in two models and three colors, starting at $399.

The Lytro is the only consumer camera that lets people instantly capture a scene just as they see it by recording a fundamentally richer set of data than ever before. Lytro cameras feature a light field sensor that collects the color, intensity, and the direction of every light ray flowing into the camera, capturing a scene in four dimensions. To process this additional information, Lytro cameras contain a light field engine that allows camera owners to refocus pictures directly on the camera. When the Lytro's living pictures are shared online, the light field engine travels with each picture so anyone can interact with them on nearly any device, including web browsers, mobile phones, and tablets—without having to download special software.

The Lytro's sleek design was created with simplicity in mind. With no unnecessary modes or dials, the camera features just two buttons—power and shutter—and has an intuitive glass touchscreen that lets pictures be viewed and refocused directly on the camera. While the Lytro camera houses complex technology, it is fundamentally easy to use, opening new creative opportunities for anyone interested in sharing their favorite memories with friends and family.

The Lytro camera's features include:

  • Form follows function: The Lytro's unique compact design is driven by its 8x optical zoom lens, which features a constant f/2 aperture. The Lytro's anodized aluminum body is lightweight yet sturdy. At less than eight ounces, the Lytro puts remarkable power in a pocket-sized camera.

  • Proprietary light field science: The Lytro is the only camera that captures life in living pictures. Its innovative light field sensor captures 11 million light rays of data (or 11 megarays), including the direction of each ray, something conventional cameras don't do. The light field engine then processes the data into a picture that is displayed in HD quality.

  • Unparalleled speed: The Lytro's speed ensures that people never miss a moment. It turns on instantly and has an instant shutter. With no need to auto-focus, the Lytro has no shutter delays.

  • Low-light sensitivity: By using all of the available light in a scene, the Lytro performs well in low-light environments without the use of a flash.

  • Significant storage: The Lytro is available in both 8GB and 16GB models, storing 350 and 750 pictures respectively. In addition, our first camera owners will enjoy free storage for the light field pictures they've uploaded to Lytro.com.

  • Seeing in 3D: Coming soon! Captured as a full light field, all pictures taken with the Lytro are inherently 3D. Special light field algorithms, available in 2012, will be applied to the light field pictures to enable viewing on any 3D display and to enable viewers to shift the perspective of the scene.

The Lytro light field camera is accompanied by Lytro's desktop application, a free software download that easily imports pictures from camera to computer. Currently available for Mac OS X, the desktop application lets people view, interact with, organize and share their light field pictures. Lytro pictures can then be uploaded to Lytro.com to be shared via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or as links in email messages. Once shared, Lytro's living pictures allow viewers to live the moment with the photographer and explore a scene like never before. Viewers can continually interact with Lytro pictures -- focusing them over and over -- expanding the creative possibilities of each and every shot.

Concepts related to the light field and computational photography have been researched in academic circles for more than a century. Light field science was the subject of Lytro CEO and Founder Dr. Ren Ng's Ph.D. dissertation in computer science at Stanford, which was awarded the internationallyrecognized ACM Dissertation Award in 2007 as well as Stanford University's Arthur Samuel Award for Best Ph.D. Dissertation. Dr. Ng's research focused on miniaturizing light field technology into the body of a single camera to make it practical for everyday use.

The digital still camera market is large and growing with $38.3 billion in worldwide revenue in 2010 and expectations to increase to $43.5 billion worldwide by 2015.* Visual storytelling is universal, with 60 billion photos shared on Facebook in 2010, projected to reach 100 billion photos by this summer.

"Light field photography was once only possible with 100 cameras tethered to a supercomputer in a lab," said Ng. "Today it's accessible to everyone in a camera that's small and powerful, but incredibly easy to use. Our goal is to forever change the way people take and experience pictures, and today marks our first major step."

Pricing & Availability
The Lytro camera is available in two models: 8GB ($399, 350 pictures, in Electric Blue or Graphite) and 16GB ($499, 750 pictures, in Red Hot). It is now available to order at Lytro.com and will ship in early 2012. The Lytro desktop application will be available initially for the Mac operating system; a Windows version will be available in 2012.

For more information on the Lytro camera, please visit www.lytro.com/camera.

For a demonstration of living pictures, visit the Lytro Picture Gallery: www.lytro.com/living-pictures.

About Lytro:
Lytro is transforming the camera into a powerful computational photography platform, forever changing the way everyone takes and experiences pictures. The first Lytro light field camera offers photographic capabilities never before possible, such as focusing a picture after it's taken, and creates interactive living pictures that can be endlessly refocused and enjoyed by friends and family online. CEO Ren Ng, whose Ph.D. research on light field photography won Stanford University's prize for best thesis in computer science in 2006 as well as the internationally recognized ACM Dissertation award, founded the company in 2006. For additional information, visit Lytro.com.
* "Digital Still Cameras: Devices, Features, Lenses, Sensors, and Semiconductors," In-Stat (2011)

Go to:
Previous Item
Current News
Next Item