Perspective-shifting web app lets Google Camera mimic another one of Lytro’s tricks


posted Friday, April 25, 2014 at 5:29 PM EST


It's a tough time to be plenoptic camera maker Lytro. While it's attention-grabbing refocusing, depth-of-field and perspective effects are undeniably cool, others are getting onto its turf and copying its tricks. First HTC launched its One M8 smartphone with depth-sensing camera. Then Google got into the game with its Google Camera app, allowing refocusing of images shot with a standard camera. And now a third-party web app lets Google Camera users mimic another Lytro feature -- the ability to shift perspective post-capture.

Like those from the HTC One M8 and Google Camera's lens blur function before it, the effect produced by the DEPTHY web app isn't perfect by any means. Arguably, though, it doesn't really have to be. While a true plenoptic camera doesn't suffer the artifacts and depth miscues that these software recreations do, it also brings its own limitations that your smartphone camera doesn't have to deal with. Most notably, even in its latest incarnation Lytro's light-field camera has very low resolution by modern standards. It's also bulky and extremely expensive, for a device with no clear use case.

DEPTHY lets you take lens blur photos from Google Camera, and simulate a perspective shift.

By contrast, your smartphone is much more compact, doesn't require you to carry a second device, probably has significantly greater resolution, and you've most likely paid for it already. And now, it can not only provide shallow depth-of-field effects and refocusing that, for the right subject, are reasonably convincing -- it can also let you play with perspective much like the Lytro does. (The feature isn't really useful so much for perspective tweaking, as the range of motion is relatively subtle, but for providing a pseudo-3D effect on a two-dimensional screen.)

DEPTHY also lets you extract a depth map from images.

The really interesting thing here to us, though, is that DEPTHY also provides you with a way to extract the depth map. Right now, that's not hugely useful, although it does let you see how and where Google's algorithms went awry. But the ability to extract the depth map is just a first step, and it hints at the possibility of also allowing you to edit and replace that map. If that's possible, then you could find yourself able to fix the small issues that crop up when using Google's lens blur tool.

Compared to the depth map above, it's easy to see why there's a blurred spot in the trees. And were it possible to do so, it'd also be a very easy fix indeed.

And that, if the process of fixing depth problems is made simple enough, could bring you another step closer to having a Lytro in your pocket -- without having to buy one and live with its limitations. Good news for you, not so much for Lytro...

If you have a device running Android 4.4 KitKat or higher, the minimum required to use Google Camera, then you can give DEPTHY a spin with your own images here.

DEPTHY's perspective shift effect ranges from very convincing to very much not so. Here, the Star Ferry model has an ugly artifact around its edges.