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Lytro: A revolutionary new type of camera

02 Jul Posted by Matt in History, News, Stuff We Like |
Lytro: A revolutionary new type of camera

Since the first photograph was taken nearly 200 years ago, there have been relatively few big technological landmarks that have completely revolutionised the industry.

Nikon F

The Nikon F from 1959 looks and operates like modern DSLRs (photo: Jeff Dean/Wikipedia)

Sure the development of colour photography around the turn of the 20th century, the invention of colour Polaroid film in the 1960′s, and the launch of the first autofocus SLR from Minolta in 1985 all seemed like big advances at the time, but the core concept of light entering a camera through a lens and causing a chemical reaction on a piece of film hasn’t changed.

Even with development of digital cameras since the 1990′s, the basic operation and optical technology has remained similar.

Of course the technology has become much more refined over time, but every photograph you take now is still subject to the same variables as we’ve known for decades; shutter speed, aperture, and either the film speed or sensitivity of a digital image sensor.

So what can a Lytro camera do that an ordinary DSLR can’t?

The most striking thing that this technology allows is for you to shoot first and focus later. Wow.

That’s the big sell for this camera, but it has other implications beyond the ability to recover images that you didn’t quite focus properly:

  • ‘Shoot first, focus later’ means that you can take shots straight away without waiting for the camera to autofocus.
  • This thing is fast, and not just because of instant-on and lack of focusing. The technology needs less light than a typical CMOS or CCD sensor, so shutter speeds can be kept faster.
  • Living pictures.  This is pretty cool – the software Lytro have developed to compliment the hardware allows you to manipulate your images and share editable ‘living’ images with others.  Check out the example below.
  • The ability to take one shot and then show it as either a 2D or 3D image.



What is Lytro, and why is it important?

The Lytro is a type of light field camera, which isn’t strictly speaking a completely new technology, but up until now it’s required such enormous processing power that it’s never bothered even the professional let alone consumer markets.

The technology involved in light field cameras is frighteningly complicated, but the key is that it they use a digital image sensor which is capable of capturing more than just flat two dimensional light information.

If you use a DSLR and are familiar with the extra freedom that editing RAW files allows, you can think of the files a Lytro records as being like RAW files on crack.

Where can I get one and how much will it cost?

The short answer is that we don’t know, sorry!  The slightly longer answer is that when the Lytro camera launches later this year it will be aimed at the consumer market and has been described by the company as ‘competitively priced’.

Gadget bloggers Gizmodo have speculated that the Lytro ‘could cost less that $500′, though we don’t know whether that’s based on any real insight or just a shot in the dark.

You can stick your name down on a list to be notified when the Lytro is available (and find out a load more about the technology inside this device) at their website, http://www.lytro.com.

 

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