The most significant technical advance in photography since “digital” is only a few months away. Lytro is now taking orders for a new and innovative consumer camera called a light field camera priced at $399. Instead of capturing images with a single plane of light (traditional cameras), these new cameras capture the entire light field. That means all of the light traveling in every direction through every point in space – specifically 11 million rays of light data.
OK, so what does this mean to a photographer? By substituting powerful software for many of the internal parts of regular cameras, light field processing introduces new capabilities that were never before possible. By incorporating sophisticated algorithms, light field cameras allow both the picture taker and the viewer to focus pictures after they’re snapped, shift their perspective of the scene, and even switch seamlessly between 2D and 3D views.
The best way to get your head around this concept is to play with some photographs taken with the Lytro camera. Try shifting the focus point in the images below by clicking your mouse over the area of the image that you want to be in sharp focus. It’s pretty cool, try it.
Now before you dismiss this camera as a mere gimmick for point and shoot amateur photographers who can’t focus, think about all of the ramifications when this technology migrates into the professional world. If this becomes a dominant tool in video production, focus pulling will no longer be necessary – sorry AC’s!
Like other production aspects, the focus point in a scene will be determined later in post-production by the director or editor. I’m sure that when that day comes, there will be a period of time when excessive focus racks will be all the rage. However, in artistically appropriate hands, the ability to subtly direct a viewer’s focus will become an improved tool for storytelling. It is also likely that 3D video capture and presentation will be greatly improved using this technology – assuming of course that interest in 3D films continues.
It may actually take a while before light field technology reaches professional level still or video cameras. The current Lytro camera is not very high resolution and it’s already taken a lot of R&D to perfect and manufacture the current light field sensor. There will also need to be additional advances in processing and storage in order to manipulate the huge amounts of data needed to capture and save the entire light field in a video camera devise. But when that day arrives (no predictions – I’m not an engineer), we can look back to the launch of the Lytro $399 camera in early 2012. And in the mean time, it will be interesting to see how fast the public embraces this new photographic breakthrough.
Here’s a video that shows what the camera looks like and describes some of the easy to use features.