Imagine being able to shoot a picture in three dimensions using a camera costing €300. That’s what a light-field camera can do, and Lytro has produced the cheapest one yet. Using a microlens array, like a spider’s multiple eyes, the Lytro is able to capture light from numerous different angles, forming a composite image that sees the subject in enough microscopically varying angles to tell how far away it is.
To put it another way, this camera has depth vision. It knows how far away everything in the picture is and it can work all that out after you save the image. With this little gadget, you’ll never need to worry about getting your subject out of focus. After you put the pictures on your computer, you can select whatever part of the picture you want to be sharp, which I think is just great. Play with them here and see what you think.
Of course, not everyone agrees.
Some people take the view that refocussing is an unnecessary and nerdy activity. A camera should be designed so that everything is in focus, they say, but of course, that’s fine if all you want is holiday snaps. Many pictures benefit from a very narrow depth of field, pulling a subject into sharp focus against a blurred background, or vice versa. That’s why the likes of EDoF (Extended Depth of Field) lenses are great for general picture-taking, but won’t satisfy the needs of people who want to do a bit more with their images.
I’d probably bore most readers if I explained about the curvature of lenses and the reason why apertures are important to depth of field, so I won’t say anything more on the subject. Instead, I’ll say that light-field technology is bringing us back to an era when the gifted photographer was the one who could visualise a picture with no camera in his hand. The technology of photography became, in my opinion, a barrier to talented people and facilitated the rise of technicians, but before true photographic artists start to take offence, let me say this. There are many talented people working with cameras, and even a few artists, but none of these people need fancy gadgets to prove their gift.
I’m sure there were medieval scribes who became just as sniffy as modern professional photographers at the thought of the common man using a quill.
Therefore, anything that takes the complexity out of picture-taking is good with me. More artists, fewer geeks.
Admittedly, at this stage the Lytro pictures are still very small, but the technology is young. It’s still a bit clumsy, involving all sorts of secondary processing and it won’t appeal to the mass market yet, but it’s getting there. People shouldn’t have to put up with complications when taking pictures and at the moment, anyone who buys a Lytro will have to do exactly that until they iron out the glitches.
I won’t be getting one of these yet. At the moment, it’s strictly for the tech addict, but I can imagine owning one three, four or five years from now and who knows how it will have evolved by then? Maybe it will be capable of shooting video, maybe a microlens array will be standard issue in all high-end SLR cameras, or it could be dead and buried, overtaken by another technology.
Who can tell?