Lytro recently announced the Illum. This camera features a 30-250mm zoom lens, 4 inch touch screen and a stunning design. It offers much more functionality than Lytro’s first generation camera which in many ways now seems like a proof of concept design.
Lytro First Generation
The New Lytro Illum
Rethinking Camera Sensors
The Lytro cameras are unique. In addition to collection light and color information they are able to capture the direction of the light- or ‘lightfield’ as they have termed it. This allows the user to refocus the image after they have taken it. The effect is really quite stunning and Lytro highlights this with a proprietary image player that allows viewers to explore the image by refocusing the image as they wish.
This technology is exciting and I think could seriously change the way photographers work. Here are three techniques based on this technology that I think might become commonplace.
1.) Image masking by distance
Traditional image masking(or green screening) is done by painstakingly selecting a color area to remove from the final image. This becomes even more difficult(sometimes impossible) when dealing with flyaway hairs or a shallow depth of focus where part of the subject is blurred- blending in even more with what is behind it. If the lightfield can detect the light direction and focus selectively based on that- it may be possible for editing software to use that information to create a mask based on distance. For example it would be incredibly useful for me when retouching headshots as I often tweak the backdrops to some degree. In theory masking would be as easy as setting a distance to mask out(ei: anything beyond 5 feet).
2.)Focus stacking a single image
Focus stacking is a wonderful technique used to great effect in macro photography. In a nutshell, the photographer takes many images at very slight distance intervals moving the plane of focus each time. Then via software these images are put together using only the parts that are in razor focus- creating a shot that would otherwise be impossible. The effect is also often used in product photography. This effect is nearly impossible to achieve with moving subjects(like headshots!) because the subject moves slightly between each shot. This could also allow a greater depth of field when a small aperture is not possible(low light photography for example).
3.) Pulling focus in post
Lytro does not offer any video modes- but they have said that in theory this is possible and it is just a matter of time before computing power will allow them to capture videos will enough lightfield information to change focus in post. This has huge implications and could make shooting video much cheaper. Manual focus pulling systems are wildly expensive and also require a huge amount of skill to operate correctly. If pulling focus could be moved entirely to post work via a software solution- that would have huge implications in film making an also might allow camera and focus moves that simply are not possible via manual focus pulling.
The original Lytro camera did not see mass appeal and I’m not sure this camera will either(though this is a HUGE step in the right direction). But it seems clear that this technology is incredible powerful and as it improves it will become just another tool that photographers rely on to create even better images.