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Lytro cameras are ready for preorder. (lytro.com)
207 points by sahillavingia on Oct 19, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 94 comments

Hmm, they don't mention image size on the details page. So lets guess at it ourselves.

The viewable area of the flash widget is 540x540. You can zoom in 2x. There's plenty of sensor artefacting at that zoom, (even in these carefully chosen press-kit photos, which is worrying) so lets assume it's 1:1... which makes the image size 1080x1080. 1.16 megapixels, for $400? Ouch. For that much money, two ounces more weight, and a much more conventional form factor, you can get a DMC-LX5, which is probably the best single-lens digital camera on the market. (Full disclosure: I bought a LX3 with my own money back in 2009)

Poking around with Chrome's network tools will tell you that the LFP file is between 900 and 1100 kilobytes, about four times bigger than a JPEG of the same dimensions.

No you're totally missing the point. This is holographic photography. Capturing the entire light field means this captures depth. I'm surprised they're not touting this on the web site -- there are already 3D displays. Perhaps they don't have the processing technology yet?

Edit: Yup here it is: http://blog.lytro.com/news/it-gets-better-lytro-3d-demo/ They can do more though; with a proper holographic display you could actually focus on different parts of the image (with your eyes) and "see around" objects to a limited extent. (Their field-of-view-to-depth-of-field ratio is limited by the size of the lens though.)

> This is holographic photography. Capturing the entire light field means this captures depth.

So can we reconstruct 3D image data if Lytro record some kind of RAW data?

Yes! They do in the demo I linked in my edit.

If you examine the .lfp file, it shows that it stores a set of 1080x1080 JPEGs representing different images planes in the light field along with their depths. There is also a 25x25 look up table of the depth levels of the image, presumably to enable a UI in which the user clicks on a portion of the image and the nearest JPEG plane is displayed. Note that some of the older images in their gallery are at lower resolutions like 831x831.

This is just their fairly simple compressed format for web display. I imagine the camera itself is storing much more interesting information in its ~20 megabyte files, though perhaps also ultimately for 1080x1080 2D display.

actually the LFP file will be around 20 megabytes on the camera. After processing and encoding it'll probably be much smaller, since it can throw away garbage data and redundant image slices. But megapixels aren't really the right metric anyway.

And the LX5 is good but for my money I'd want a P5000 or XZ-1.

FWIW I have an XZ-1 and it's the single greatest (compact) camera I've ever owned. I can't talk highly enough of it. I sold my 50D w/ 24-105mm f4/L to trade down to something I can daily-carry and while it obviously doesn't completely compete with the SLR, it hasn't left me "wanting" at all.

The XZ-1 looks good, but there's no viewfinder. As a DSLR user who looks to switch to a smaller camera, I'm just not going back to the camera-at-arm's-length-to-view-the-back-LCD thing to take my photos.

The Fuji X100 is the only large-sensor prosumer camera that has a built-in viewfinder (attachable viewfinder is out of the question as it doesn't give you a true enough preview), and so it's the only one I'd be willing to switch to. Come to think of it, the new Sony NEX-5N has an electronic viewfinder that might work, actually.

The XZ-1 has an optional electronic viewfinder as well.

An attachable electronic viewfinder might work, but then you can't use an external flash together with the viewfinder. Plus, it's just one more accessory you have to buy and carry around with you. Pretty stupid.

The german Raytrix lightfield cameras* have ~1/4 effective resolution. If the Lytro is comparable, then its "11 Megarays" could mean about 2.75 Megapixel.

* http://www.raytrix.de/index.php/RX_en.html

I'm pretty surprised that they don't have a "play with the focus" widget on the homepage. It took me too many clicks to find out why I needed this camera.

If you click on the images found on the linked page, they refocus.

The messaging is definitely lacking. My first reaction was why are all the images in the gallery out of focus.

This is quite amazing.

Probably because it takes too long to load the images.

For those who didn't find it right away: https://www.lytro.com/living-pictures

Fun times. Too bad the science requires a deep back... would be awesome to have this technology in your cellphone... hopefully we're just a few years away. Technology is amazing.

It doesn't. I've seen it in a normal camera form-factor. It does require a larger sensor, though.

A normal camera is much deeper than a cellphone. At least one I'd like to carry with me ;-)

Nokia once had a cellphone with the camera on the side, mounted in the clamshell hinge. With smaller lenses it could be a side-facing camera.

Are you talking about the Nokia N93? A friend of mine had it. It was the only cell phone I'd seen with optical zoom.

It's most probably the only one where an optical zoom would fit. A quite ingenious solution. A periscope-like mount would also be viable for cellphones - it would still be at least twice as large as a common camera, but it wouldn't be much deeper.

I think focusing (pardon the pun) on the "focus later" feature is limiting, for a lot of people this doesn't matter and it rubs many photographers the wrong way, as seen from the comments. Rather, I think they should emphasize that this is a new way of taking pictures, you may decide to have different focus planes on different parts of the photo, which may lead to interesting new effects in photography. It also has many scientific applications.

No question, the technology is more impressive than the product. Most people don't need more than the camera in an iPhone 4S.

I think this lightfield tech might have a lot more applications for video, where focus can be troublesome due to movement.

Very curious what the final output resolution will be. Sure it is fun to be able to not have to deal with focusing until you are back home "developing" the images, but if the final output is 3mp, after you develop you are still left with an image too low-resolution for anything but screen display. In the words of Brian Peterson (Understanding Exposure) for any particular scene there may be many "correct" exposures, but only one creatively interesting exposure. Likewise, in their image gallery there is generally a single focus point that makes the most creatively interesting image, so after you've chosen that point at home, you are still looking at a very low-res image.

Of course, for shooting in the wild, some of their shots would just never ever get taken correctly by an autofocus system and would disappear before even a pro managed to manually focus. And many of us never print a single photo today, so being stuck with a beautiful 3mp image may be enough. They have a stunning image in the gallery of a woman standing outside of a shop, taken through the shop glass. https://www.lytro.com/living-pictures/152 Imagine if she was walking by, not just posing. You would never have time to capture it if you were using a traditional camera.

>for any particular scene there may be many "correct" exposures, but only one creatively interesting exposure //

If there are multiple points of interest then there are surely going to be multiple points of focus that are interesting either because they focus or because they defocus the point of interest.

Take the rocket behind a water fountain image. I think it works well both as is and as a water fountain in front of a rocket.

Can someone offer some serious comments on whether these are worth buying? They look really cool and I would buy one but I am concerned about how they operate and how big the pictures are?

I presume it takes hundreds of smaller pictures and merges it into one picture, allowing you to zoom anywhere after the event but that makes me wonder on the end quality of the picture?

I have been following these cameras since they were demonstrated on their site earlier this year and got a bit excited then.

No, not hundreds of smaller pictures.

A photosensor is (roughly speaking) sensitive only to the intensity of light falling on it, and not the angle the light comes from. A plenoptic camera (this is what Lytro are selling) trades off resolution against the ability to discriminate between angles.

Take an ordinary camera sensor, with (let's say) 16MP in a 4000x4000 array. Group them into (let's say) 8x8 blocks, of which there are 500x500. Now put a little lens in front of each block, with focal length equal to the distance from lens to sensor.

A light ray reaching one of those blocks will end up on one of the block's pixels; which ray depends on (not the exact position at which the ray meets the array of lenses, but) the angle at which it's travelling.

Now, imagine an image that's not quite focused correctly on the camera sensor. What that means is that for each point of the object you're imaging, you get a cone of light rays that are converging towards some point either in front of the sensor or behind it. With an ordinary camera, that just gives you a circular blur and you're screwed. With a plenoptic camera, you can tell what angle the light in that circular blur was coming in at, which means you can determine where it would have gone if the sensor had been further back or further forward, which means you can reconstruct what you'd have got if the focus had been different. (What if it is focused perfectly? Well, you still get to know the distribution of angles from which the light is reaching the sensor, which means you can work out how the image would have been blurred out with a different focus.)

The main price you pay for all this is a severe loss of resolution: your output "pixels" are the blocks of pixels on the sensor. So the physical size and noise level of the sensor, and the size of your raw image files, are those of (in my example) a 16MP sensor, while the final image is (in my example) only 1/4 MP.

Well, hundreds of INTERLEAVED pictures, sorta.

This explains how it works in a bit more viceral way: http://graphics.stanford.edu/papers/lfcamera/

So would you say this is more of a gadget camera rather than an everyday use camera? I have just paid out for a pretty decent point and shoot, would I replace it with one of these camera's or opt to use both?

I do love the concept of them but if all I am ever going to get out of them is a 6x4" pic to print at the end of the day then it's only really useful for "playing" with?

I can't see a Lytro camera replacing a "pretty decent point-and-shoot"; they're very different.

The post-hoc refocusing feature is neat but I can't think of many practical or artistic purposes for which it would actually be more useful than having way more pixels. But I'm not an expert photographer and could easily be wrong. One kind of situation in which it might be useful is where an object is moving rapidly towards or away from the camera, but not moving much laterally. Then the freedom not to worry about rapid and accurate focusing might be useful. As soon as your object is moving laterally too, though, the limited resolution is going to bite you: you've avoided having to locate the object accurately in z at the cost of needing to get x,y right, so to speak.

There may be non-gimmicky applications for which Lytro is The Right Thing. Right now, I can't think what they'd be. Depth measurement, perhaps.

Spatial resolution will increase at the same rate the process allows the sensor elements to shrink, so, in a couple years, a Lytro-like imaging sensor will have the same resolution as a top-of-the-line DSLR.

I think they are on to something

I'm not sure if I understand this concept correctly. Can you say that if they take 4 pixel blocks the depth of field interpolates over 4 pixels? So each screen-pixels has 4*4 corresponding sensor-pixels?

I really like their idea of a facebook app that lets my friends play with the focus. Stroke of marketing genius if you ask me.

I'm not sure I like this form factor in a camera (let alone one for new imaging). It's very prone to rotations, the screen size is too small for interactions/focus-views, the design is not all too appealing.

Still has the cool factor.

I think the form factor was by far the best design decision they made. Bringing one to a party will be a guaranteed conversation starter, vastly more so than if it took a traditional digicam format.

These things will stand out like an iPod in 2003.

It looks like the depth is due to the optics: https://www.lytro.com/science_inside

Yeah with a darker lens they could have gotten away with something shorter, but an F/2 with internal 8x zoom is going to be pretty big no matter what.

I agree, this form factor seems really hard to hold. Why not go with a more traditional Point and Shoot form factor?

If they put a touch sensitive screen on the back you could even re-focus on the fly!

Or put a pistol grip on it. Something to hold on to. To orientate. To grip, balance, aim.

That ... might not work well for putting photographic subjects at their ease. Or for casual street photography without getting arrested.

Perhaps not on the grey one, but the other two are blazed hues of anodized aluminum.

Sure, it makes the thing look like a gun. But there's a reason guns have pistol grips. They work well for the intended application. They're functional.

Without any kind of grip, this thing is an awkward tube that takes pictures. Perhaps it could work as a spyglass, but because of the touch screen you can't raise it directly to your eye. So you have to fumble it between two hands trying to aim and shoot. Have you ever tried to point a 10ft. pole at something with just two hands? It's very difficult. I'm envisioning the same difficulty trying to take a picture with any level of zoom on this thing.

Note that it does have the shutter button on top, so that should help the user orient it correctly.

Also I don't think a big screen is that necessary on a camera like this, it's uses seem pretty minimal, it's essentially only used as a viewfinder as any other adjustments to the image—focus included—are done in software.

* now for preorder. Delivering on revolutionary hardware is often harder than expected. I really want to buy one, but am hesitant to put down full price without something shipped on a new company.

I just ordered one. They say they won't charge my credit card until it's ready to ship.

I think this is great, but I wrote up my reservations about the system here, if a little self-linkage isn't frowned upon:


I can't wait to actually use one, though. From what I've heard, it's something photographers who love the old methods (like myself) sort of "get" once they've used it for a while. And of course it can live in peace alongside the Canons and Sonys of the world.

>To start with, a large portion of the photography process has been removed — and not simply a technical part, but a creative part. There’s a reason focus is called focus and not something like “optical optimum” or “sharpness.” Focus is about making a decision as a photographer about what you’re taking a picture of. It’s clear that Ng is not of the same opinion: he describes focusing as “a chore,” and believes removing it simplifies the process.

You really seemed to miss the point here. The Lytro camera captures all possible focus settings, allowing the photographer to choose one later...or combine multiple settings together in a single image. This isn't the machine taking over the photographer's job, it's the machine increasing the choices available to the photographer. Similarly, you might not like images which have been heavily dodged/burned, but it certainly was a victory for artists when that technique was developed, allowing them to choose differing levels of exposure in the same image.

> The Lytro camera captures all possible focus settings.

There's a reason photographers prefer certain lenses for sharpness, which can be measured in lp/mm and I wonder how the Lytro compares there. The f/2 glass is probably decent for portraits and exhibits high levels of diffraction when shooting landscape images at f/22. If light field photography solves these problems then that would be very interesting to me. For $399 and shooting at 3-4 megapixels now, it will be a few years before this reaches the 18+ megapixel pro-am level and deals with pro-am criticism.

It seems you're always stuck with f/2, so there's no way to adjust the depth of field. That not only simplifies the process, it also takes away an important choice.

Physically, you're stuck at f/2 in the sense that that is the actual f-stop of the lens. The information exists to let you choose the focus and the depth of field of the desired display image after capturing the light field. This simplifies the capturing process, but allows for more complex post processing that is not possible with a normal camera.

Since you can focus at arbitrary points in the photo after the fact it should not be a huge stretch to make software that allows you to change the depth of field. Macro photographers already deal with this by using focus stacking.

No, we just differ on this point. As I said, "Focus is about making a decision as a photographer about what you’re taking a picture of." Lytro removes that decision.

It doesn't remove it, it just moves it to a later time, just like you do with white balance and exposure when shooting raw and then developing (with limitations, but I'm sure this has limitations too).

My thought here is that the finished work would always be a picture, not the fancy widget, otherwise the comparison would not even stand.

Well, but if the photographer passed the image along to the final human viewer in 'light field format', he would defer his artistic choices to that final human viewer.

Did you ever read mad magazine?

At the end of every issue there was a thing called a fold in - it was one image with one caption which, when folded in a certain way, created a new image with an entirely contrasting message.

Imagine an image which, depending on the focus, changes the mood and message completely. I'm sure they will emerge.

Right now the images on the site are mainly tech demos but in the hands of someone able to think outside the box I'm sure we will see some striking new art.

It's been a while since I read the paper, but IIRC, you are wrong about how the process works. First I'll define some terms: Image pixel: pixel in the final image Sensor pixel: actual pixel in the sensor

The microlens array bins several sensor pixels into single image pixels. Depending on the incident angle of the light on the microlens, the light will go to a different sensor pixel. This means you can adjust the aperture, as well as focus in post-processing, since a narrower aperture just means a pixel is illuminated by light from a narrower possible number of incident angles.

If I had a whiteboard, I'd draw you a diagram, but you sound like a knowledgeable photographer so you probably "get it" if not, just look at the ray-diagrams in the depth of field section of a photography book.

That's pretty much how I described it in the 6th paragraph. The aperture is still restricted, I believe (F/4 in the paper, F/2 in the production device), and the exposure is governed by sensitivity and exposure length. But I'm not entirely sure about it.

So is your concern that you can't go past f/2?



Was taken at f/3.2 so there is no reason you couldn't get this shot with a f/2 shot from a plenoptic camera with a 35mm lens and a APS-C sized sensor (you would actually have to use some of their software to increase the depth of field to get that picture).

Lytro doesn't give specs on the focal length or sensor size; I think we can assume it's probably closer to a point-and-shoot than an SLR, and everybody already knows it's hard to do shallow depth of field with a point-and-shoot, it's not anything specific to Lytro's camera. The majority of point-and-shoots have a fixed aperture (if you "stop-down" for outdoors shooting they just use an NDF filter).

If they come out with an pro-quality exchangable lens large-sensor plenoptic, you ought to be able to do the same sorts of things you can do with a pro-quality non-plenoptic camera, only you'll be able to do it e.g. with moving subjects that you otherwise would not be able to focus on with such a narrow depth of field (and as a sacrifice you would have many fewer pixels).

Is this compatible with Free Software, or is it a big chunk of proprietary software with a good amount of proprietary hardware thrown in for good measure? The site does not make this particularly clear.

According to their FAQ they do not plan to support Linux: http://support.lytro.com/entries/20552347-will-the-lytro-des...

So my guess is that this will be proprietary and limited to proprietary systems. (Which disappoints me, as I have a preorder code and my credit card ready to buy, but I'm not going to change OSes to use their camera.)

I'm tempted to get one of these simply to play around with the potential for 3d reconstruction based on the data in the images.

I think you need two lenses to get enough info for 3d. DXG has a cheapy if you just wanted to mess around. http://www.dxgusa.com/products/dxg-3d.html

Nope, not at all. This is in essence digital holography.

(In holography, each "pixel" captures along the 3rd dimension of angle of incidence. The image is reconstructed simply by each pixel reflecting/emanating light as a function of its angle of incidence.)

Thanks for making me waste an hour of my time reading about digital holography ;) Pretty cool.

3d is one of the claimed features of the Lytro: http://blog.lytro.com/news/it-gets-better-lytro-3d-demo/

oh very cool.

You need a Mac to use it. Meh.

And they only ship to the US. Meh.

Sweet! I find it amusing that products are starting to come onto the market that initially support Mac and not Windows...how the tables turn :)

Their "Living Pictures" messaging doesn't resonate with me - letting viewers set the focus themselves strikes me as an interesting tech display the first two times, and then nobody will bother. Especially if there's a massive download associated with that ability.

However, letting the photographer set the focus post-facto, "print" that image into a jpeg, and finally share that jpeg in the standard fashion ... that seems like the real benefit ("take a picture super fast, and get it right later!").

Lytro alludes to this benefit, but they talk about "getting it right later" in the context of the end audience interacting with the Living Picture (TM) ... which I think is a gimmick that the audience will tire of. But the original photographer will love it for the generation of final product (once the resolution issue is solved), by moving the fiddly "get the focus etc right" effort from "in the moment, time-sensitive" to "post-production, leisurely".

Super interested, but had to sign up for the 'let me know when it's for Windows' option.

the tech is great & the product is very cool, no arguments.

as a a photographer myself, i'm wondering why people actually buy this though? how many photos do people take that they wish they could refocus later?

Focus on the entire picture, no. Zoom in on (and then inevitably have to focus), yes. So I guess it depends on the density of capture for me, at least.

I think I can see a big market in that old technology early adopter, the porn market.

People with toddlers? A lot! :)

I think it's only going to be useful after the technology fits into a mobile phone camera.

There's a big disadvantage in having to carry an extra device.

it depends on what you're planning to do with the picture. For example, if you're a designer working with a stock photo, the ability to refocus based on the context where you plan to use the picture could be huge.

Pretty amazing; I had no idea these cameras were so close to being cheaply produced.

I hope they make lightfield data available for tinkering -- this could be an awesome research toy.

For more technical details, check out the CEO's PhD dissertation:


I remember reading this and seeing the demos 5 long years ago, thinking "Coooool... hope it's not vaporware."

If he actually gets this to market, I imagine it won't be too long before it, or similar tech, is available in high end dslrs and video cameras. This is going to be freakin revolutionary and so, so, so cool.

Kudos, Ren Ng, and thanks! Hope you get real rich off this.

There is a diagram in page 163, describing 22 lenses, that should feel at home in any Edward Tufte book. If I understood it properly, every optical diagram is computer generated from lens parameters. This dissertation is indeed very beautiful.

As a side note, I really like the layout, fonts and colors of the site. This thesis paper is one of the best formatted PDFs I've seen too. Bookmarked just for this.

I remember that these cameras could make the whole picture to be in focus. I think 3-d movie makers should start using similar technology because it's kind of weird when you're watching a 3-d movie with the glasses and the background is blurred even if you're looking right at it.

The curse of not living in The United States raises it head again. I would gladly lay cash down today for the preorder.

If it hurts, then solve it - startup idea: In Japan there is a company called tenso.com that will ship to anywhere so you can buy products for the Japanese market and have them shipped to your local tenso Japanese address. They box it up and forward to you where ever you are - for a nice fee. Not sure if this exists here in the US, but maybe you should create it if there is a market.

There's are a number of services in the US for shipping US products overseas such as http://www.shipito.com/

These guys (a guy and a gal) will send it to you. http://wesendtoyou.com/

I think they will receive your Amazon package, for example, unpack‡, and repackage and relabel to your JP address.

‡I think that's to ensure nothing banned by the destination country gets sent (and get the shipper in trouble). Anyhow, buyer beware.

I felt kind of nostalgic about the form factor - it reminds me of my Canon Photura.

I think I like the Photura form better. Looks like it is designed to be held by human hands, instead of to be sat on the table and looked at itself.

It was a great point-and-shoot camera. It was nearly impossible to ruin a picture (and, mind you, those were the chemical film days).

And it looked something straight out of a sci-fi movie.

I HATE when a website tries to prevent me from leaving with the back button.

I'm a control freak. I hate to have people manipulating my images. This is a cute toy, but it eliminates a bit of what makes taking photos fun for me.

Seems to me you could take the pictures, poke at them later yourself to get the right focus and depth of field, then save that as a regular JPEG for distribution.

You look at it wrong. Nothing manipulates anything here. It’s a different technology with different properties.

I just phrased it poorly. I understand the ramifications. The widgets are nifty (and just a way to demo the tech), but I take photos very intentionally. I just my aperture settings specifically based on a given situation. I shoot on M (with a manual focus lens for the most part) because I enjoy doing so.

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