Lytro announces their new camera, the Lytro Illum.

New light-field camera allows you to select your focus later?  This Technology is crazy…

Lytro Lllum Camera-Open-Shut-SideThe Lytro Illum.  Is this where photography is headed?  The idea of shooting a photograph where everything, even focus and perspective, is left to the post production phase is some-what exciting and disconcerting.  As a DP its exciting for there to be a new approach to explore but at the same time so much of photography is in the lens and choices you make in the moment.  It seems to me that some of the romanticism that initially drew me to the world of photography and cinematography is lost with this technology but then again, that could be my own insecurities of not having had my hands on the technology and feeling somewhat defensive.  I don’t know, I guess I just need to get my hands on the camera and give it try out in the real world.

Computational Photography?

Lytro Lllum Camera-Ortho-TopHonestly, the phrase “computational photography” does not inspire me in the least.  Photography is an art.  Yes, there is science as well but the idea of photography becoming something “computational” makes a little part of me die inside but lets move beyond the debate of the science’s artistic merit.  Essentially, the Lytro Illum is a Light Field Camera that offers photographic capabilities never before possible, such as focusing a picture after in post, changing the perspective in the picture (basically 3D manipulation) and creating interactive living pictures that can be refocused by others online.  

What is Light-Field Photography?

Light-field photography (also known as plenoptic photography) captures the light in a scene coming from more than one direction.  It works by breaking up the main image with an array of micro-lenses over an image sensor.  The camera software then uses this data to determine the general directions of incoming light rays but retains the original data to be later manipulated in post, hence the ability to change focal point, camera perspective, etc.  Sounds very much like science fiction but it is a real camera that has been shipping in an early version from Lytro for the past 2 years. 

“If Camera 1.0 was film-based, and Camera 2.0 was the transition from film to digital, we’re at Camera 3.0. It’s about collecting very rich information about the world,” said Rosenthal. “We’re only just getting started. We can do much, much more in the future.”

The Lytro Illum Camera

Lytro Lllum Camera-Drop-in-ScreenThe Litro Illum has a 40 Megaray sensor (light-field cameras are measured in Megaray’s, not mega pixels). The camera has a 30-250mm lens with 8x optical zoom built in and a f/2.0 aperture.  The lens was designed to weigh half a pound to make the camera light and agile for the consumer market. The Illum features a 4″ LCD touchscreen, an overlay that shows the photographer the relative focus of all objects in the frame and which elements are re-focusable. The camera has an SD card slot but no internal storage and also features an external shutter release port, hot shoe, tripod mount, and removable battery.  It is clearly designed for the consumer and prosumer market but is intriguing enough to capture the curiosity of pros.  The camera will ship in July for $1599

Final Thoughts on the Lytro Illum

It’s not that this particular model of camera is intriguing as the traditional specs are somewhat lackluster but it’s really the possibilities of this technology in 5 or 6 years making its way into the professional realm that I am most intrigued by.  Yet, as DP’s and Cinematographers, we are already facing creative challenges with the ease of post manipulation being manhandled by producers and others who feel its their right to manipulate our images into any low quality representation of our work that they feel is adequate.  That was some of the beauty of film I guess, it was such a seemingly complicated image acquisition format that producers and clients were fearful of the medium and pretty much kept their hands off the images due to fear and inadequate technical knowledge.  As digital took over and the general learning curve leveled out and became integrated with system that were more common and accessible, the mystique of the “Film” process disappeared and suddenly the efforts of the photographer and cinematographer became more democratic.  That point is debatable as to whether or not its a good thing in the long run but I digress.  From a storyteller perspective, the idea of shaping the depth of field by a twist of a finger on a screen is amazing.  Being able to adjust the perspective by rotating my iPad slightly is also intriguing.  As this technology continues to evolve and as it starts to make it’s way in to motion picture formats as has been suggested, I’m excited by the possibilities even if I am at the same time hesitant about the though of it’s effect on the art and politics of photography/cinematography.  Having said that though, I’m looking to get my hands on one as soon as possible and give it a try.  The possibilities this presents could be the next serious evolution of our industry.

Lytro Illum Demonstration

Video by Venture Beat – Lytro Illum demonstration with Lytro Founder Dr. Ren Ng

For more information about the Lytro Illum:

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