Missing a perfect photo opportunity thanks to a bungled manual focus--or a sluggish autofocus--really smarts. We’re often left with a blurry reminder of what could have been a fantastic photograph, if only we’d been faster on the dial or had smarter camera software helping us out. A young camera startup called Lytro aims to remove that problem from picture-taking forever with what it calls the biggest change in photography since the advent of digital.
It’s pretty simple, really: no focusing. Ever. Snap off a hundred blurry pictures with no regard for focus, then adjust them later through software. The key lies in a new kind of camera sensor that captures more light than today’s cameras.
Lytro’s sensor differs from the norm by recording the light field, all the rays of light passing through any specific point at any given time. As Lytro’s site explains, a typical camera adds up all those light rays and creates a single light source. Lytro’s sensor actually takes directional information into account, capturing “color, intensity and vector direction of the rays of light.”
Thanks to that innovation, Lytro’s cameras work in low light conditions and can create 3D images. This technology has actually been around since the 1990s, and Lytro’s CEO and founder Ren Ng worked on it as a Stanford student in the 2000s. Until Ng founded Lytro to commercialize light field photography, it took a supercomputer rig with an array of 100 cameras to properly capture a field of light.
Lytro has developed an array of miniature lenses that sit between the primary camera lens and the image sensor. The small lenses measure the incoming light and its direction, resulting in a light field image. Photographers will mostly care about the accompanying software, which uses algorithms to understand all of that light field data. Picture focus can be adjusted in software to create the right image for the right situation. Instead of meticulously setting up a shot to get that perfect bokeh, photographers can adjust a photo after the fact to be entirely in focus or subtly blurred.
Instead of licensing out the light field sensor technology to the likes of Kodak and Canon, Lytro’s decided to go into business for itself. The company has built up $50 million in funding and plans to release its own camera before the end of the year. Lytro’s price may not be within reach of the average point-and-shoot camera buyer, but if the technology works as well as they claim, light field photography truly could be a revolution.
Check out Lytro’s living pictures for a simplified example of what’s to come.