Most Wanted: Lytro Il­lum

Light-field tech­nol­ogy’s fo­cus-switch­ing tricks get a brand new DSLR-shaped bag

Australian T3 - - CONTENTS -

The orig­i­nal Lytro cam­era MAY have looked like a toy kalei­do­scope, but the iconic 2012 cre­ation of Ren Ng, a PHD stu­dent at Stan­ford Univer­sity, was noth­ing short of a tech­no­log­i­cal marvel, let­ting you shift the fo­cus of a pho­to­graph quick-smart af­ter you’d taken it.

Now, with both Sam­sung and HTC in­te­grat­ing sim­i­lar tech into their lat­est flag­ship phones, the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion has ar­rived. But with the Il­lum, Lytro puts away child­ish things, sport­ing a DSLR-like build train­ing its sight on the cam­era main­stream.

In­side is a 40-mega-ray “light-field” sen­sor that records not just the colour and in­ten­sity of the 40 mil­lion rays of light hit­ting it, but also their di­rec­tion, map­ping the whole pic­ture of what your eye can see, ready for ma­nip­u­la­tion (see Fo­cus box, right, for full run­down).

Once the sen­sor’s re­ceived all of the info, you’re then able to tweak the fo­cus, tilt the im­age, add a per­spec­tive shift or change the depth of field. Fluffed a shot? Not to worry, you can now fix it en­tirely in “post” us­ing the four-inch tilt­ing LCD touch­screen.

In the not-too-dis­tant past you would have re­quired a su­per­com­puter and a few hun­dred cam­eras to gather this level of info, but Lytro has shrunk that process down to a fu­tur­is­tic-look­ing slanted mag­ne­sium body and alu­minium zoom lens, all weigh­ing just 960g.

The adop­tion of se­ri­ous cam­era chops doesn’t end at Il­lum’s chas­sis, ei­ther. The US startup firm has packed it with an 8x op­ti­cal zoom, con­stant f/2.0 aper­ture for beck­on­ing in plenty of light, and a high speed shut­ter that lets you cap­ture ac­tion shots with the same ac­cu­racy.

Atop the cam­era is a hot­shoe that works with stan­dard flashes, as well as two ad­justable di­als for tweak­ing ex­po­sure and ISO set­tings. There’s built-in Wi-Fi for send­ing pics straight to Face­book, Twit­ter and the like, but no video cap­ture; the Il­lum is purely about the stills.

The cam­era’s raw snaps are com­pat­i­ble with most photo-edit­ing pro­grams, such as Adobe Pho­to­shop, Light­room and Aper­ture, and there’s also a free com­pan­ion Lytro app for iOS. The lat­ter uses your iPad or iPhone’s gy­ro­scope to pro­duce a par­al­lax, 3D-like ef­fect, a tilt of your de­vice shift­ing the per­spec­tive. It’s a gim­mick, sure, but the best way to show off tech vis­ually on your phone since down­ing a glass of iPint.

Whether the Il­lum can claim a stake in a field dom­i­nated by ti­tans like Canon and Nikon re­mains to be seen. With a US$1500 price tag and no video mode, we cer­tainly doubt it in the short term. Lytro is yet to com­ment on whether it will li­cence its tech to other cam­era mak­ers in the fu­ture, but with the One M8 and Galaxy S5 phones al­ready mim­ick­ing its ef­fects, fo­cus-shift­ing clearly has a bright fu­ture. US$1,499, lytro.com, out July

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