Most Wanted: Lytro Illum
Light-field technology’s focus-switching tricks get a brand new DSLR-shaped bag
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