The long waited, revolutionary Lytro camera is finally out. Personally, I think this product is excellent and even beyond my imagination, it is kind of magical.
The reason I regard Lytro is a successful product, comes from threefold: the cool application, the simple design and the right price.
The cool application
Actually, Lytro is not the only one focus-free camera that developed, go through each year’s SIGGRAPH, you can always find some similar paper related that results the similar effects. For example, coded aperture can do the similar trick, MIT also have some all-round-in computational photography cameras. However, Lytro, the light filed camera stands out for a reason.
Although there are many classification methods for computational-photography cameras, there is always one secret while classical classification: whether they fully utilize the light come into the camera. Anything related to a specially designed aperture, or natural dense filter or similar filter involved will block some lights go through the lens. That results much longer exposure time, or lower quality with noise as trade-offs. Light efficiency is very important in the industry, that is why several years later, we still find a HDR camera paper published in SIGGRAPH 2010 [ref]. And by using micro-lens rather than light blockers, Ng’s light field camera falls into the glory “light efficient” category.
More over, the demo application is so cool. Even several years after his paper published, out-of-focus is still a problematic issue for some cases, especially when you want a shallow depth of field. The online demo is very intuitive and directly express the advantage, or at least the fun of this new technology.
The simple design
The key job for Lytro camera is to make photography simple, with out additional focus adjustment. There even no adjustable aperture, since all those things can be done after the photo has been taken. Like the fun application, taking picture of Lytro is very easy and fun, just snap it, that is it.
The more important thing behind the simple design is that, they find the right market target. This is a commercial product, just light another point-and-shot camera. Shooting with it is only a fun hobby, not for serious photographers. Why this market? They may say that: causal photographers tends to free themselves from focusing and they like cool stuffs, like the re-focus demo. That is partially right. Pro-photographers can handle the focusing quite efficiently and they often don’t need the re-focusing.
But, when you think in deep, if the refocuse feature comes for free, why not using it. Actually, light field camera have very limited spatial resolutions for the final generated image. Although it has a 1.1Megapixel sensor, because the light field has much more data need to be captured, the actual image generated should be much smaller, say 1500×1500 for re-focused results (this is simply based on my guess, things my vary). It is far away form enough for pro-photographer compare to monsters such as Canon 1DX (even my poor 60D got a 5184×3456 resolution) However, for consumer, the resolution is not that a big deal, the application is cool, the design is sexy, it done right.
The right price
The right market leads the right price, no one wants to pay over a thousand bucks on a cool high-tech toy, the 399$/499$ price range just fits everyone line. For just that price you can buy a “next-generation” camera, with cool features and the design looks really good, it really a good deal. For gadget fans, show-off guys this is right for you. This price really make computational photography into everybody’s life.
I didn’t mention too much down side of it, because it is cool, for cool stuffs people can always forgive minor drawbacks such as lacking windows supports….(windows guys are not cool, lets meet Apple fans only 🙂 )
My deep respect to Ng Ren
I really admire and respect Ng, not only for his great research in light field camera and PRT as well. He really has a big vision for computational photography and he managed to made it. I believe the Lytro camera can really spread the power of latest graphics technologies and ignite a new revolution. Good luck for Ng and his all-star team.
One more thing
Let’s wait the video Lytro rock our life. I’m not sure whether they will release a video version of this (I heard from a interview of Ng that they are planning on this). Never the less the video re-focusing will definitely shock the industry. Focusing for video is much much harder than for stilled photo, not even talk about the smooth focus transitions. It really frustrating and experience-intensive job for handling video focusing. On the other hands, video often come 1080p, that is enough, and I think this is not impossible for Nytro to achieve that.
So when the Lytro Video comes out, we can expect another huge succcess for them.