Picture Now, Focus Later? Meet the Lytro Light Field Camera!

You ever had The Most Perfect Shot Ever lined up -- one of those unrepeatable moments like a 30-ton whale exploding skyward from the sea, a plane banking overhead, the President driving by in his motorcade -- only to totally biff it when it came to the focus?  Maybe you had your camera on manual mode when you thought it was in auto.  Maybe auto focus took too dang long to find your subject.  Or maybe you ever-so-slightly tweaked your focus ring at the last second.  Regardless, the outcome was another jpg for the delete file.

How much would you pay to make sure that never happened again?  And would you call me a Snake Oil Salesmen if I told you later this year a potentially revolutionary new kind of digital camera was going to debut?

In fact, one such camera was announced yesterday from Lytro, a Bay Area start-up company.  Designed by Stanford PhD program graduate, Dr. Ren Ng, it's called a Light Field Camera.

What's a Light Field Camera? 

A camera that records Light Fields, of course.

Well, duh, but what's that?  

As defined by Lytro, it's "the amount of light traveling in every direction through every point in space - it's all the light rays in a scene."  See here:
light-fields.jpg
Think of it like this.  The only reason human beings see anything is because light first bounces off an object. What we're actually seeing is a reflection of that light.  All of the light bouncing off everything through this camera's viewfinder is a Light Field.

This Light Field Camera captures all of this information, including "color, intensity and vector direction of the rays of light".  The captured Light Field is then routed through powerful processing software to create what Ng calls a "Living Picture."  Meaning, a new kind of picture where you can "focus pictures after they're snapped, shift their perspective of the scene, and even switch seamlessly between 2D and 3D views."

There's no pricing information available as yet, but word on the street is that the Lytro Light Field Camera should be available by year's end.  It sounds like a super-promising camera / toy, but we'll have to see how thing develop (and of course, we'll try to get you a soon-as-possible Steve's Review).  I know all the scientific terms above can seem a little confusing, so here's some examples of what the finished product (a Living Picture) will be like.  Click around on these samples (more available here) to adjust focus as you see fit (my favorite is the first one...click each of the numbers to see the focus jump between them all):



Source: Lytro