A Californian start-up called Lytro is planning on releasing a consumer camera later this year which it believes will be as radical a change in the market as going from film to digital was – and after seeing the evidence we would have to agree with them.
Lytro, founded by Ren Ng, will release the world’s first light field consumer camera later this year and is hoping it will revolutionise the way we take and view pictures. Regular digital cameras require you to manually focus first or wait for auto-focus to kick in before capturing a snapshot of light on the sensor. With the light field camera from Lytro however, it captures far more light data from many angles using a micro lens array, which basically puts many lenses in the space between the main lens and the image sensor. These microlenses measure the amount of light coming in and from which direction thus creating a light field. The real breakthrough Ng has achieved is to have condensed what was previously being done with an array of 100s of digital cameras and a supercomputer into a point-and-shoot camera. This was what Ng wrote his dissertation on as a PhD student at Stanford University eight years ago.
Once the pictures are taken and uploaded onto your PC, laptop, tablet or phone, special software will then allow you to manipulate the image to change the focus of the shot. This should ensure that you will never again miss that vital shot of your child’s football game no matter how fast they are going. Not only will it allow you to refocus the image afterwards, light field technology will allow for photos to be taken in very low light without a flash. Furthermore the single light field lens will allow you to take 3D images, though you’ll need a 3D display of some sort to view them. Lytro hopes to have a consumer camera ready for market later this year and Ng said: “It will be a competitively priced consumer product that fits in your pocket.” Lytro currently has around 45 employees and going into the camera manufacturing business is a big step. The first Lytro camera will only take still images though the possibility for using light field technology for video as well as scientific and medial imaging is there.
It is surprising that this technology has not been licensed out to the more established camera manufacturers – though this of course will remain a possibility.