Lytro says they will be building a camera that uses “light field photography” to produce amazing advances in digital camera imaging. It’s a long way between an announcement and a useful point-and-shoot digital camera, but based on what I’ve read so far, this looks very promising.
Here’s a quick video from their YouTube channel that demonstrates the feature
The theory behind light-field photography has been around for a while. For example, this paper in 2005 from Stanford: “Light Field Photography with a Hand-Held Plenoptic Camera” (direct link to the PDF here).
The first core difference from a normal digital photograph is that a microlens array between the main lens and the photosensor. Below is an illustration from the paper, explaining the conceptual physical arrangement.
An image passing through the microlens array is transformed as shown below as it hits the photosensor. And this reveals the second big difference from normal digital photography: the software to reconstruct a desired image once it has passed through the microlens array.
So What’s the benefit?
First, You don’t have to worry about the time and effort to focus when taking the picture. The software can reconstruct a version of the image you want with the focus exactly where you want it afterward.
See this example from the paper mentioned earlier.
The Lytro FAQ also claims that you’ll see that this approach works much better for low-light environments, but I haven’t seen an example demonstrated that clearly.
To experience what Lytro claims to be able to offer, check out their image gallery: http://www.lytro.com/picture_gallery
It’s hard to tell if the gallery is actually reconstructing the image or just demonstrating how it might appear to a user, but you will at least get a sense of what is possible.
- Hard to tell how affordable and good this technology will be without a camera in hand
- The examples on the Lytro gallery aren’t especially sharp in the focused areas – I wonder if this is just due to how the photos were prepared for the site, or due to some inherent quality limitations in the light-field approach