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Lytro Camera

The camera that can change focus after you take the shot

By Megan Tung

Some of you may remember the Brownie camera that was released in 1900. If not here is a refresher: it is a simple cardboard-box film camera that you just had to point at the subject, click the shutter, and boom you had a picture! With this old camera the user did not have to worry about focusing the picture (because this camera had a fixed-focus lens). Nowadays, there is the digital version of the Brownie. With the Lytro Camera, you also don’t have to worry about the focus when taking a picture because the camera and its software allows the user to change what subject is in focus after taking the picture!

What is the Lytro Camera?

The Lytro Camera is a light-field camera that captures a two dimensional image of light as it enters the camera (exactly what a normal camera does) but then goes further by also capturing the direction the light was coming from. A normal camera has a lens, a sensor for recording the image, aperture to allow a certain amount of light in, and a shutter to time how long the sensor is exposed to light. A Lytro camera has all of those functions plus a microlens array between the sensor and the lens.

How the Lytro Camera works?

The microlens in the camera is what allows the user to change what is in focus after taking the picture. A microlens array is multiple smaller lenses that record more detailed information about the light entering the camera. Essentially, the microlens array captures light coming from different distances away from the camera, which allows for information to be stored that would allow the user to later change the focus on the picture. The microlens array diverts the light rays to different pixels on the CMOS sensor, which provides angular variation among the rays.
Lytro Camera
How the Lytro Camera captures the direction of light bouncing off the subject

Lytro Camera
Different perspectives the Lytro Camera would pick up

How do you change the focus after the picture is taken?

The images are taken in a file called LFP, also referred to as a "living picture". A LFP is a much larger file compared to a JPEG (about 16 megabytes compared to 30 kilobytes or smaller). With the Lytro Camera comes free access to a platform called Lytro Desktop, which allows users to store and edit the LFP images. Through this platform and file type, the user has the ability to change what subject is in focus. And if they share this image through the Lytro Web, anyone they share the picture with also has the ability to change what subject is in focus. However, you cannot share a living picture outside the Lytro Web platform. If you wanted to share the image beyond the Lytro Web, you would need to convert the picture into a JPEG, and it would have a set focus (unless you go back to the original LFP image). Click to see examples of living pictures.

Pros and Cons of the Lytro Camera

A major benefit of the Lytro Camera is the ability to change focus after the picture is taken. However, there are a decent amount of cons due to this camera being fairly new to the market. First, in order for the camera to gather so much data about the incoming light, the resolution of the final image is compromised. The original Lytro Camera has an 11 megaray sensor, while the newer Lytro Illum Camera has a 40 megaray sensor. The resolution of an image from the 40 megaray sensor is about 4MP. Just for some reference, the iPhone 7’s image resolution is 12MP.

Lytro Camera
Megapixel Comparison Chart (4MP: Lytro Illum Camera/12MP: iPhone 7 Camera)

Second, the LFP files are much larger than JPEGs because LFP files contain more information regarding the lighting. Third, everything in the image has to have similar lighting. If one subject is in bright, direct sunlight and another subject is in shade, then the different sun exposures could make it hard for the editing software to switch the focus between these two subjects. Finally, many reviews say that they wish the software for editing the LFP files was more updated and had more abilities than just adjusting the focus.

Is it worth it?

I am conflicted about whether the current version of the Lytro Illum Camera is worth the $469. I am incredibly interested in the camera's ability to change the focus after the picture is taken. There have been multiple times where I go out and shoot a series of pictures, then I get home to edit them and realize I should have focused on a different subject. However, most of the time if there are two interesting subjects in one frame of an image I will take two pictures (one with one subject in focus and the second with the other subject in focus). As a college student trying to save her money, I personally would not buy this camera, yet. At this point the Lytro Camera seems like more of a novelty than an artistic tool, but with increased development of the software and the camera itself, this invention could change the future. This feature could become very useful and/or used in an artistic manner in the future, just like how the 360-degree camera is used now.

Different models of the Lytro Camera

As of right now there are two models of this camera currently out on the market. The first is the original Lytro Camera, and the second is the Lytro Illum Light-Field Digital Camera. The original Lytro Camera is a square tube less than 5 inches long. It has a lens opening at one end and a 1.52" LCD touch screen at the other end. You can either purchase the camera with 8GB or 16GB of memory. This camera has an 11 megaray sensor, while the newer model has a 40 megaray sensor. The Lytro Illum Camera has an 8x zoom lens (the equivalent to a 30-250mm lens), an f-stop of 2.0, and a focus range from 0mm to infinity (the camera can focus on subjects touching the lens). A major improvement with this camera compared to the original is there is a "Lytro Button" which provides a live view color-coded overlay that will accurately display depth of field objects that are within the frame (what subjects are within re-focusable range).

Lytro Illum Camera
Lytro Illum Camera
Lytro Camera
Lytro Camera

All in all, this camera is a great innovation, but it needs some improvement before I seriously consider purchasing it. For now I will stick to my method of taking a few pictures with the same framing, but just changing what subject is in focus. However, if you have the funds and are willing to experiment with the camera, then I recommend you purchase it and provide the company with feedback.
Megan Tung is a summer intern at Jameco Electronics and a rising freshman at UC Santa Barbara. Her interests include photography, music, business, and engineering.