Summary for the Speedy Gonzales readers:
It's a new camera.
It's called the Lytro Illum.
It's based on new technology.
You can refocus images after you take them.
The images have 3D parallax movement (Google it).
The technology rocks, but the camera has a long way to go.
Low resolution - equivalent to 4 megapixels
No RAW capability.
Will I buy one? No.
Will I buy one when it has higher resolution and RAW? Yes.
Will it change photography? Eventually.
About a year ago, my friend Skye mentioned a new camera she heard about. "I don't know what it's called," she said. "But you can change the focus after you take the picture. Isn't that crazy?!"
I'd never heard of it. It sounded impossible, so I didn't give it a lot of thought. I figured it was probably a new app. Either that or some bunk article about a camera that didn't really exist. Fake articles are everywhere. Just last week one had me thinking Walter White was still alive and Breaking Bad was back in action. Don't worry, I destroyed the phone I read it on. I burned it, smashed it, fixed it, smashed it again, covered it in molasses and mailed it to Iraq. Point is, I'm gun-shy. If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is. But this time I was wrong. Skye was onto something.
Butthurt Alert: this next statement is going to ruffle a few feathers. Suck it up and keep reading. Turns out, Skye was talking about the Lytro. Simply put, Lytro's technology is the most revolutionary advancement in digital imaging since the invention of digital sensors. Notice I said "digital imaging" and not "photography". Mind that difference. Technologically, it's a total game changer. There is some serious method behind this madness. But the camera itself... Meh.
Now, before you get all butthurt about it, inhale and exhale. I'm talking long-term here. Not what it is, but what it will be. I'm talking about what this technology means for the long-term future of digital imaging. Neigh sayers can talk trash until they're blue in the face, but it won't change anything. People love technology. They feed on it. The moment this juice gets poured into a smartphone, it'll be the new standard. The masses will devour it. I give it 10 years.
Artists and professional photographers are a different story. We're a hard team to please. Cameras are just now starting to meet our expectations. We're just now starting to see digital reach the resolution and dynamic range capabilities of film. Some commercial photographers might jump on the Lytro band wagon, but the purists won't. Not any time soon. This technology is a long way from replacing professional DSLR cameras.
In all honesty, the first Lytro was a deuce. Like the kind you drop. It wasn't practical. It looked more like a flashlight than a camera, and the final image was somewhere around 1 megapixel.
HOWEVER! Here's what all the hype is about:
Lytro technology can capture and alter images in a completely new way. For example, you can refocus images after they've been taken. You can change depth of field the same way. You can even have a continuous focus point. Meaning the camera can focus on every part of the image at once. And get this… it takes 3D pictures. Again, Google the word "parallax". Lytro calls these pictures "Living Images". The science geek in me thinks this thing is da bees knees, and I can't wait for my iPhone to pack it.
So how does it work? Basically it captures a crap ton of light information at once. Classy explanation, right? It captures every focus point and every out-of-focus point. Somehow, it even manages to capture different angles at once. That's where my brain shuts down.
Before I explain any further, let me be clear. I don't know how a camera could capture an entire light field any more than I know what rainbows taste like. I'm no physicist or camera engineer. I put my pants on the same way you do every day. Commando. It feels better. But, I'll do my best to explain what I know.
First, I'm almost positive they taste like Kool-Aid. Rainbows. Second, this camera is based on light field technology. Light field cameras capture a wide spectrum of light rays while keeping the information separated in a completely uncompressed, information-rich state. Regular cameras capture light and smash it all onto a single surface. In most cases, this would be a sheet of film or a digital sensor like the one in your phone or camera. The unique quality of a light field camera is it's ability to capture so many variables of information. There's never been anything like it.
Listen to this guy. He seems to know what he's talking about.
So, we established that the first Lytro was a deuce, right? They never admitted defeat, but the guys and gals at Lytro knew it was lame and went for Round 2.
•THE LYTRO ILLUM•
Is it everything the first Lytro was meant to be?!! No. But it's headed in the right direction.
The images are still ridiculously small, and the camera still doesn't shoot in RAW. On the plus side, though, the Illum actually looks like a camera and has a pretty awesome lens. A 30-250mm f/2 to be exact. That's drool worthy! The final image only amounts to about 4 megapixels, but that's better than the Nikon D1 in the early days. Either way, this camera won't suite the professional photographer any time soon. Maybe Ken Rockwell can use it. He's the only guy I know of who can take a few megapixels and call it gold. That guy. I can't help but like him though.
All quirks aside, the Illum is a huge step up from the first Lytro. So give it 10 years. It will evolve. Think of it like this: when the first useable DSLRs came around, they packed a whopping 2 megapixels. The Lytro Illum already packs 4. This thing is in it's infancy. I think Lytro will eventually be to traditional digital photography what digital currently is to film. People will always shoot traditional manual cameras whether film or digital, but I'm certain this technology will eventually be the gold standard of camera design. Again, I'm talking very long term. I'm sure the iPhone 20s is bound to have Lytro technology in it.
What's my personal opinion of the Lytro? It's a love/hate thing.
As a camera nerd, I love this technology! As a photographer, I'm not feeling it yet. I feel like the Nikon D800/D810 is addressing the more important issue. Nikon has almost closed the quality gap between film and digital. With tons of dynamic range and resolution, the images have overcome that obviously digital look. I've waited a long time for that. While I love the idea of Lytro technology, I'm way more interested in image quality. As I'm sure most photographers are. Bottom line: Lytro has to match the image quality of modern professional cameras in every way before serious photographers take it on. When that day comes, I'm all in.
Admit it though. We're all thinking it. This thing is going to make people LAZY! Lazy. Lazy. Lazy.
Ok, I'm done. If you buy and Illum, tell me what you think about it.