Sunday, April 27, 2014

Lytro Illium

I don't review gear on this blog. This isn't a gear review.

Lytro Illium is a new camera from Lytro, who are doing consumer-targeted light-field cameras. The point of these cameras is that focus and aperture is, to a large degree, computed in post. I've commented in the past that this is part of a natural progression. Digital photography has been, to a large extent, about moving activities from before the shutter button press to after, and light-field technology is just (potentially) another step along the way.

First a technical remark. People complain that the resulting picture size is small. Lytro is coy about these numbers (see below) but the new camera seems to produce something like a 4 or 5 megapixel picture, once the computational smoke clears.

I think this is, or any rate can be made, irrelevant. We're in the land of software. Stitching up enormous pictures out of small ones is old hat. It's not even hard any more.

Here's a tip for the Lytro guys: let me stitch up whatever size picture I like, based on the "as much as possible in focus" model, and let me apply the computed depth of field on the result. Ideally, give me options to compute a plane of focus that is not parallel to the sensor (simulate T/S or large format movements). Even better also give me options to compute a non-planar field of focus. Now I can put this and that in focus, and leave the rest soft. Now we're making some wedding photos, baby!

What's more interesting, though, is this. The Lytro guys seem to be dodging the issue of resolution by recasting the photograph as a new kind of object. They really want to push this idea of an interactive object, where the viewer -- the end-user, not the photographer -- manipulates the depth of field, and performs small rotations, to really explore what's going on in there.

This is to literally re-imagine the idea of photograph. That's pretty damned bold.

I find it incomprehensible. Fiddling with these interactive objects is something that makes no sense to me. But then, as a still photographer, of course it makes no sense to me. I am, by definition, the guy that wants a faster horse, not an automobile. Of course the automobile baffles me.

I have no idea if they're going to succeed. So far it's not looking so hot. But it's interesting as hell, and one wonders what else is around the corner. Is the still photograph itself about to be abruptly supplanted by something we literally cannot imagine, and will not understand when it arrives?

Maybe! Wouldn't that be fun?!

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