Fun with @Lytro

Scott Francis
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Always a sucker for interesting new tech, I  pre-ordered a Lytro camera last year.  It finally showed up yesterday. Recommending the Lytro:

  • Really interesting takes on camera technology only come around so often.  Light Field just seemed like one of those rare moments-  I would compare to Polaroid’s instant print, or earl digital cameras, or the advent of higher quality cell-phone cameras combined with sharing…
  • The packaging clearly takes a page from the Apple playbook.  Not quite at Apple’s level, but definitely inspired by Apple-style packaging.
  • The product itself has a sleek tubular design (as one reviewer put it, it looks a bit like a spyglass).  In fact I when I first picked it up I felt myself wanting to put it up to one eye – which obviously isn’t necessary!
  • The interface is pretty simple – touch sensitive swiping from picture to picture.  Simple zoom, power, and shutter “buttons”.
  • When you plug it into your laptop, it self-installs the Lytro software.  Pretty cool installation process (on a Mac).
  • Facebook integration is great.
  • It just looks cool.

Nitpicks:

  • The lens cap is magnetic.  It falls off too easily.  And since it isn’t physically attached to anything, odds are it falls to the ground… which is not where you want your lens cap.
  • A wireless sync would be cooler than plugging in the USB cable.  Plugging in is so pre-iPhone 4s.
  • The pictures are small.  essentially a 1 megapixel style picture, according to the Verge.
  • The display on the back is pretty cheap.  Partly this is a function of the shape of the device.  It is hard to tell how good your pictures are from this display.  About the opposite of your experience taking photos with an iPhone.
  • The quality of the photos is limited – especially in low-light situations.
  • There should be an option to export my images (jpgs) to iPhoto.

Still, it takes pretty neat pictures.  Here’s a sample JPEG…  And the Lytro embed code lets you change up the focus:   There are better reviews than mine – the Verge being my favorite.  But there are several more, from Walt Mossberg, from the New York Times:

This is fairly mind-blowing. Imagine a wedding photo with the bride in the foreground and the wedding party in the background. Click on the bride, and she’s in focus while the bridesmaids are blurry. Click on the groomsmen and the focus shifts to them. Do this over and over all around the frame — the picture readjusts on the fly, smoothly moving from one focal point to another.

And Mashable touts the social capabilities of Lytro – it invites interaction with the refocus feature, and posts well to Facebook and Lytro’s site (but not to twitter? an oversight). Mashable touts this as a good camera for casual photographers – who might take most of their pictures on a cell phone or Flip camera. I think it is a bit too expensive for casual photographers – unless they happen to be fans of nice gadgets- which the Lytro clearly is.  I’m sure it will come down in price.  This won’t replace your cellphone camera, but there are situations and types of photos where the “focus later” feature is really compelling.  I’m looking forward to see how this technology evolves over the next few years and what kind of products it is integrated with. I would love to have this capability integrated with my iPhone, for example. And I think my kids will love trying out this camera – and hopefully they’ll be less frustrated with focusing! Another detailed review, that stops short of fully recommending the Lytro, is here.  It is a very fair and balanced review overall (and it is 5 pages long!). From a process perspective, Lytro is a great example of how technology can alter process – intentionally or otherwise.  Lytro invites you to interact with your photos – something we don’t normally do today.  Lytro also allows you to nearly ignore focus, and really pay attention to framing your picture (of course, with a conventional camera you’ll likely do both – but if you screw up the framing you can crop it afterward, knowing you have plenty of pixels of data to work with. And Lytro shifts the emphasis from the lens quality to the software quality – which could really get interesting when they start including higher quality hardware as well as improving the software…  

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