Revolutionary Camera Focuses on the Bigger Picture

Imagine taking a picture without worrying about the focal point or depth of field. Imagine literally pointing the camera in the general direction of the image you want to capture and pressing the button – and never getting a disappointing result. A fascinating new type of camera is set to revolutionize the way we take pictures by eliminating the need to fiddle with settings or worry about focusing before we push the button.

Lytro is getting set to introduce a camera that will work like no other camera before it. The Lytro camera will capture light fields, which are basically all of the light rays in any given scene. Rather than having to choose one focal point and then focus the camera’s lens there – either manually or with autofocus – you simply take a picture. The camera captures all possible focal points in the scene, allowing you to come back after the picture is taken to choose just one focal point, shift around until you find the perfect one, or view every focal point in the image one at a time. (Try it out on the sample images here from Lytro’s website.)

The light field camera works by integrating a number of microlenses between the main lens and the image sensor. The tiny lenses measure the light coming in and the direction it came from. In a traditional camera, all of this light data is lost: it simply adds up all of the light rays and measures them as one amount of light.

Light field cameras rely on powerful software rather than internal components to create stunning images. Because you don’t have to wait for the autofocus feature, light field cameras can take pictures significantly faster than traditional digital cameras. Artistic shots with a blurry foreground and crisp background – or vice versa – are remarkably simple with a light field camera.

The technology is not new; it was developed in the 1990s and originally required a massive setup of 100 cameras and a supercomputer. Lytro is the first company to miniaturize the technology enough to make a consumer light field camera possible. The company’s founder expects the first consumer version to be released by the end of 2011 for what he calls a “competitive price.”

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See more in Camera & Video or under Gadgets. July, 2011.
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