Silicon Valley start-up Lytro announced it will ship this year a new consumer camera that yields a “living picture” in which the focus can be adjusted — say, from foreground to background subjects — long after the scene is initially captured.
“Our new light field camera company,” says founder Ren Ng, “will forever change how everyone takes and experiences pictures. Lytro’s launch is truly the start of a picture revolution.”
Lytro’s sensor captures not just the directional light gathered by traditional cameras, but what is called the lightfield, which includes scattered light bouncing from various directions. The resulting image contains more data than a standard photo, including distance information. That data means the file can display a 3D image, or one in which the depth of field can be interactively adjusted.
Lytro founder Ren Ng demonstrated his early prototype at our 6Sight Future of Imaging conference in 2007, at which time he was developing a “Refocus” optical filter that would reside between the lens and sensor, and could be added in the factory to otherwise standard camera designs. The new company apparently has integrated that filter into a new sensor design, which it will bring to market itself in a proprietary camera.
Ng says he started work in the area eight years ago, when he was in the PhD program at Stanford University. “I loved photography then as I do now, but I was frustrated and puzzled by the apparent limitations of cameras.”
The new company has forty four people, “sparkling with talent, energy and inspiration,” Ng says. “Our mission is to change photography forever, making conventional cameras a thing of the past. Humans have always had a fundamental need to share our stories visually, and from cave paintings to digital cameras we have been on a long search for ways to make a better picture. Light field cameras are the next big step in that picture revolution.”
How does it work? The company provides the following explanation:
“Recording light fields requires an innovative, entirely new kind of sensor called a light field sensor. The light field sensor captures the color, intensity and vector direction of the rays of light. This directional information is completely lost with traditional camera sensors, which simply add up all the light rays and record them as a single amount of light.
“By substituting powerful software for many of the internal parts of regular cameras, light field processing introduces new capabilities that were never before possible. Sophisticated algorithms use the full light field to unleash new ways to make and view pictures.
“Relying on software rather than components can improve performance, from increased speed of picture taking to the potential for capturing better pictures in low light. It also creates new opportunities to innovate on camera lenses, controls and design.”