Lytro light field camera: first impressions

Recently I picked up a Lytro Light Field Camera. I’ve only ever seen one ‘in the wild’ and that was at SXSW earlier this year.

So what is it? A light field camera is basically a new(ish) form of photography that allows the photographer to change the focus of an image after the fact as the camera shoots everything in focus. That’s the premise at least. The Lytro is the first consumer model to hit the market.

Lytro

Take a look at this photo of some berries I took and click anywhere to refocus. Click and drag on the image for Perspective Shift (or if you’re viewing on a tablet or smartphone, you should be able to just tilt your device). It should give you a good idea of what the camera can do.

There are only two buttons on the Lytro – power and the shutter. There is also a micro USB port covered by a rubber cover below the power button. You charge the camera’s battery by plugging in the USB cable to your computer or the wall (wall plug not included but I just used my iPhone’s).

Lytro

Everything else is handled via the touchscreen which uses gestures extensively. It’s definitely no retina display but it works well enough and is pretty small. There is also a slightly raised line on the top of the camera that acts as the zoom control simply by dragging your finger along it. This controls the 8x optical zoom lens of the Lytro. Swiping up on the screen brings up the mode control, remaining images icon and the battery meter. Swiping from the left lets you review your photos.

Lytro

I chose the 8gb model (there is no expansion slot in the camera, but there is also a 16gb model available) which equates to roughly 350 images (700 in the 16gb model).

Lytro

It’s definitely takes a bit to get used to shooting with the Lytro. Sure you can use it like a regular camera but there’s no fun in that.

To really take advantage of the Lytro, you need to have a solid foreground, mid and background subject to have layers that can be manipulated after the fact by the viewer of the image. I’ve also had good success shooting a single subject up close thanks to the short focal distance you can get.

You can practically touch the lens to a subject. In this shot, Ukey the vizsla’s nose is in focus but her eyes aren’t. The perspective shift effect is particularly effective too.

It definitely is making me think about how I compose my shots which is quite a bit different than how I would with my DSLR.

The manual mode gives you even more control over the images. I’m still working on getting the shots I want out of the regular and creative modes.

Lytro

The software for processing the Lytro images comes preloaded on the camera itself and is compatible with Windows and Mac. It’s fairly straightforward to use with lots of help along the way and is quite similar to iPhoto. Each photo appears to be around 16mb and are stored in the Lytro library.

Once you connect the camera, the software launches and downloads all your images from the camera. You can then delete them off the camera. Two new features that were recently added are Living Filters and Perspective Shift.

Living Filters
Living Filters

Looking like something you’d see in Instagram, the Living Filters go to the next level. Taking advantage of the multiple layers in your images, the filters allow you to have different effects on each plane of the image. The ‘crayon’ filter for example lets you have one plane in color and the other planes are in grayscale. The ‘glass’, ‘mosaic’ and ‘blur+’ are basically exaggerated blurring effects like you’d find in Photoshop. The ‘blur+’ is probably my favorite since it really accentuates the effect of the multiple planes of focus.

Some images don’t work as well with the filters due to the focal planes…if a subject or object is angled or there isn’t a clearly defined plane, the filter can sometimes fringe on parts of it and it doesn’t look so good.

Perspective Shift
This feature was probably what intrigued me the most about the Lytro. Because the camera captures so much information, it actually has the ability to allow you to view the images with a shifting perspective which is similar to 3D but not quite.

For accessories, I bought the camera sleeve and the tripod adaptor.

Lytro camera sleeve

I was quite disappointed with the camera sleeve as it doesn’t have any lcd protection (it’s open at that end) and is quite snug.

Lytro camera sleeve

I also made the mistake of putting the camera into it with the magnetic lens cap on which meant that when I removed the camera, it stayed in the bottom of the sleeve and was quite difficult to remove – I ended up scratching it with the pen that I had to use to get it out. The beefy lanyard strap is nicer than the stock one that came with the Lytro though.

Lytro tripod mount

The tripod adapter is solid and a necessary item for using the manual mode or the self timer. There is also a larger camera bag available which I didn’t get as I figured my Lytro would live in one of my existing bags along side my DSLR.

I’ve really been enjoying using the Lytro…creatively it’s making me really think about composition and visualizing my finished shots which has been a lot of fun.

You can see all my Lytro shots on my gallery page at Lytro.com.

I bought mine direct from Lytro.com (I wanted the green one) but Future Shop is also the exclusive distributor in Canada, although they don’t offer all colors…if that matters to you.

UPDATE: I forgot to post some ‘static’ images exported to JPG from the Lytro desktop software…so as requested by Dan in the comments, here’s three images (click for full size):

8 Comments

  1. Dan Thompson says:

    Nice write-up, I’ve been wanting to get my hands on one but Lytro is stingy with the demos. I do have a couple questions for you though. Can you process then images with more depth of field or do you have to render them so shallow? It seems like it mimics a very low f stop, and I’ve never seen images that weren’t narrow like that until I saw the perspective shift stuff in your pictures… Very cool feature by the way. Also, have you printed any of them? If so, what options do you have for the final JPG (assuming)? One final question, I hear negative comments about the quality of there images but I’ve frankly never seen one that didn’t look nice…. I’ve also never seen one that was big. Thoughts? It would seem that at 16mb per image, there should be enough data there for a nice image…. Assume,IMG you didnt screw it up :)

    Thanks for the review, I look forward to your responses.

    Dan

    • John says:

      Processing the images doesn’t really do anything more than enabling the perspective shift (off by default) and applying any filters. The camera itself has an f2 lens so it already has a fairly shallow DOF.

      I haven’t printed any yet (I rarely print anything anymore) and I haven’t actually tried exporting as a ‘flat’ jpg yet. I’ll try it when I’m back at my computer this weekend and update the post with some sample output. From what I recall, it just gives you the ability to click on the image to set the focus and then export it that way.

      The Lytro shots show up in the file system as 16mb files…but I suspect that is a lot of image data that wouldn’t apply to a flat jpg. The output resolution is only 1080×1080 (if I recall) so it’s fairly low resolution if you’re looking at it flat. Good enough for Instagram square shots for sure.

      Definitely lighting plays into the quality of the images…and it definitely struggles in low light. My best images were in full daylight sun, although the Christmas light display shot turned out surprisingly well with pretty limited noise considering.

      • John says:

        Static JPG exports now added to the post…I think they look pretty decent for 1080×1080 resolution.

        • Dan Thompson says:

          Hey thanks for the update! I suppose the 1080 x 1080 explains the complaints about resolution, though the static images still look nice albeit just not really big.

          I’ve also done some more thinking about your comments on composition and I appreciate your thoughts on how the Lytro is making you think more about your regular photography. I had a similar epiphany when I started messing with macro photography. These changes of perspective are good to keep the creative juices from going stale.

          Good stuff!
          Dan

  2. Peter Lee says:

    Good report. Lytro does have trouble focusing when coupled to auxillary lens systems ie microscope or telescope but was never designed for this function. There is also some known artifacts created when couple to a microscope objective … zig zag noise in some of the frames…. I have been very impressed at the speed of software revisions for the camera and desktop software… smart move when they made a windows version of the desktop software. PL

  3. Peter Lee says:

    Here is the link to Lytro / Lightfield forum:
    http://lightfield-forum.com/en/

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