Neat, but niche: Lytro’s refocus camera reviewed

The next generation of photography is here, with Lytro’s first-generation Light-field camera, a technology that has the ability to let you focus after you taken the photo, creating an interactive image.

What it is

More than just a simple happy snap camera, the Lytro is a camera with an 8x optical lens encased in an aluminium body with rubber controls and a small 1.5 inch touchscreen LCD.

Rather than look like a traditional camera, you might consider the Lytro to look closer to an oversized tube of lipstick, or a cubic kaleidoscope. There’s no built-in tripod mount, though you can buy an external ring adding the tripod screw mount easily.

The camera features simple intuitive controls set out on the rubber section around the LCD screen at the back, with a circular shutter button and small touch-sensitive zoom slider on top, and a power button on the bottom just next to a covered microUSB charge and data transfer port.

Lytro’s touchscreen is tiny, with simple gestures activating different sections. Swiping from left to right brings up your past photos; swiping right to left takes you back into the camera section, or alternatively, just hit the shutter. Swiping up in the main camera screen – the electronic viewfinder – and you’ll find an options menu for switching into either simple or creative mode, as well as storage left, and settings.

Two versions of the Lytro are available in three colours, with the 8GB supporting 350 pictures available in graphite and blue, and the 16GB in red supporting 750 images. There is no microSD or SD expandable storage on the Lytro, and you rely solely on the internal storage.

Obviously, the most important part of the Lytro is the technology inside, and this is vastly different from any camera you’ve seen before.

Inside the metal body, there’s a long optical lens set roughly equivalent to 35-280mm (8x optical) that runs at F/2.0 aperture all through the barrel, with the sensor and image recording technology just behind it.

Lytro doesn’t officially talk in megapixels, so stop right there and focus on this term instead: megarays, or how many million lightrays enter the camera and record information to the Lytro first-generation Light-field sensor.

For this model, there’s eleven million lightrays, making this an 11 megaray sensor, collected and combined by the Light-field engine that maps information to each of the rays and creates images from that data.

Wait, what?!

Ok, so the wording Lytro uses for its cameras does sound a little like it’s from a different language, or maybe even the future, but the simple breakdown is this:

Lytro’s Light-field technology captures a 3D scene and allows you to refocus on the information interactively.

Think of it as “photograph 2.0” because while the digital camera improves on film by allowing you to take photos easily and quickly, they still end up on a 2D environment: either on a screen or a piece of paper, the way you originally shot them or with some Photoshopping in between.

That was photograph 1.0, and this new “light-field” technology is the next-generation.

In photograph 2.0, the image is interactive, and instead of just seeing one plane the way the photographer set up the image, you can pick on a different focus point and view the photo differently.

To do this, the Lytro isn’t capturing multiple images at the same time, but rather a chunk of space in 3D, mapping it out using light, and allowing you to decide what you want to see in focus later, which plane you want to see more clearly.

If that’s still too hard to understand, then think of it like this:

The Lytro Light-field camera allows you to shoot first, focus later.

Outside of this, there’s a whole bunch of science and research that led its creator – Dr. Ren Ng, an Aussie – to take the research project and shrink it down into the sort of gadget that anyone could carry around.