Neat, but niche: Lytro’s refocus camera reviewed

The awesome

Obviously, this isn’t your traditional camera, and doesn’t work at all like one. It’s almost like you have to think in three dimensions if you want to be creative, although you don’t have to, and can happily just take pictures without worrying about that extra third dimension.

Because it’s a different style of camera, you don’t really hold it the same way, so with the Lytro’s long tube body, you hold can either hold it with one hand – balancing the body and controlling the LCD – or two, which is a more stable position.

There are two modes for you to shoot with on the Lytro: “everyday mode” and “creative mode.”

Everyday mode is the regular mode for happy snaps with the light-field technology, and is denoted by a white outlined square. In this mode, your camera is limited to 3x optical zoom, most of which isn’t functional for close-up photography.

A pup we saw outside a restaurant, each image showing the different focus. On the left, the dog is in focus, while on the right, it's the door. You can play with this image on the last page of the review.

You can grab shots of your friends or landscapes quickly, touching the spot on the LCD where you want the focus to be applied to, and hitting the shutter button up top for a speedy snap. There’s no shutter lag, but you can’t just leave your finger down, firing in burst mode, because there is none.

In everyday mode, the results are pretty much always in focus, though may not as creative as what is possible from Lytro’s revolutionary technology.

For that, you literally need to switch into the creative mode.

Denoted by a repeating field of blue squares, going into creative mode gives a thin blue border around the LCD screen and asks you to once again tap on the subject, with the camera responding by setting the refocus range based on that specific point.

In creative mode, you’ll find the full 8x optical zoom available for long shots, and close-up macro photography is now possible, too.

Creative mode seems to be the area where the coolest images are possible, and if you’re a lover of extreme close-ups or are itching to see the Lytro refocus technology at its best, you’ll want to work in this area.

That said, it can certainly take some getting used to, as it’s not easy to get shots right. You’ll mostly be playing with a lot of trial and error, even if you’re a seasoned pro, as you have to get accustomed to taking pictures with some level of blur involved, knowing that something will be thrown out of focus, so that when someone touches it later on, that part of the image will then return to being in focus.

It’s a little strange, but once you’re used to it, you’ll find the images are often playful and feature different levels.

You can fiddle with the images on the camera itself, flicking to the left and playing back what you’ve shot. Either double-tapping or using the touch-slider will zoom you in and out, and here you can easily touch to focus the areas to see if your image came out the way you intended.

Head back home and you can take images off the Lytro using software – which is available on both Mac OS and Windows (64-bit) – sharing them with friends and uploading them to Lytro’s image service in the process.

Image quality isn’t terrible, and the glass is capable of some reasonably sharp details, though we’re not talking about a high resolution image. Try not to speak in megapixels here, as there aren’t many, and the image resolution is equivalent to 1080×1080, which is nowhere near, say, eight megapixel’s 3264×2448.

Low light isn’t high on the list of priorities, but the Lytro does a decent job, especially given that its sensor works differently. The specifications say that the ISO ranges from 80 to 3200 which it automatically changes for you, and while you can see some noise at its limits, it’s not bad, especially given the image size.

You can see noise in the dark sections of the image at ISO 3200, though given that the image shoots in and out of focus, it's not a bad result.