A new camera from Lytro reveals a radical twist to traditional photography, called ‚”light field imaging‚”, writes BRIAN KOPING
Traditional photography has taken a radical twist with the advent of light field imaging that creates ‚”living pictures‚” which can be selectively focused in post processing. This allows the taker and viewer to change perspective and move seamlessly from 2D to 3D, and is a concept that until now would have appeared inconceivable.
The research began some fifteen years ago, when light fields were first captured at Sanford University in America. The advanced research then required a room full of cameras connected to a super computer.
Today this technology is available as a Lytro light field camera, the looks of which belie the giant step in imaging technology it represents.
The camera is a rather featureless, square, tubular machine resembling a small surveillance camera about two-thirds the size of a box of shortbread biscuits. It has an 8x zoom lens with an f2 aperture constant across the zoom range, and only two buttons, one for exposure and one for zooming. For a little more versatility, the camera has a touch screen that allows one to choose between Normal Mode and Creative Mode. It also shows state of battery charge and the number of images taken.
On exposure, the Lytro captures some 11 million rays of light by means of a micro lens adhered to a standard sensor. The captured light is processed by a Light field engine 1.0 processor. This processor travels with every image, so the recipient receives a ‚”live‚” image, any part of which can be refocused by means of a click of the mouse, be it on Mac or PC.
Pictures appear to be crisp, with much detail and vibrant colour. Close-up imaging also appears to be impressive. It makes for interesting viewing, shifting focus from a hand holding a tiny sea creature in the foreground to the owner of the hand in the background of the image.
The light field is the core concept in this imaging science, representing fundamentally more powerful data than that of regular photographs.
The light field sensor captures colour, intensity and vector direction of the rays. In normal photography the sensor simply adds up the light rays and records them as a single amount.
The light field defines the appearance of the image being comprised of light traveling in every direction through every point in space.
Light field processing introduces new possibilities not possible before, using sophisticated algorithms. It substitutes powerful software for some of the internal parts of a normal camera. This improves the speed of taking and low light performance as well as creating opportunities to improve lens controls and design.
On taking the photo, there is no lag, as focusing need not be done and there is no shutter delay. Shallow depth-of-field due to the f2 lens is also not problematic, as the point of focus can be selected later.
All images taken may be converted to JPEG and printed like conventional images but, in this instance, the ability to refocus is lost. Another point to bear in mind is that a print with the entire image in focus is not yet possible.
The aluminium-bodied camera is available as a Hot Red16GB (750 images) at $499 or Electric Blue or Graphite 8GB (350 images) at $399. Flash is not available as trials using flash have not produced suitable images. A charger and tripod mount are available as extras.
The Lytro is compatible with only the Mac 10.6.6 or higher at present but a PC compatible version is in the pipeline for 2012.
* More information about the Lytro range is available at http://lytro.com, along with a selection of live Lytro images to click on and see the focus shift..
Nokia 7.2: The sweet-spot for mid-range smartphones
Nokia has hit one of the best quality-to-price ratios with the Nokia 7.2. BRYAN TURNER tested the device.
Cameras are often the main factor in selecting a smartphone today. Nokia is no stranger to the high-end camera smartphone market, and its legacy shows with the latest Nokia 7.2.
In many aspects, the device looks and feels like an expensive flagship, yet it carries a mid-range R6000 price tag. From its vivid PureDisplay technology to an ultra-wide camera lens, it’s quite something to experience this device – especially knowing the price.
Before powering it on, one notices the sleek design. The front features a large, 6.3” screen, with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio. Like many phones nowadays, it features a notch, but it is smaller than the usual earpiece-and-camera notch. Instead, it features a small notch for the front camera only. It hides the front earpiece away in a slim cutout, just under the outer frame. While it’s not the highest screen-to-body (STB) ratio, it has a pretty slim bezel with an 83.34% STB ratio. It loses some of this to an elegant chin on the bottom that shows the Nokia logo. This is all protected by a Gorilla glass certification, which makes it a little more difficult to shatter on an impact.
It’s encased by a Polycarbonate composite outer frame, which seems metal-like but will withstand more knocks than an aluminium frame. On the right side, it features a volume rocker and a power button and, on the left side, a Google Assistant button, which starts listening for commands when pressed. Above the button is the SIM and SD card tray. On the top, it houses a very welcome 3.5mm headphone jack. On the bottom, it has a speaker grille and a USB Type-C port. Overall, the positioning of the buttons takes some getting used to because the Assistant button and power button are similarly sized, and many smartphones place the lock button on the opposite side of the volume rocker.
The back features a frosted Gorilla glass panel, like the front. The frosted design is quite understated and yet another elegant design feature of the device. A fingerprint sensor sits in the middle and, towards the top, the device has a circular camera bump, not too different from the Huawei Mate 30 series. The bump features two lenses, a depth sensor, and a flash. The camera system has been made in partnership with Zeiss optics to produce high-quality photography.
When powering on the device, one is greeted with the Android One logo, which is Nokia’s promise that its users will always be among the first to get the latest Android security and feature updates. This is one of the defining purchase points for users looking to get this device, as it features the purest, unedited version of Android available.
This, in turn, allows the device to run the latest software by Google that enables the device to get better over time. This is done by using Google’s Artificial Intelligence engine, which learns how one uses the device and optimises apps and services accordingly. That translates to the phone’s battery life actually extending over time, instead of deteriorating like other smartphones that are weighed down by battery hungry apps. The concept was pioneered by Huawei in the Mate 9.
The rear camera is excellent for snapping pictures and features a 48MP Sony sensor for accurate colour reproduction. This puts the device in the league of the Google Pixel and Apple iPhone devices, which also use Sony sensors. By default, the device is set to take pictures at 12MP, which is what makes the photos look great, as it blends 4 pixels into one for a high level of sharpness and colour accuracy, but users can bump up the resolution to the full 48MP if they want to zoom in a bit more.
The 8MP wide-angle lens spans 118-degrees, and proves extremely useful for getting everyone in the shot. It also features some great colour accuracy. The 5MP depth-sensing lens is purely for the portrait mode, which adds a blur effect to the background of the photo. It features a 20MP selfie camera, which also provides excellent sharpness and a portrait mode.
The most impressive part of this system is the Pro camera setting, which can help take photos from excellent to extraordinary. We managed to get some excellent low light photography by adjusting the shutter speed, ISO, and exposure. The setting is pretty easy to use and it’s worth it for users to learn how it works.
The PureDisplay also helps make photos and video look great. The 7.2’s PureDisplay has a 2160 x 1080 resolution, at 401 pixels per inch (ppi). It also makes use of HDR10 and covers 96% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut, which makes the colours very vibrant. Some of these display features are not even found in some high-end phones on the market, so it’s very surprising that this tech is in a mid-range device.
At this price, there is one drawback: the processor. It houses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660, which is neither bad nor good. It performs well in many situations, but begins to stutter on heavier graphical applications like Fortnite and PUBG Mobile. That said, all other applications of the device work perfectly, and multi-tasking is very fluid between regular apps.
At a recommended selling price of R6,000, the Nokia 7.2 is one of the most feature rich and aesthetically pleasing devices available in this price range.
Asus ZenBook Pro Duo reimagines dual screens
Asus’s ZenBook Pro Duo implements the dual-screen concept very differently: instead of side-by-side, the extra screen sits beneath the main screen. BRYAN TURNER tried out the laptop.
Asus’s strong ZenBook line, aimed at creatives, has added a powerful laptop to the game: the dual-screen ZenBook Pro Duo. This machine shows some of the most thoughtful design on the market, including a new type of dual-screen layout that makes a lot of sense.
When closed it looks like any other laptop and has a concentric circle design etched into aluminium. The laptop feels sturdy on the base as well as the screen, and looks like it could withstand a drop. It’s 24mm thick and weighs around 2.5kg, so it seems pretty thick until one looks at the internals of this machine.
We had the Intel Core i7-9750H processor configuration but can come with an Intel Core i9-9980HK configuration. Both configurations come with Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060, with 6GB of GDDR6 VRAM. This makes this laptop more of a high-performance desktop with laptop features rather than a high-performance laptop.
When opening up this computer, we were greeted with a large 15.6” 4K (3840×2160) OLED panel and another 14” (3840 x 1100) 4K UHD display below that, called the ScreenPad Plus. Both screens are touchscreens, 100% DCI-P3, and are brighter than most laptops. As a result, the keyboard and trackpad have been shifted below the second screen. The lowered keyboard takes some getting used to, but is totally worth it for the second display.
The ScreenPad Plus comes with a set of its own apps, including Spotify, handwriting mode, and a few other quick settings. It comes with a stylus called the Asus Pen, which allows for 1024 pressure levels and rejects one’s palm, making it very useful for apps like Adobe Illustrator. The top screen supports that pen too, but writing feels far more natural on the ScreenPad Plus.
An ErgoLift hinge raises the computer up at an angle, to make the lowered keyboard more comfortable to type on, as well as aid the cooling system. It’s at a small 4.5 degrees tilt with this hinge that makes a huge difference in typing comfort.
On the left side, a USB-A port, a regular size HDMI 2.0 port and a proprietary charging jack. On the right side, it features a USB-A 3.1 port, Thunderbolt 3, and a 3.5mm audio jack. Both sides feature air outlet ports.
We tested Rise of the Tomb Raider at 1080p, with the RTX 2060, and set the game to its highest preset graphics settings. The game’s frame counter was used. It hovered between 70 and 75 frames per second (fps) with 10 minutes of gameplay, which is really good compared to most desktop computers.
The processor is a 6-Core 9th Generation Intel Core i7 CPU (i7-9750H), which provides snappy performance. We noted a start-up time from shutdown to desktop around 7 seconds. This was made possible by a combination of the fast processor and solid-state drive in the computer. This also makes opening programmes lightning fast.
Now for the trackpad. The off-centre trackpad placement feels a bit weird, even though we know why it’s placed that way. We found ourselves using an external mouse and using it in a very handy NumPad mode. The trackpad is extremely precise otherwise.
The laptop’s battery is 71 Wh, which may seem large, but it needs to power two big screens and heavy processors. As a result, it’s difficult to get more than 6 hours of productivity out of the machine. We played Rise of the Tomb Raider with both screens on for about 1 hour before we needed to charge it.
It will be available for about R48,000 (depending on when one buys it) in the Intel Core i7, 512GB SSD, and 16GB RAM configuration, putting it up there with the high-performance laptops in terms of price.