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Product Reviews

Lytro heralds light field revolution



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, along with a selection of live Lytro images to click on and see the focus shift..

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Nokia 9 PureView pioneers new camera tech

Nokia packed five camera-lenses into its latest high-end flagship, but does more lenses mean better pictures? BRYAN TURNER took it for a test run.



Nokia is not new to the high-end mobile photography market. In 2012, it led Mobile World Congress (MWC) with its 41MP Nokia 808 PureView. This year, Nokia returned to MWC with its next PureView handset: the Nokia 9 PureView.

Instead of pushing megapixels, the mobile device maker chose to focus on intelligent exposure and sharp focus quality. It achieved this with a set of five cameras on the rear of the device – the most ever on the back of a handset. All of the lenses are 12MP f/1.8 lenses, and three of them are monochrome. The five lenses work in tandem to blend the best parts of a captured image. This is achieved through software image blending, which has been trained to know what’s good and bad about the image. 

Why monochrome? 

Lighting is dramatically improved with a monochrome sensor. About 2.9x more light can be captured with a monochrome sensor when compared to a conventional sensor. Huawei showed off the advantages of integrating a monochrome camera with the P9. 

Why three monochrome lenses? 

Detail can be captured at three different lighting settings, one to absorb a lot of light, one to absorb a little less light, and one to absorb very little light. These photos can then be blended into one great photo, without the user having to worry about setting the camera’s exposure manually.

The monochrome mode captures photos in crisp detail, while giving an authentic dramatic monochrome photography feel.

Only five lenses have been mentioned so far but the back of the device sports seven holes. The sixth hole is for the flash and the seventh is for the depth sensor. This sensor captures the depth of an image, so autofocus can be a little sharper and focus depth on bokeh images can be adjusted after the picture is taken. This adjustment feature is especially useful when a subject’s hair has been “bokeh’d out”.

Click here to read about the other features of the Nokia 9 PureView.

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Product Reviews

Bose Portable: quality at a price



The Bose SoundDock Portable looks great and performs well, but SEAN BACHER finds the price doesn’t justify the better sound quality.

Since its inception in 1964, American-based audio specialist, Bose, has built a name synonymous with quality. Along with that, it has built a reputation of being more expensive than many of its competitors, but not deterring many from making the expensive investment. The mini sound speakers are quite often used in boardrooms, bars and restaurants around the world and offer crystal-clear sound that rivals most speakers twice their size.

Testament to the Bose sound quality is that it is used as the standard audio system in luxury cars like Audi, BMW and Mercedes, and according to Wikipedia, Bose products can be found in many military and NASA applications.

It is therefore not surprising to find Bose accessories compatible with smartphones. One example is the Bose SoundDock Portable. A portable docking station for iPhones and iPods that works off rechargeable batteries.

We put the Bose SoundDock Portable through the Gadget Five Question User.

1. Ease of use (including set-up)

Although the Bose SoundDock Portable, comes with instructions, they are not needed and in most cases, it will be ready to operate the minute it is removed from the box and an iPhone or iPod is plugged into it.

If the batteries on either the phone or docking station are flat though, the charger needs to be plugged into it before it can be used. You don’t need to wait for the batteries to charge fully before using it.

Bose has taken the minimalist approach with the SoundDock as on the right are two touch-sensitive Volume buttons and that’s it. No Power or other controls. The included remote is also very easy to use. It uses standard Play, Pause, Volume and Skip buttons, all well labelled.

The front of the docking station is made up of a silver grill, below which is the retractable iPhone dock. Although the casing around the connector is designed to accommodate an iPhone’s protective skin, it was not big enough to for the bumper I had on my phone, which meant I had to take the phone out of the case every time I wanted to plug it in.

On the plus side though, unlike many other portable docking stations, the Bose will charge a docked phone even if it is just running off battery power.

The Bose SoundDock Portable’s ease of use along with its elegant design cannot be faulted. But its dock connector counts against it.

Score: 18/20

2. General performance

The two front facing speakers offer crisp sounds and when the volume is cranked up all the way the SoundDock does not distort at all and is deafeningly loud.

At the rear is 3.5mm jack, allowing you to connect non-Apple phones, MP3 players and other audio equipment.

According to Bose, the 1 900mAh rechargeable battery pack will offer up to three hours of music at a maximum volume a different approach to rating battery life as most other vendors rate operating times at ‚”typical listening volumes‚”. I have been using the SoundDock on and off and not at full tilt for the past week without having to plug the mains adapter in yet.

This is however a good thing. Although the Bose SoundDock Portable is elegant and well made, Bose didn’t pay to much attention to the adaptor. It is a bit bigger than two cellphone chargers placed next to each other. It monopolises all the other electrical outlets, when plugged into the wall, meaning you need a dedicated plug for when you want to charge the battery.

The Bose SoundDock Portable provides a beautiful sound, its battery life is great, but the giant-sized charger is a complete let down.

Score: 12/20

3. Does it add value to your life?

Unlike many docking stations that are designed for bedside listening, the Bose SoundDock Portable is powerful enough to offer good sound in an average sized dining room or lounge.

Weighing in at just under three kilograms, it is not the lightest of them all, but the rear, recessed-handle makes carrying it fairly easy. (A carry bag is available as an optional extra.) Overall, it is a nice addition for a picnic or where an electrical outlet is not available.


4. Innovation

Sound docks have been around for years, and although the SoundDock offers superior sound, it offers nothing in the way of innovation. In fact, the lack of Bluetooth or any wireless connectivity for that matter is limiting.


5. Value for money

Much like the die-hard Apple Mac fans that will spend more on a product that performs much the same as cheaper alternatives, you get the same in the audio/visual world.

This becomes especially clear when reading the various reviews posted on the Internet. Reviewers either dislike the Bose SoundDock Portable due to it price, while others like it, saying the sound quality justifies the price.

But at R5 000 for a docking station I would have to agree with the former reviewers. R5 000 is ridiculously overpriced, even though it offers superior sound.



There is no faulting the Bose SoundDock Portable in terms of elegance and sound, but its clunky charger and high price are complete turnoffs.

Total score: 71%

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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