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Lytro heralds light field revolution

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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..

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