Most of you should be aware of the imaging start-up LYTRO by now, whether reading this blog or others the press coverage of the company has been making the rounds on the interweb. So much hype and anticipation has been revolving around the company because of their great strides in portable light-field camera tech. The company founded by Ren Ng based on his doctoral research at Stanford has created quite a few waves in the photographic community over the last few months. The best part about all this? This is a company that has taken a very large step in a very different direction than the rest of the photographic business world. Technically, they are not even a photographic company.
The LYTRO camera is kind of a misnomer, for the camera really is not a camera in the conventional sense of the term. When we think of camera we think a device that works within and responds to the trifecta of exposure values – aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. This camera operates completely outside of that triangle. Let me illustrate simply what it is that I am talking about after the jump.
Notice how all of photography can be contained in the triangle on the right? Notice how LYTRO is outside of that? The concept is a little odd, but this camera wasn’t developed to operate in the same manner that normally concerns photographers.
Any of the recent press you see based on the camera always has a comment to the effect of “this is interesting, but I see no mention of the megapixel count.” They are right, there is no mention because that is a different unit of measurement. Megapixels are for conventional sensors and images. Mega light rays are the correct unit of measurement for this tech, and it’s pretty impressive when you look at all the data that those light ray counts carry. Get used to saying Mega Light Rays too, this technology is not going anywhere. I (the writer of this blog, and not a view shared or endorsed by Precision Camera) honestly think and believe that this is a first step in a completely new field.
So what is the point really? This is a consumer-grade and directed camera, not really a behemoth model to topple over giants like Canon and Nikon, so what is the concern or value of this “big step?”
The point is this: Photography at it’s core has not changed since the 1800s. From large format to the Canon 1Dx, the principles have remained the same. Partially that is due to the organic love that photos bring to people, and partially because Eastman made all the big changes already, and digital really is just an extension of all that combined success. This is a game-changer in the sense that this is a completely different way of thinking about a very old concept. We shoot to share, and the fine art that has come out of photography really is just an appendage on the body of photography. The body is about to discover evolution.
What this all means simply, is that it is a new method of looking at image capture and sharing. Personally, I’m super happy someone decided to try something different for a change. This is a brand new market for Lytro as well as the rest of the world. I hope we’re prepared for the implications of this new tech.