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Lytro Light Field Camera Review

Lytro Light Field Camera Review - Find out how the Lytro Light Field Camera performs in our review, the camera that lets you change focus after you've taken the photo.

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Category : Compact Cameras
Product : Lytro Light Field Camera
Price : £399
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Features
Handling
Performance
Verdict
Specification

Lytro Blue (5)

The new Lytro Light Field Camera is a camera that lets you choose which area of the photo is in focus after you've taken it. You can refocus the image on the camera in playback mode, in the Lytro software available for Mac or Windows, or on the web when you've uploaded the images to Lytro's website.

Lytro Insides Image
Lytro Insides (courtesty Lytro.com)

Lytro Light Field Camera Features

Lytro Blue (8)

The Lytro camera doesn't feature a specified number of "megapixels" , instead Lytro say the camera has 11 megarays, although what this means is anyone's guess, as the camera takes 1080 x 1080 square photos that can be refocused.

Key Features

  • Lytro sensor "11 megarays" - the explanation is equally vague.
  • 8x optical zoom lens, f/2 constant aperture
  • 35-300mm equivalent focal length
  • 1.52 inch low-resolution touch-screen
  • Zoom slider
  • No video mode
  • Auto ISO (ranges from ISO80 to ISO3200)
  • 0cm Macro Focus
  • MicroUSB socket and charging
  • Available in Red (16GB model), or Blue / Grey / Seaglass / Pink (8GB models)
The Lytro software is available for Mac or Windows 7 64 bit (no other versions of Windows, ie Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7 32bit are not supported).

Lytro Light Field Camera Handling

Lytro Blue (6)
Handling - There are very few buttons, underneath is the USB socket, and the on/off switch. On top is the shutter button and almost invisible zoom control - you simply slide your finger over the surface to control the zoom - this makes it quite easy to accidentally zoom in an out when you didn't mean to. The back features the 1.52inch touch screen. It's an odd shaped camera, nothing like any other camera available, and in a way is a little more like holding a camcorder or perhaps a hand-held speed camera. The shutter release button will also switch the camera on, making it very easy for anyone to pick it up and start taking photos. Kids for example found it very easy to pick up and start taking photos. The rubber surround gives a good area to grip but it can take a while to get comfortable with the cameras design, and it does take a little effort to try and keep the camera stable while taking photos.

Lytro Blue (3)

In the box you get a wrist strap, short instruction leaflet, micro-USB cable (used for charging and transferring photos), a lens cloth (nice!), and a magnetic lens cap for the camera. It would be nice if some kind of pouch was included for the camera, as finding a case for it may be difficult. A tripod mount is an optional extra, as the camera doesn't feature one built in. A 25 page camera manual is available on the Lytro website (PDF). The camera is available in blue, pink, seaglass or grey with 8gb, or in red with 16gb of memory built in.

Lytro Blue (4) | 1/160 sec | f/11.0 | 35.0 mm | ISO 100

Menus - The menus and modes on the camera are very basic, with two main shooting modes: basic and creative. In basic touching the screen will set the exposure, and in creative touching the screen will set the main focus area. The camera shows you storage space, battery life and in settings you can view the about screen, delete all or reset the camera. In playback you can view one photo or nine on screen, as well as refocus images and zoom into images. With the latest firmware update it's possible to set the shutter speed and ISO speed in custom shooting mode, later firmware updates enabled Wi-Fi, and the camera firmware is automatically checked for an update when you run the Lytro Desktop software.

Lytro Screens (1)
Lytro Options (Shooting mode, Storage, Battery)
Lytro Screens (2)
Lytro Settings
Lytro Screens (3)
Lytro Playback
Lytro Screens (4)
Lytro Thumbnail View

The screen is so low resolution you could literally count the number of pixels the camera screen has. The screen resolution is 128 x 128 pixels. It also has poor viewing angles, so you need to be looking directly at it to see what you are taking a photo of. Wi-Fi Connectivity is possible using the iOS Lytro mobile app. There is no Android app available at the moment. 

Lytro Blue Hands On - Front

Battery life - Battery life is rated at 400+ shots according to the Lytro manual. With the 8GB model you can fit 350 shots before the camera is full, therefore we weren't able to test whether the full 400 shots was possible, as the camera is plugged into the computer to get the images off (and therefore charging). We didn't have any issues with battery life, and would think that 350+ photos is easily possible before the battery goes flat. A nice feature of the camera is that it shows what percentage battery life is left.

Speed – We took a number of shots to test the camera's responsiveness, from switch on to first photo, shot to shot, focusing speed etc. We take a number of shots and then use the average to ensure accurate and consistent tests, making it easy to compare with other cameras.

  Lytro Light Field Camera
Shutter Response <0.05
Wide - Focus / Shutter Response <0.05
Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response <0.05
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo 0.25
Shot to Shot (without flash) 1.0 (6 shots before slowdown)

Focus speed isn't an issue as the camera does focus or pre-focus as such, instead it lets you take the photo the instant you press the button. In creative mode you can set the focus distance closer to the camera for close macro photos, but as this focus point is set before you take the photo, the pictures taken afterwards are taken instantly. Doesn't need to focus, just takes the photo instantly, you can focus it later. Because there is no delay due to focusing, switching the camera on and taking the first photo can be accomplished in just 1/4 of a second. There isn't a continuous shooting mode.

Lytro Light Field Camera Performance

Viewing images needs to be explained, as viewing the images on the web isn't the same as viewing them in the Lytro desktop software. Using the Lytro desktop software you can view the full size 1080x1080 images and alter the area in focus nearly as much as you want (these individual files are roughly 15mb in size). On the web images you can view a number of focus areas (up to 5 focus areas according to the Lytro website). You can also refocus the images on the rear screen, although it's so small and low quality that this isn't a pleasant experience. Lytro also say that future versions of the software will allow all areas to be in focus (eg infinite focus), the Lytro files are saves as .lfp files, and these are effectively the camera's RAW images. Images can be exported from the Lytro Desktop software as JPEG images, however these are exported with just one area in focus (the last area you selected in the software), although disappointingly, these 1080x1080 images are compressed heavily with the file size just 100 - 280KB.


Additional sample photos and product shots are available in the Equipment Database, where you can add your own review, and product ratings. The image below shows an image that has been exported where you can alter the perspective, before you can do this you need to process the image in the Lytro desktop software to enable perspective shift.


Refocusing the images - this can be done in the software, on the camera, or on images shared to the web. How much you refocus the images depends on what's in the shot, with the Lytro website suggesting that anything further than 5 feet away will not be re-focusable (source), as that's effectively at infinite focus, with the best results found in having objects closer to the camera. In standard mode the closest distance for focus is around 5-6 inches away from the front of the camera, in creative mode, this can be directly in front of the lens (source).


Here's an image you can "play" with, click to refocus, or double click to zoom. You can also view full screen by clicking the icon in the bottom right corner, this then brings up an option to view full screen. Viewing images on the computer, you get a much better view, but the images don't appear to be very high quality, as these JPEG exports show below, there appears to be quite strong JPEG artefacts, and a general softness to the images.

Lytro Light Field Camera Sample Photos


Sample Photos - The camera produces images with good colour, particularly outdoors, where the camera benefits from being able to use lower ISO settings. Indoors colour can suffer as the ISO setting increases as the camera lacks flash.

Lytro Light Field Camera Lens test images


Lens Performance - The lens is the 35mm equivalent of 35-300mm, meaning it isn't very wide at the wide-angle end of the lens, however it does give you a good telephoto reach. However, the ability to refocus at the telephoto end is quite limiting as subjects need to be even further apart for it to work. In custom mode macro performance is excellent, as the camera allows you to focus on subjects directly in front of the lens, although getting light to the subject then becomes an issue.


Dynamic range can be an issue, (see below) and using the selective focus feature brings this to light very quickly, for example, you can choose what area is in focus, and then when something is under or overexposed you can focus on it and almost expect it to have altered the exposure for each section, as you would do if you were taking photos of each section.



Lytro Light Field Camera ISO test images


ISO Noise Performance - Noise is low at ISO80 to ISO200, and increases at ISO400. Noise is quite noticeable at ISO800 and gets noticeably worse as this is increased. As the camera doesn't feature a flash, the ISO setting is increased indoors to get sharp shots, so it's best to avoid using the higher ISO settings if possible, and the f/2.0 lens helps here.

Lytro Light Field Camera White-balance test images


White Balance Performance - The camera does a decent job with auto white balance in a variety of shooting conditions, although there are no other white balance options available other than auto.


Lytro Light Field Camera Other sample images


Digital Filters - The camera doesn't have any, although does let you apply filters in the Lytro desktop software. The camera doesn't have a panoramic mode, and the software does not let you stitch the images together. The camera doesn't have a video mode.

Value For Money

The camera is $399 US dollars for the 8GB version, or $499 for the 16GB version, and is now available in the UK priced at £399 for the 8GB version. There are no other cameras anything like this, so working out value for money compared to other cameras is quite difficult. Since the camera has been released, there are some alternatives, including Nokia introducing re-focusable shots, on some of its camera phones.

You'll also need to buy a case or bag to keep your camera safe and protected - have a look at our complete guide to camera bags.

Lytro Light Field Camera Verdict

The Lytro Light Field Camera is a rather unique digital camera with an impressive feature, that of being able to re-focus the images after you have taken them. It's managed to produce this in a compact, but strangely shaped, digital camera with an 8x optical zoom lens with a bright f/2.0 aperture. 
 
The ability to choose your focus and have the rest of the image out of focus, gives the subject excellent separation from anything else in the frame, producing quite attractive results. However, using the camera, it feels as though you have to deliberatly setup the scene and shot to produce the correct effect, otherwise, you may as well be taking the photos on a standard camera, as the low resolution images of the Lytro are quite disappointing. Even when viewed at the full resolution of 1080x1080 the quality is quite poor, and although a firmware update improved image quality the images are still very low resolution. This may not be of concern to you if your primary aim is to share your photos on social network sites such as facebook, where the small web images look fine. The desktop software now lets you export refocused, extended focus, 3D red/cyan JPEGs, Stereo JPS files as well as the raw Lightfield and stacked raw Lightfield images.
 
The camera's high speed response when taking photos thanks to it not having to focus is certainly appealing, as well as the quick switch on time. It's also extremely easy to use having just an on/off, shutter release and zoom control externally. Although the use of a small 1.5 inch touchscreen with a very low resolution is disappointing, especially with it's poor viewing angles.
 
If you love the idea behind the Lytro, like playing with the images on this page, and have a spare £400, then the Lytro can be a lot of fun, and as a demonstration of the technology it's impressive. However it does feel very "gadgety" and by that I mean it is fun for a very short while, and then very quickly becomes a bit of a one trick pony, when I'd much rather use a high resolution standard digital camera. 
 

Lytro Light Field Camera Pros

Impressive firmware /software update process
Manual controls added with a firmware update
Perspective shift possible
Excellent macro performance
Ideal if you regularly carry flowers or other small objects around with you
Instant focus, shutter response
Future improvements promised
Easy to use

Lytro Light Field Camera Cons

Low resolution, small screen
No video mode
Low resolution JPEG output
Wi-Fi app not available for Android (yet?)
Can only delete one photo at a time (or format all)
Price

FEATURES  
HANDLING  
PERFORMANCE  
VALUE FOR MONEY  
VERDICT  
 

Lytro Light Field Camera Specifications

ManufacturerLytro
Lens
Max Aperturef/2
35mm equivalent35mm - 300mm
Optical Zoom8x
Image Sensor
CCD pixelsNo Data
Pixels (W)1080
Pixels (H)1080
Sensor TypeNo Data
Sensor SizeNo Data
Sensor Size (width)No Data
Sensor Size (height)No Data
Aspect Ratio
  • 1:1
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor1.52in
Screen resolution128x128 pixels
Touch ScreenYes
Focusing
Min Focus0cm
Focusing modes
  • Autofocus
  • Touch AF
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest1/250sec
Shutter speeds longest8sec
Exp modes
    Metering
      ISO sensitivity80 - 3200
      White balance
      • Auto
      Exposure CompNo Data
      Shooting Options
      Continuous shootingNo Data
      Video
      Movie modeNo
      Video Resolution
        Video FPSN/A
        Stereo SoundNo
        Optical Zoom with VideoNo
        Other Features
        Image StabilisationNo
        Interface
        HDMINo
        USBUSB 2
        Wi-FiNo
        Storage
        Card Type
          File Type
            Power Source
            Battery TypeLithium-Ion, built in
            CIPA Rating400
            Box Contents
            Box ContentsCamera, Wrist strap, MicroUSB cable, Lens cloth, Instructions leaflet, Lens cap
            Dimensions
            Weight214g
            Width41mm
            Height41mm
            Depth112mm

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            Comments


            josa 2 25 Czech Republic
            12 Nov 2012 12:52PM
            So how come this expensive garbage got in the production/stores??? Sad

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            ianrobinson e2
            4 1.1k 8 United Kingdom
            12 Nov 2012 10:16PM
            all very good but i can see the limitations straight off, not for me.
            widtink 2 406 2 Scotland
            12 Nov 2012 11:31PM
            whats the point of this Sad
            13 Nov 2012 6:35PM
            There is a way this could be of use in the future. (just an idea)

            If you use detachable lenses (mirrorless or dslr) then the sensor could be attached to the lens instead of the camera and the Lytro technology incorporated into the lens.
            Sensors are becoming cheaper so 3 or 4 lenses with this technology wouldn't be anymore expensive and the sensor would be dust free; forever.
            AlexandraSD 2 435 United Kingdom
            19 Nov 2012 1:23AM
            erm.....

            What is a megaray? A megaray is a measure of light field data capture; the Lytro Light Field Sensor captures 11 million rays, or 11 megarays.

            Light field data capture? A measure of? I think i must have my silly hat on because this makes no sense to me in the slightest!

            Pretty neat idea though, the camera, i like the minimalism thats going on there, though the style is a bit bland, but the re-focus thingy, thats pretty cool but why would you want to refocus an image? Call me old fashioned but i usually focus before i take the image, so i have no need for that.

            Lytro should have sold this at a much higher retail price, so then only those with more money than sense would buy it. A shame about the shortcomings of this camera, it could have been the start of something new but its limitations don't do it any favours, a camera that is awkward to hold is pretty useless really!
            mikesavage 12 234 2 England
            30 Nov 2013 5:22PM
            Not sure why this old review has been re-posted, but I think the best way for the manufacturer to make money from this technology is to license it for use in mobile 'phones.

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