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Lytro: Focusing On The Future - Martin Jordan went along to Choccywoccydoodah to have a play around with the Lytro camera.
I hadn’t heard the super word ‘doodah’ since the Bonzo Dogs (younger readers saying, who?), until I got my invite to the launch of an exciting new camera at the delightfully named Choccywoccydoodah.
Luxuriate in all those vowels - try going up to someone and chanting Choccywoccydoodah a couple of times, you’re guaranteed a smile. Or for the more advanced users, try saying it out loud quickly ten times... you end up speaking in tongues – its quite trippy.
Talking of trippy here I was just off London’s Carnaby Street at said Choccywoccydoodah, an up market chocolaterie to find out more about a new camera from Lytro. Lytro you ask?
It’s a fair question. Lytro was formed six years ago by Ren Ng, born in Malaysia but living in California. This guy has to wear a neck brace just to support the weight of his huge brain. In 2006 he wrote an award winning thesis on light field photography.
The light field is defined as all of the light traveling in every direction through a scene, from the foreground to the background and everything in between. Until recently, light field cameras involved a roomful of hundreds of cameras tethered to a series of computers in a lab. Dr. Ng still only 31 has dedicated more than six years to researching this science to bring the technology out of the lab and make it available for everyone.
On the strength of his thesis he got investors to stump up $50 million to develop the idea and bring a camera to market. So not only is he brilliant, but to raise that sort of money in your twenties, he must also be one smooth talking ******.
We now have a new company, with a new camera and a new concept in photography. It seems like goliath taking on the giants. I so want it to succeed.
I have been to many camera launches where enthusiastic marketing men claim to have reinvented the wheel, or produced a 'game changer'. But this was the first time I really felt, wow this IS ground breaking.
By collecting all the ‘mega rays’ rather than pixels, the camera records the entire light field, all of the rays in every direction through the scene. This gives the camera its big selling point: there is no need to focus the camera, there is no auto focus and no shutter delay that comes with it. You decide on the focus point after you take the photo. The focus point or the depth of field is not fixed (unless you want it to be).
This means that when you share a photo on facebook etc., the viewer can also change focus and perspective. They can interact with your ‘living photo’. You or the viewer just clicks a mouse or taps an ipad on different points of interest in the photo to change the focus.
Have a play with some of the shots I took at Choccywoccydoodah. I particularly like my shot of Rex the dinosaur (who let him in?). Click on the top left or right corner of the shot, Rex will go completely out of focus, now click on Rex’s eyes and watch the magic happen, Rex comes to life! Viewing on an ipad is cool, as you move the tablet the background or Rex moves.
This camera looks cool, fun and funky. Like no other camera you have ever seen. It looks like a little square telescope, or a large lipstick, and comes in 4 vibrant colours. It’s so different it will be a conversation point every time you whip it out.
It only has one button, the shutter. For zooming you swipe your finger across the body. For all other functions you tap or swipe the viewing screen. It’s very simple, some might say basic. It only took me a few minutes to navigate around every function. This is photography pared down, no focus, no flash, no fuss.
With the Lytro UK launch date and price of £399 for the 8GB version, and 16GB prices at £469. It's the sort of price which would make you think seriously, do I really need this camera?
I very much enjoyed messing about with this camera in the sweet shop. It felt like I was experiencing something truly innovative. You don’t have to worry about focus, or exposure or ISO or aperture. What you do need to think about is depth and composition. Like a Hollywood director filming in 3D, you want to get that shark ‘coming at yer’.
Although I am rooting for this camera to succeed and be developed and improved, I do have some doubts. Firstly I would question the unique selling point, how sexy is it to have an infinite number of focus points? From the photographer’s point of view, call me old fashioned, isn’t the focus point a creative decision to be made and considered before you press the shutter? I want to decide the focus point, not my viewer, it’s my photo!
Of course this camera gives you the opportunity to change your mind, and you will never get an unusable out of focus shot.
From the viewer’s point of view, once you have played around with different focus points on many photos, would the novelty wear off? I suspect it would.
If you strip out the ‘living picture’ idea as not that important, and then compare to a compact (which is also likely to be cheaper) or a camera phone, in terms of functionality, features, and control, the Lytro fares badly. The resolution is low, the viewing screen is pathetic, no flash, no video, the list is long.
However maybe that’s missing the point. Early adopters, to use a marketing phrase will get lots of kudos for style and originality, and their friends will enjoy messing about on facebook with that shot their funky friend posted.
I can’t help feeling the technology is amazing and breakthrough, and this is just a starter. It will be refined and developed and the big boys better take notice.
On getting home from Choccywoccydoodah, I opened my goodie bag and pulled out a clear box with a camera in it. Wow a free camera! I excitedly opened the box and pulled the camera out. It felt warm and heavy and soft. It was a cake...