||This article needs attention from an expert in technology. (April 2014)|
Front of a Lytro light field camera, showing front lens. Taken after a presentation by CEO Ren Ng at HP Auditorium, Soda Hall, University of California, Berkeley. The unit was fully functional; at this time the cameras were on preorder but not quite yet shipping.
|Ren Ng, Executive Chairman; Kurt Akeley, CTO; Jason Rosenthal, CEO|
In 2011, Lytro introduced its first generation pocket-sized camera, capable of refocusing images after being taken. It went on sale October 19, 2011 in 8 GB and 16 GB versions, and began shipping on February 29, 2012.
In April 2014, the company announced Lytro Illum, its second generation camera for commercial and experimental photographers. The Lytro Illum markets at $1,600. The Illum resembles a conventional mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera, but has a permanently attached 30–250mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.0 lens and an articulated rear screen.
While he was a researcher at Stanford, Ng was photographing a friend's daughter and noticed "it was incredibly difficult to focus the image properly and capture her fleeting smile in just the right way." After completing his Ph.D, Ng decided to use his experience in light field research to "start a company that would produce light-field cameras that everyone could enjoy." The company was originally named Refocus Imaging, before launching as Lytro.
Lytro board members include Ben Horowitz, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz; Patrick Chung, partner at NEA; and TiVo cofounder Mike Ramsay, with Charles Chi of Greylock Partners serving as Executive Chairman. Advisors include Intuit cofounder Scott Cook, VMware cofounder Diane Greene, Dolby Labs chairman Peter Gotcher and Sling Media cofounder Blake Krikorian.
Lytro founder Ng was Lytro's first CEO. Lytro’s Chief Technology Officer Kurt Akeley was a founding member of Silicon Graphics. In June 2012 Ren Ng announced that he would be changing roles and be Lytro's Executive Chairman focused on innovation. Charles Chi would change from Executive Chairman to interim CEO while Lytro's board begins looking for a new CEO.
Although not a true light field camera, the HTC One (M8) mobile phone released in April 2014 mimics Lytro's depth-sensing functionality through the use of a second camera and stereoscopic post processing.
Lytro Light Field Camera
Lytro's plenoptic camera features a matrix of tiny lenses on a sensing chip. These sensors gather light from different sources and directions. The camera itself is a squared-off tube less than five inches long with a lens opening at one end and a 1.52" LCD touch screen at the other. The first generation of the camera comes in two options: one with 8GB of memory (which can hold 350 pictures) and one with 16GB (which can hold 750 pictures).
The Lytro ILLUM features a 40 megaray sensor (in comparison to the Light Field Camera's 11 megaray sensor), and a more powerful processor. The 30-250mm lens with 8x optical zoom, f/2.0 aperture, and 1:3 macro is much more prominent in the design of the camera, but is still non-interchangeable. The lens was designed to weigh half a pound to make the camera lighter and more agile. The Illum features a 4" LCD touchscreen with a wide aspect ratio, featuring an overlay that shows the photographer the relative focus of all objects in the frame and which elements are re-focusable. The camera has an SD card slot and no internal storage, and also features an external shutter release port, hot shoe, tripod mount, and removable battery.
As of June 21, 2011, Lytro has raised approximately $50 million. This round of funding was led by NEA, with participation of investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners and K9 Ventures and along with individual investors.
Light-field photography (also known as plenoptic photography) captures the available light in a scene coming from more than one direction. It works by breaking up the main image with an array of microlenses over an image sensor. The camera software then uses this data to determine the general directions of incoming light rays.
Features of a plenoptic camera include:
- Refocusing: Users are able to refocus images after they are taken, mostly limited to either the foreground or background on the original Lytro. The Illum allows the refocusable range to be selected using the optical focus and zoom rings on the lens, and features "focus bracketing" to extend the refocusable range by capturing 3 or 5 consecutive images at different depths.
- Speed: Because there is no need to focus the lens before taking a picture, a plenoptic camera can capture images more quickly than conventional point-and-shoot digital cameras.
- Low-light sensitivity: the ability to adjust focus in post-processing allows the use of larger apertures than are feasible on conventional cameras, thus enabling photography in low-light environments without a flash.
- 3D images: since a plenoptic camera records depth information (which allows it to focus at variable depths), stereo images can be constructed in software from a single plenoptic image capture.
One drawback is low resolution: Users are able to convert the Lytro camera's proprietary image into a regular JPEG file, at a desired focal plane. The resulting image from the first generation camera has 1080 × 1080 pixels (roughly 1.2 megapixels), and 2450 × 1634 (4.0 megapixels) from the Illum.
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