There are some days when technology has a way of grabbing you and poking you in the ribs and saying “Ha! Betcha didn’t think I could do THIS!”
Today was one of these days. We sat down at our favorite Mexican restaurant (Oralé Taqueria Mexicana, which we reviewed last year) and got to play with a loaner unit of the amazing Lytro Light Field Camera ($399 for 8GB grey and blue, $499 for the red 16GB).
What does this camera do? It lets you shoot first and focus later. It shoots what Lytro calls “living photos”. Say what? It’s easier to show you than to explain.
Take a look at the photos we shot below, and use your mouse to click on various parts of the photo (to change focal points) or double click (to zoom).
Go ahead, we’ll wait for you!
Pretty cool huh?
How is it doing this!?
Gaaah make it stop, my brain can’t handle it!
The photos it takes are undeniably unique but the camera unit itself is also like nothing else out there, except maybe some sort of weird compact spy telescope. It doesn’t look very ergonomic but is surprisingly easy to use. It’s also hefty and solid. I was expecting something light and plasticky but this is anything but. The touch screen viewfinder, however, isn’t quite up to the same quality as the rest of the unit. The resolution is adequate for composing your picture but barely usable for checking focus (as weird as that may sound for a camera whose selling point is that you can set your focal point after the shot).
A cool touch: the first time you plug the camera into a Mac (and yes, it’s Macs only for now) the necessary photo software is installed automatically on your computer. The Lytro keeps the installer stored in its internal memory. A neat trick – goodbye, install CDs!
Better get used to thinking in terms of square compositions: the Lytro software won’t let you crop, resize or manipulate your photos in any way other than rotating their orientation. And even more restrictive: the only way you can share your “living photos” is via the Lytro website. From there, you can link to Facebook or embed in websites like what we did here, but how do you display or upload your images if Lytro’s site were to go offline? We’re not sure. You can always export your photos from the Mac application as JPEGs, but you’d lose all ability to play around with different focal points. You’d have to pick one and “freeze it” as a static image.
The Lytro isn’t ever going to replace a conventional camera. It feels more like a proof of concept, an experimental new way of looking at photography that just so happens to be commercially available. The image quality and resolution is pretty much good for just showing off on Facebook and not much else. It’s like a cool iPhone camera app that just so happens to come in hardware form, in a nice form factor. The promise of future software upgrades and added features may someday elevate its status beyond expensive photographic toy. But for now, oh what an amazing toy it is!
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