How The New, Ground-Breaking Lytro Camera Works

Ren Ng LytroRen Ng is founder of Lytro.

Photo: Stanford

Lytro launched today with some truly innovative technology.The camera/software startup is so impressive that investors like Andreessen Horowitz threw in $50 million pre-launch.

What’s the BFD with this camera?

It has to do with light fields.

And WTF are those?

We’ll walk you through everything Lytro can do so you can see the innovation for yourself.

Lytro started as a Stanford PhD dissertation 8 years ago.

Founder Ren Ng was a Stanford student who was frustrated with cameras' limited abilities to capture moments accurately.

He decided to turn his frustration into a 203-page dissertation on light field photography.

Lytro is a camera/software that enables photographers to shoot now and focus later.

Lytro cameras allow photographers to shoot now and focus later.

Perspectives and depths can be changed with the click of a mouse; Lytro says these instant angle shifts make the photos life-like.

A light field is the amount of light that travels in every direction through every point in space.

'The light field is a core concept in imaging science,' says Lytro.

'The light field fully defines how a scene appears. It is the amount of light travelling in every direction through every point in space -- it's all the light rays in a scene. Conventional cameras cannot record the light field.'

Lytro's camera captures every angle of light with a new light field sensor.

Lytro uses a light field sensor to capture colour, intensity and vector direction of light rays.

Before Lytro, cameras just added up all of the light rays and recorded them as on singular amount of light.

The camera will be sold later this year. Here's what it will focus on (pun!):

What's the BFD?

Light field cameras 'allow both the picture taker and the viewer to focus pictures after they're snapped, shift their perspective of the scene, and even switch seamlessly between 2D and 3D views,' says Lytro.

'Pictures become immersive, interactive visual stories that were never before possible -- they become living pictures.'

Lytro's potential market is actually pretty big:

Horowitz explains how Lytro fixes every photographer's frustrations (he also says when Ng walked into his office he 'blew his brain to bits'):

  • Current cameras are too slow--It turns out that auto focusing takes a fair amount of time. How many times have you tried to capture a moment only to have the moment disappear while you were waiting for your camera to focus?
  • The pictures aren't bright enough--Somehow, you didn't actually capture enough light on the plane to get the shot you wanted.
  • They are too complicated--Current cameras provide lots of buttons and knobs to overcome the one plane limitation, but the result is a super complicated device.
  • With Lytro's light field camera, you take pictures instantly. No need to focus, because you can do that later. The camera uses all of the available light in the scene, so you can take photos in very low light environments even without flash. With no buttons for special focus, the Lytro camera is dead simple.

Play with a Lytro photo yourself. Just click on the area you want to enhance:

For more ways to see Lytro in action check out:

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