At first glance, the Lytro camera, in its range of candy colors, may look like a fancy new toy, but what’s inside will seriously change the world of digital photography as we know it. Lytro captures a “living image,” whose zoom and focus can be changed at any point after the picture has been captured. This will allow photographers to snap a quick image without having to worry about focus or image blur, because the image can always be easily manipulated later.
The difference between Lytro and standard digital cameras is in the kind of data it stores. Most digital cameras store a field of pixels on a 2D plane, but the Lytro captures a 3D light field, essentially a package of data that can be explored later using their Mac-based software. The accompanying program is currently Mac-only, though the company says a Windows version will be coming soon. Using it is as easy as clicking where you’d like to shift the focus of the image. Ren Ng, the camera’s creator, studied and developed the technology while at Stanford, working with much larger, multi-camera arrays used for the same purpose. The technology was named one of Time’s 50 Best Inventions of 2011.
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The Lytro is amazingly simple, consisting of only a lens and a 2-inch touch screen on the back. There are only three switches on the camera: on and photo-taking buttons, as well as a zoom slider that zooms up to 8x. The camera comes in three different colors (red hot, graphite, and electric blue), and will ship in 8 and 16 GB models, priced at $399 and $499 respectively. The 16 GB is reported to be capable of holding up to 750 images.
The exact release date of the camera is still unknown (reports last year were saying early 2012) but anyone who wants to get a head start on the future of photography can pre-order one from the company’s website. There’s even a gallery where you can play with images taken by the camera to see how the technology works. It seems like the creator’s of Lytro have taken a page out of Apple’s book on the design of the camera. The colors and simplicity make it a very sleek camera indeed, but when considering the industry-changing effect of the new technology inside, the beautiful design is just icing on the cake.