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3/27/2012
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Lytro: The Next Big Thing In Photography

Light field photography can eliminate the biggest problem photographers have: out-of-focus pictures. Don't toss your digital camera just yet, though. Although a major breakthrough, the Lytro is far from perfect.

Apple-centric
Lytro's Apple-centricity is not limited to the fact that the desktop software is currently limited to OS X. It extends to the Web, and to the mobile space, where dynamic photos via Lytro's website are best viewed on the iPhone and iPad. Image viewing on the Android OS 2.3 device I tested was a broken experience in which I got the photo to refocus only once. No dynamic viewing was possible on a Windows Phone 7.5 device. Although Lytro seems to provide platform-specific HTML5 support for iOS devices, this does not seem to be the case for the desktop, where Adobe Flash is required. Internet Explorer 10 for the Windows 8 Consumer Preview Metro interface does not support plugins. And Metro did not detect that the browser is HTML5 compliant. A message appeared in IE10 for Windows 8 Metro noting that Adobe Flash is required.


[At the CES 2012 show in Las Vegas in January, InformationWeek's Fritz Nelson interviewed Lytro at their booth about the camera. Click here to read the story, including video of the interview.]

Lytro: The first cloud camera?
In its current hardware, software, and Web configuration, the Lytro is a cloud-dependent camera. The only way to enjoy the full viewing experience, using zoom and full-screen, is to upload your photos to Lytro's cloud. Moreover, sharing Lytro dynamic photos on Facebook, blogs, and other Web pages is dependent on pointing back to Lytro's Web service. If the service fails or if Lytro disappears as a business entity, all dynamic photos currently on websites will be inaccessible and unviewable.

Despite the technology's current limitations, light field photography surely is the future. Back when digital photography first became available, in the mid-1990s, a lot of people thought it was a fad--most people dismissed the technology as obviously inferior to film photography and more difficult to use. And yet here we are, not even 20 years later, with film photography all but dead and gone.

Name: Lytro Light Field Camera

The Lytro is an amazing device and might be a sign of what's to come in digital photography, but it's a 1.0 product. You will appreciate it for the focusing problems it solves for photographers. It has great potential for professionals, such as scientists and others who work in the field, who need to get the shot the first time. But you shouldn't put your other cameras up on eBay yet.
Price: $499 for 16GB model (750 pictures). $399 for 8GB model (350 pictures).

Pro:
  • No need to worry about focusing.
  • Turns on instantly.
  • Fast shutter response.
  • Little delay between taking photos.
  • Small and light.
  • Free Web storage and viewing service.
Con:
  • Limited to set amount of storage that comes with the camera.
  • Square photo format.
  • No flash, and poor low-light performance.
  • Noticeable noise in photos of distant subjects.
  • Desktop software limited in functionality, and currently available only for Macs.
  • Unknown cloud storage limit.
  • Inability to share on self-hosted WordPress blogs.
  • Slow desktop image processing.

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