Today, the start-up Lytro has unveiled a new kind of camera that makes a significant leap forward from where photography was yesterday. What’s the big deal? With Lytro’s camera, you can focus on any point in an image taken with a Lytro after you’ve shot the picture.
When viewing a Lytro photograph on your computer, you can simply click your mouse on any point in the image and that area will come into focus. Change the focal point from the flower to the child holding the flower. Make the background blurry and the foreground clear. Do the opposite — you can change the focal point as many times as you like. Try clicking around this photo, taken by Lytro founder Ren Ng with his new camera:
Lytro does this by capturing what is called “lightfield” data. The technology has existed in research facilities for more than a decade, but early lightfield cameras were the size of a wall unit in your den. Lytro’s camera fits in your hand.
Where a traditional image sensor (as in your point-and-shoot or DSLR) can only record where light strikes the sensor surface, Lytro’s image sensor can also record the angle that beam of light had when it struck it. By capturing that information, the sensor can pull in far more data about an image, allowing you to move through the picture, clicking and refocusing along the way.
There are additional advantages to a lightfield sensor. By capturing the angle of light beams, all pictures shot with a Lytro camera are natively 3-D (you still need a 3-D display and glasses, but the information’s already there). More importantly, the camera no longer has to focus because it’s capturing every focal point, which means there’s no focus lag. The camera can respond almost instantly to a shutter-release button.
This is due to many lens like a fly’s eye. Ecological research is like this one: utilizing many data collectors to gather a holistic picture with rich info.