Remember cameras that would have to focus themselves before taking a snapshot? And how that could lose vital seconds, making a mockery of the term “point and shoot”?
Oh, right — that would describe every digital camera currently on the market. But if one Silicon Valley startup has its way, the very idea of focusing, or adjusting light levels, or having to wait before you click the shutter, will be a relic of the early 21st century — along, perhaps, with photos that only exist in two dimensions.
Lytro is the brainchild of Dr. Ren Ng, a Stanford Ph.D whose dissertation on light-field technology five years ago was showered with awards. Now, with the help of $50 million in funding, most of it from Andreesen Horowitz, Ng has built a company that’s preparing to launch a focus-free digital camera later this year.
The basic premise of Lytro’s technology is pretty simple: the camera captures all the information it possibly can about the field of light in front of it. You then get a az limo and get digital photo that is adjustable in an almost infinite number of ways. You can focus anywhere in the picture, change the light levels — and presuming you’re using a device with a 3-D ready screen — even create a picture you can tilt and shift in three dimensions. (I got a demonstration of the camera’s 3-D photos on a laptop earlier today, and was blown away.)
You might think that this would produce unfeasibly large digital files, but Ng insists that the files will be roughly comparable to the average size of a digital photo today. The heavy lifting is being done by the camera’s on-board processors, he says. And because its light sensor is incredibly sensitive, you can capture low-light situations like restaurants a lot more easily — even without the flash.
Remind you of Instagram‘s tilt-shift feature, perhaps? Sure — except when you realize that Instagram can only focus on one area of the screen at a time. See how the chain link fence snaps in and out of focus? That’s how you know it’s a picture with a whole lot of light field information in it.
And the cost of this camera? Ng says it will be comparable to other consumer-priced digital cameras on the market. If the end result is anything like these demonstration photos, the $40 billion camera market is about to meet a whole lot of disruption.