The Lytro Illum is a unique camera featuring Light Field technology that allows images to be refocused after shooting. Andy Westlake investigates its exciting potential

Product Overview

Lytro Illum

Product:

Lytro Illum review

Price as reviewed:

£1,299.00

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Back in October 2011, Lytro announced its intention to transform photography with its first Light Field camera. By measuring the angle at which light rays hit the sensor, as well as their intensity, the company promised the ability to refocus images after shooting. The company coined the term ‘Living Images’ to describe this ability to explore depth and focus.

Unfortunately, the first Lytro camera looked more like a toy than a tool, and at £400 was pretty expensive for a product that promised to solve the ‘problem’ of focusing for consumers – especially as even the cheapest digital compact cameras have pretty sophisticated and accurate autofocus systems anyway. Its image quality wasn’t up to much either, so the camera garnered little interest among buyers, despite its undoubted technical cleverness.

What the first model did provide, though, was proof of concept: it genuinely produced images that could be refocused after shooting. Now Lytro is back with a completely different product, aimed at a very different target market and with a price to match. At a penny under £1,300, the unusually designed Illum is being put forward as a serious creative tool for professional and enthusiast photographers.

It’s pretty important to understand, however, that Lytro doesn’t want you to replace your existing camera with an Illum. Instead it’s positioned as a rather different kind of tool – one that can complement a conventional camera, rather than replace it. It’s still offering images that can be refocused after the event, but now this isn’t necessarily being proposed purely as a ‘fix’ for autofocus. In fact, as the image can only be refocused within certain bounds, the lens does still have to be focused almost as usual.

Lytro Illum Rear view

Lytro Illum Rear view

What the Illum offers is the ability to manipulate focus, depth of field, and even perspective (to a degree), after the image has been taken. This is all done using the supplied software, which is available for both Mac and Windows computers. It doesn’t just generate stills as output either; it can also be used to create animations that explore the depth properties of the subject, with smooth transitions between focus planes and different depths of field. Indeed, some of the effects it is capable of producing from a single exposure seem, at first sight, to be impossible.

It’s pretty clear that with these abilities, Lytro sees the Illum as a unique creative tool in its own right – a way of making and manipulating images that’s completely new and different to anything else on the market. After some time using the camera, I’m beginning to think that the company may have a point.

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Lytro Illum review - Design and operation
  3. 3. Lytro Illum review - Lytro Desktop software
  4. 4. Lytro Illum review - Image quality
  5. 5. Lytro Illum review - Focus
  6. 6. Lytro Illum review - Depth of field
  7. 7. Lytro Illum review - Summary
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  • entoman

    The image quality of the current camera is atrocious, the file sizes are ridiculous, and the time needed to download images is to say the least, excessive. However, the technology is still at a very early stage and we all know how quickly technology advances, given sufficient investment and competition, so I expect that all of these criticisms will be overcome within 5-10 years. A long time to wait, but miracles don’t happen overnight!

    I disagree that this type of technology will only be of interest to those wanting to produce animations. I can see it being extremely useful for photojournalistic photography, landscapes, architectural photography and portraits. It may also prove very useful for macro photography, eliminating the need for focus-stacking.

    Lytro deserve to do well, and I hope they receive the investment that will allow them (and other companies) to advance this technology rapidly. In a few years cameras like this will output 40 megapixel ultra high quality images, and file compression technology will remove the hindrances of slow downloading and processing. This is extremely exciting technology, and it’s just a matter of time before it becomes commonplace and much more affordable.