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
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.
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.