Lytro Illum

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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

Lytro Illum review – Lytro Desktop software

Desktop software screenshot

The Lytro Desktop software allows refocusing by clicking on the image, and has an aperture slider to manipulate depth of field

Of course, there’s not a lot of point in having these Living Images if you can’t do anything with them, and this is where the Lytro Desktop software comes in. It imports the camera’s huge LFR raw files – 55MB a shot – and converts them to something that can be viewed and shared.

The software has conventional processing controls such as exposure, white balance, and shadow and highlight adjustments. But crucially, it also offers refocusing and depth-of-field controls. You can focus on any subject in the frame simply by clicking on it, and move an aperture slider from f/1 to f/16, watching more and more of the scene come into focus as you do so. It’s even possible to emulate the effects of a tilt lens, making a focus plane that’s not parallel with the sensor. Needless to say, this is all very impressive, especially the first couple of times you use it.

Eventually, of course, you become used to all this technical wizardry and have to start trying to do something practical with your images. Here you get several choices. Still images can be output at 4-million-pixel resolution, and you can also create stereoscopic pairs in the JPS format, if that’s your thing. The LFR files can then be uploaded to Lytro’s website with your exposure and colour adjustments intact, where users can explore their depth by clicking on the various planes of focus.

Perhaps most interestingly, though, it is possible to create animated videos that explore the depth of your pictures in detail. You can create keyframes with different focus points, and apply a variety of preset transitions between them. At the moment you don’t get as much control over this process as I’d personally like, but with the right images, these animations can be very effective indeed.

Example animations

This animation pulls focus from the background building to the foreground rose, while zooming out of the scene.

In this animation, the depth of field increases to bring the background into focus (equivalent to stopping down the aperture), while zooming back as well.

In this animation, focus is pulled smoothly form the foreground to the background, while zooming in. This gives the impression of flying across the Thames towards St Paul’s Cathedral.

This animation of our specially-prepared still life set-up uses the ‘Wave’ preset in the Lytro Desktop Software, pulling focus from background to foreground and varying the perspective in the process.

Here focus is pulled from the middle distance to the foreground, with perspective changes along the way. At the end, the depth of field is increased, simulating stopping down the lens.

In this final example, focus is pulled from the foreground to the background, and the depth of field increased at the end.

Remember, all of these animations have been made by software manipulation of a single Raw image file from the Lytro Illum. The technology is very impressive indeed, and while some image artefacts become visible if you look closely, the overall effect is pretty convincing.

Software performance

One drawback right now is the sheer amount of time needed by the Lytro Desktop software merely to import your files, or output them to easily viewable formats. On a high-end MacBook Pro dedicated to running the software, I found it took 8mins to import just 24 image files using the internal SD card reader. Extrapolate this to a not especially intensive shooting session of 100 images and you’re looking at half an hour just for import. This is on a fast computer; using a mid-range ultrabook running Windows 8.1, it took me more than 38mins simply to copy and process the same 24 raw files off an SD card, and over 1min to output a 4-million-pixel JPEG still. It’s difficult to see many photographers finding this entirely acceptable.

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