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Lightfield Camera or Plenoptic Camera

The idea presented by this type of camera is of a photo that can be taken first and focused when viewing later. The viewer, not the photographer, can select the point of focus.

In effect what is taken is a larger number of photos, with very near lenses, and these images are combined to produce the resulting image. However it's not a camera with a lot of lenses on it, but a single lens containing a micro lens array inside it, you might like to think of it as one or more of the lens elements having a lot of bubbles on it, forming many different small lenses. This is said to be a 4 dimensional light field.

The individual small images have a very low pixel count, so you have difficulty in getting large images out of this. In 2004 a group at Stanford University built a 16 megapixel camera with a 90,000 microlens array, so each micro lens covered just 175 pixels, however it allowed the concept to be proven and the photo to be focused after it was taken.

Cameras of this type are only recently available, for 2010, Raytrix has sold several models of camera with this technology, aimed at industrial and scientific applications. From early 2012, the first camera aimed at public sale has become available from Lytro. A number of other experimental cameras have also been produced.

In addition to being able to focus an image after its been taken, it's possible with this type of camera to produce a realistic 3D image and its this area that a lot of interest is in, for industrial or robotic type applications, and for a variety of security functions from creating 3D images of scenes, suspects and systems that may in the future be able to recognise people from images and track them automatically on a network of CCTV cameras. Some experiments have also been ongoing with microscopes looking at getting clearer 3D images of very small items.

The Lytro Camera

The only camera that is available to the public, for general photography at this point is the new Lytro camera. This does not look like a camera at all, but a rectangular plastic box or piece of square tube, with a lenses at one end and a display at the other. It is small, just 1.61 inches square by 4.41 inches long, (41mm x 41mm x 112mm). It weights just 7.5ozs (214 grams).

The camera allows you to take a photograph through its constant f2 aperture, so a very limited depth of field to the basic photo, and low light is rarely a problem, you don't focus at the time but you can zoom.

See the effect demonstrated in their online gallery. Just click on any point in the photos and it refocuses to that point. Starting with the f2 aperture with limited depth of field the effect is very noticeable.

Software is provided to go with it, but at this time it only runs on a Mac, but a windows version is in development. A You Tube video by Lytro shows a collection of 3D images that it says were taken and can be created from this camera, however its not clear if this software is included. 

There are two models, but one is available in two colour choices.

Memory 8GB 16GB
Number of images 350 750
Colour all black or blue and black Red and black
Price $399 $499

The camera has only two buttons, power and shutter. Other settings/selections are made from the small touch screen.

The main downsides are, that the resulting images converted to JPG's are only 1.2megapixels, and while you can add the images to a website, the software and browser has to be able to handle the code, and I have not been able to include one here, although available, as it will not work in our website creation software.

When I first saw this I thought I must have one of these, but then like all gadgets and gizmos, when you put it down and think about it over a few days, then its not clear what I could or would use the resulting images for.


By: Keith Park Section: Photography Section Key:
Page Ref: Light_field Topic: Cameras  Last Updated: 03/2012

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