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June 22, 2011 / Dr. Toad

I need a new camera

I broke my camera a while back, but I might hold out a bit longer to get a new one. Because check out this:

Lytro shot with fore focus Lytro shot with back focus

These are my two screenshots (because WordPress unfortunately doesn’t let me embed the original Flash file) of one completely new kind of photograph from this shareable gallery.

If you follow the link to the gallery, you can click anywhere on each of their photos to change the focus of the image. ‘They’ are Lytro — a company launched yesterday that’s about to disrupt the camera market. Their camera uses all of the light field information in one exposure and lets you choose the focus of the image after you’ve taken the shot.

How? Ren Ng, Lytro’s founder and CEO, wrote a dissertation about that at Stanford five years ago. He changed a camera’s optics and sensor in order to make it record all of the information that travels along each individual light ray into the image sensor. That is a lot more data than a conventional digital camera will record, but it preserves the information about the entire light field in the image.

Normally, a digital camera records the light intensity at every pixel. Ng placed a micro-lens array in front of the camera’s photosensor, so that the image recorded instead pictures of the scene from an array of viewpoints as large as the main lens aperture. He then developed digital refocusing algorithms to digitally trace the rays from an ideal camera viewpoint and reconstitute the image from that virtual viewpoint.

And so it is that, as soon as Lytro starts selling these cameras, you’ll be able to really just “point and shoot”, and focus the image in software later.

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