True Point and Shoot Photography?

In what Sarah Lacy of TechCrunch likens to the Harry Potter moving picture, Lytro and its CEO/founder Ren Ng has announced today that it is moving into the consumer market.

The Silicon Valley startup is producing a light field camera- a camera that captures all points of light from all points of direction. Previously, the only way to capture an image this way was to hook up several cameras to a supercomputer. The best analogy for describing what has been accomplished we have been able to find was through the Wall Street Journal speaking with Mr. Ng:

“Conventional digital cameras essentially record the total sum of light rays from a scene as they hit an image sensor, Mr. Ng said. A light-field camera records the color, intensity and direction of rays individually. He compared the approach to audio recording; instead of recording multiple musicians all at once, modern multitrack studios record them separately so that the volume and other effects can be independently adjusted after the fact to create a sound mix.”

There are several benefits to this technology. The main one the company is touting is the fact that the camera will allow users to focus the image after the fact- allowing faster, more accurate photography. This is accomplished by replacing expensive hardware with “computational photography”. If that wasn’t exciting enough, with the increased amount of captured light, consumers have the chance of truly great all purpose camera that works great in low light and offer photos in 3D.

There are certainly challenges ahead for this new outing. There is a substantial support industry tied to digital photography that needs to be assured, lackluster 3D reception in the consumer market, and re/training of users in photo editing.

“What digital photography did was make it easier and more accessible and more egalitarian,” Ng says. If the technology finds a home in today’s market, it will be interesting to see the possibilities come to life as professional and amateur photographers make their way through the new technology. A small sample of what can be done can be found on their website.

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