| SAN FRANCISCO, April 22
SAN FRANCISCO, April 22 In 2011, Lytro Inc
dazzled the consumer gadget world when it introduced a pocket
flashlight-sized gizmo that could take "living" pictures -
images that could be refocused after the shutter clicked.
On Tuesday, the Silicon Valley company unveiled a bigger,
more expensive camera designed to make a "do-over" a reality
instead of a photographer's dream.
The Lytro Illum, priced at $1,599, is marketed as a
legitimate tool for commercial photographers and advanced
amateurs who want to differentiate their work in an age of
Instagram and "commodotized imaging," Lytro founder Ren Ng said.
The original camera, which was priced at $399, was mostly a
niche product that sought to prove the viability of light-field
photography. Lytro has declined to provide sales figures for
Ng said it made the most sense for his company to target the
$20 billion high-end camera market due to the growing ubiquity
of smartphones. His cameras share many components, such as
sensors, with high-powered digital single-lens reflex cameras,
known as DSLRs.
Like its predecessor featuring the ability to "focus after
you shoot," the Illum captures the three-dimensional data in
light rays. The technology lets the user adjust the plane of
focus or slightly tilt or shift perspective after the shot.
Unlike the original Lytro camera, however, the Illum
resembles a traditional DSLR, featuring a 30- to 250-mm
equivalent F/2 lens, a 1-inch sensor and a sleek black body with
a shutter button, SD memory cards and a 4-inch touchscreen
display. Its sensor captures 40 "megarays," but the still images
have the equivalent resolution of roughly 4 megapixels, Ng said.
Ng, who founded the company in 2006 after pursuing
light-field imaging research as a Stanford University graduate
student, has become its chief evangelist, promoting light-field
pictures as "photography 3.0" to succeed film and traditional
"It's targeted to creative pioneers, the people who embraced
color technology when it came out, when many people felt
photography was about black and white," Ng said in an interview,
adding that he believes "this transition from digital to
light-field" technology will transform photography.
The basic technology, known as plenoptic photography, has
been around for more than a century. But for decades, the field
lacked the computational algorithms to process the images in new
and useful ways. In 2004, Ng and his Stanford computer graphics
team demonstrated that light-field cameras with high-powered
graphics processors could have mass-market appeal by letting
users refocus images.
Lytro's computational software gives the Illum the ability
to digitally correct optical aberrations inside the camera - to
a certain extent solving flaws that have plagued lens designs
for hundreds of years.
Although Lytro remains one of the leaders in the consumer
sector of the budding light-field photography industry, the
privately held company faces mounting competition.
Mitsubishi and various research organizations have
advanced light-field research in industrial applications.
Pelican Imaging, a Mountain View, California-based startup in
which Nokia Oyj has invested, has said it would
release a plenoptic camera in a smartphone sometime this year.
The relationships that Lytro built with component
manufacturers for the Illum's production could help the company
mass-produce cameras in the future, Ng said.
"Now that we're a hardware-software platform, there's a lot
of room for advancement," he said.
(Reporting by Gerry Shih; Editing by Jan Paschal)