May 092012
 

The Lytro Light Field Camera  - It’s slick, it’s fun and it’s a $400 toy!

So I just received my very own Lytro light field camera today! A few months ago when this crazy tube like camera was announced I pre-ordered one immediately as I am a sucker for new technology and the whole Lytro story sounded so cool.  I mean, this camera/gizmo had gotten so much press it went viral and everyone was raving how this WAS the future! Yep, the future of photography as we know it…being able to focus your shot AFTER you take it. Wow, think of the possibilities.

No more needing to focus at all because the sensor records it ALL. After you shoot the image you can easily set your focus point and like magic, the image changes before your eyes.

But I did not realize the limitations this thing would have with only 1 megapixel of resolution, the need to use proprietary software to properly view the images, and the not so hot low light performance. It appeared my phone would take better images so why would I plop down $400 for one of these? It all seemed so gimmicky and toy like.

So after reading more about it and how it was pretty much just a gimmick I decided to cancel my pre-order. Only problem is, I ended up getting so busy with life in general that I forgot to cancel! So about 10 minutes before I was set to leave for my Berlin trip the big brown UPS truck  shows up at the door with a box and when I opened it up, what was inside? An electric blue 8GB Lytro light field camera! Yep, my bank account was debited $427 for this thing and now I had it. What to do?

I had to open it up and try it..I do write a camera review blog after all.

I decided to go ahead and try it out because how could I resist? The apple like box and packaging looked so tempting so I packed it into my carry on bag and took it with me on the trip. I figured..why not document my journey with this little guy and hope for the best? Lol..of course I also brought along some real cameras :)

You can mess with the focus point of any of these Lytro images, which are hosted at lytro.com

This is a cool ass gadget, but not worth $400

The price you pay for new technology. This very 1st Lytro camera is simple, basic, and the build and feel of this  thing is quality. Like I said before, it feels very “Apple” in the way it was designed, packaged and even the “designed in California” print on the box and the camera itself. But how is the little camera in use?

Well, the good news is that is that it is FAST. Powers up almost instantaneously when pressing the power button on the bottom of the camera. When you press the embedded shutter button the camera makes a quiet click and snaps the shot. The super low quality LCD on the back is pretty bad quality. Move away from center and forget it, you can’t see it. When you do see what is on the screen the quality is really low.

When playing back images you do so via touch. Swipe to scroll, etc. Much like the iPhone.

To play back the images you hook up the camera to your USB port on you MAC (not yet compatible with Windows) and the camera will install the Lytro software you your machine the 1st time you hook it up. After that is completed it will start to unload all of the images into the software, and it takes a while. Even 30 pictures can take many minutes. This is also how you charge the camera.

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The reasons why you should not buy one of these…

Well, at $400 it is about $300 overpriced. Yes, it is cool. Yes, it is a conversation starter. There will not even be  many who will have one. BUT… it is $400. You can buy quite a few cool things for $400. My iPhone takes better quality images than this Lytro which is basically a 1MP camera. A bare bones 1MP camera. No B&W, no color choices, no ISO choices. Nope, its only claim to fame is the design and the “focus after the fact” technology, which is a gimmick.

To view the images with the ability to change the focus requires you to upload  the images to Lytro servers so they can serve the image for your social media sharing. Basically, it is limited to Facebook or embedding in blogs. You can also share via twitter which send everyone to the Lytro site.

You CAN export to JPEG but you then lose the focus feature and what you have is a very low res, low quality JPEG. Back to the stone age of digital.

I have been having some fun with this Lytro today and if it came in at $99 I would keep it. $400 is just way too high for what you get. The refocus feature is cool at first, but gets tiring. I can see a future with this technology in real cameras once they can make larger higher resolution sensors that can actually give you good IQ but for this 1st version of the Lytro camera…ummm…NO.

Like I said, the design is cool and it is c conversation starter but the quality of the images is pretty bad. Forget detail or crispness. Forget high Dynamic Range. Forget decent color (unless you are in the perfect light) and forget about shooting things at a distance as they will be mush.

The only thing this camera is good for is taking close up shots or close up portraits for Facebook. Like I said, at $99 these would sell huge. At $400, I don’t think so.

So while I wished I would have canceled the order for this, I am glad I didn’t as I can now tell everyone the real deal about this device. Mine is going back and I already have my RA#.

A Lytro exported JPEG – click it for the FULL resolution file

Why you MIGHT want one of these

Well, some may enjoy this camera because it has cool and unique written all over it. It is small so you can slide it in your pocket (but you will lose the magnetic lens cap). It is quick to start and shoot so those who truly want to take a camera with you anywhere will enjoy something like this and if you do not like using y our phone to do so, you can look uber cool shooting the Lytro.

Girls may like it as well as it will fit in a purse and be ready. There are no menus, no difficulties, and it is the easiest thing in the world to use. Turn it on, aim it… and press the shutter. Easy squeezy. If you are a Facebook person, this could be cool to use as well as Lytro makes it easy to share on Facebook (not from the device though, must be done from your computer)

Finally, you might like it if you know NOTHING about photography and could care less about quality. :)

Pros

  • cool design and great build quality
  • cool colors
  • Fast operation, touch screen works well
  • Fast shot to shot time and no focusing required
  • Fast f/2 lens built-in, and its a zoom
  • Built in memory makes it easy, no cards

Cons

  • Bad image quality, reminds me of the 1st Sony Mavica floppy disc 1MP cameras, maybe worse
  • Poor Dynamic Range
  • Very noisy in low light
  • Must use Lytro.com to upload your images if you want to share with focus features
  • Battery last for about 200-250 shots
  • Takes a long time to unload the camera to your drive via USB
  • PRICE IS WAY HIGH!
  • No detail in images
  • Color quality of the images lack
  • Only 1 Megapixel quality
  • Mac only, no windows support

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  49 Responses to “The Lytro Light Field Camera Review – It’s slick, it’s fun and it’s a $400 toy!”

  1. Hey, finally a real review of someone who has actually used it. I pretty much feel the same way as you, very cool gadget, great conversation starter, very cool tech that if developed right it could be a game-changer…but way overpriced for what it is today, which is sad.

  2. Hmmm, so you will be hanging on to your M9 then? :-)

  3. I had a Sony Mavica floppy disc 1MP camera :-)

  4. i love the official lytro photos they have used to show how good this camera is meant to be…probably shot on a phaseone 32mp something….

  5. Quite cool, but yes, the image quality is not great. I’d probably disagree on the pricing being too high. This is a niche product, which is unique. Not everything can be made down to the low prices we want, we have to accept that there is a development and manufacture cost built into every single device, a device that will not sell incredibly well. I would suggest that if it were $100, they’d make a serious loss on every sale.

    The hardware and software development involved in making something like this is not free, and that cost has to be made up somewhere.

  6. Woohoooo!

    I asked for a review, but then you said you will cancel the preorder. I’m glad you forgot!, haha

    Thanks for the review Steve!

  7. Well, looking more carefully at the pictures I agree with you, Steve. It has a little sensor with a lot of DoF, so the focus effect only works fine with something really close on the framing. If, like some of your pictures, most of the scene is far, it appears to be all in focus. Mmm, not very good.

  8. Ahhh, Berlin. Enjoy that city. I hope they will let you all run around with some nice new cameras. D!RK
    PS Tried the Lytro a few months ago and would not use it on a daily basis.

  9. Mac only is a PRO. Using Windows is a CON. I hear it now. Fanboys defending each side.

    • I love Apple products as much as anyway but anyone saying Mac only is a pro is just trying to stir sh*t, even Apples own iPods, iPhone and iPads work on PC’s

  10. I too was fascinated by all of the hype but never made the move because of the price. However, I’ve been waiting to find out how to convert their (seemingly) astounding claim of “11 Megarays: the number of light rays captured by the light field sensor” into something that made sense. From your review, I guess we can conclude that 1 Megaray is approximately equal to 1 Megapixel!

    Lame.

    As you said, overpriced toy.

    10 million megaray appreciation points to you for bringing us the facts!

    Steven

    • Pardon my typo! That should be 10 megarays = 1 megapixel.

      Point is, it really doesn’t matter!

      sjt

      • It takes several images per shot. The focus is not seamless, it rather works in steps. I guess they take 10-11 shots per exposure. That’s why the expose time is fixed to 1/250 to allow for a quick procedure. Each image equals roughly 1 MB. D!RK

        • That’s not how it works. It really does take the angular information of the scene on a coarse grid- this is what reduces the effective resolution. The trade-off for more angular information (so more focussing flexibility) is fewew MP in any given image. A 5000×5000 (25MP) becomes 1000×1000 assuming you want 5×5 pixels dedicated to angular phase.

          I’ve seen various people suggest that it “just takes lots of photos”, but that just isn’t true. A small amount of effort on your part with google will demonstrate that the technology used isn’t magical or spooky, just clever and very compromising with current lens and sensor technology. In 10 years this thing should be amazing.

          • They do not have to take several images per shot. They take shot with focus on everything and then process it so the part of the image is blurred and part sharp. Pretty good trick to get some money.

  11. Give it a few years and it may develop into something decent and affordable. Maybe.

  12. A bit harsh

    It’s a new technology. That’s the way it goes. It’ll need time to make into main stream production and compete with others.

  13. Enjoy Berlin :) You might find some old cool Russian lenses in a shop on a sidestreet.

    Visit Kreuzberg, it’s fun. Especially the night life is. The best parties start around 6 in the morning, on Monday :D

  14. Welcome to Berlin I say! :)

  15. I have one and agree with every word of Steve’s review.

    There are actually even more drawbacks Like if you download some images to one computer in one file and some others to another computer in another file then it is all but impossible to combine the files back together.

    Also, the processing software is agonizingly slow, Steve alluded to this but you really have to sit in front of your computer forever if you take more than a few photos.

    Also, the focus after the fact feature is only cool if you have something big in the foreground and something else large and interesting in the middle distance or background. It is very limiting.

    Also, the shutter speed is really slow in any kind of medium or low light so forget any action photos. You just get a blurry smear.

    Lots of other fiddly problems as well.

    After carrying mine around everywhere for a few weeks I got tired of missing out on the far greater quality and versitility of my iPhone camera.

    At least I didn’t lose the magnetic lens cap yet.

    -Bill

  16. Hi Steve! I’ve done my fair share of review for this camera. Do check mine out at: http://kaxdd.blogspot.com/2012/04/my-review-of-lytro-camera.html

  17. Brilliant! It focuses faster than X1Pro! Lenses do not chatter and in a couple of decades the IQ will be closer to that of the OM5D. Go for it.

  18. I own one too and would have to agree with most of the comments. I am holding out some hope that the upcoming software upgrades (like “all in focus” rather than selective focus) will make it a bit more versatile. The LCD screen is awful and they should have provided a better one even if it meant charging another $50. I have seen the camera referred to as a “proof of concept” camera and on that count it qualifies but $400 to be an early adopter wasn’t the best use of my funds. Supposedly Steve Jobs met with the company prior to his death and was interested in licensing the technology. Who knows, maybe a feature in an upcoming Apple product? They have some high profile venture capital backers so it may yet pan out but version 1.0 is a definite disappointment to date.

  19. I agree about the overpriced and gimmicky part but if you look further into the future with what lytro has planned software wise there is many other things you can do other than refocus. The camera they made before was medium format so when the software is expanded and the tech is put into cameras aimed at us enthusiasts and professionals, there will be many possibilities.

  20. as on online retailer- the idea of people who buy things just to try them out and then send them back… is a little annoying Steve. sorry but I would be pissed if someone did that to me. Th tiem is no longer new- the packaging is damaged, etc. It seem in the USA this is a common practice0- I am glad not so in Australia. It’s basically taking money out of someone pocket for a free ride at their expense….

    • Double edged sword and a cost of doing business. Suppose Steve got, LOVED IT, and wrote about how awesome it is for tens if not hundreds of thousands of people to read, many of which are going to want to get one themselves. Could be a huge sales boost.

      Likewise, you act as if the seller was forced to return it. No, the seller sets their policy to allow returns or not. Some places don’t and more power to them.

      Many people simply won’t buy something online if they can’t return it if they don’t like. Do you think your going to walk into the local Best Buy (if you have those down under ?) and play with one ?

      No, its not something your going to find in your local shop, and $400 is a big gamble. Company bets though that enough people will try it and keep it.

      Its hardly taking money out of anyone’s pocket as its all built into this thing the free market calls “cost of doing business”

      If shops lost money, they would stop offering return periods. As it stands though they make far more money by attracting so many more customers.

      Think about, a company like Amazon, the worlds largest retailer, who sells billions of dollars worth of equipment has one of the most liberal return polices in the business. They are also an insanely profitable company that makes huge profits.

      Do you really think YOU know more about whats best for their bottom line profitability than the executives and number crunchers who set their policy and have grown the business into what it is today.

      Better let Jeff Bezos know that even though the company has made him a billionaire doing what he’s doing, theres a guy is Australia named Jaques who knows better. You go ahead and get them to cut out all returns and lose million of customers and see what it does for their profits.

      I see these complains from time to time from people in countries where they can’t return things and honestly I think its nothing more than sour grapes.

    • Its called a return policy, and they have one. If I pay $400 for something and it is complete crap, I have a right to return it for my money back. It is THEIR policy and they offer it. Things work differently here in the USA and all retailers have return policies. Normal practice here. If they did not have a return policy then it would be up for sale, but they do so it is going back for a refund as it doesn’t live up to their hype. At all.

    • Jaques, there does appear to be a lot of pre-ordering as indicated by posts on this site, and I personally think, IMO, that this is different to ordering a product already on the market and for which there is likely to be a lot one can find out about it before purchase. Pre-orders have an element of speculation about them, or the kudos of “I’ve got it before anyone else”, with not necessarily the full intent to buy. In this regard I agree with your sentiments. But doing good business involves other considerations.

      I don’t know what the situation is in the US or Australia, but here in the UK most mail order and internet sales are governed by The Distance Selling Regulations which give the buyer the legal right to return them within a period of 7 days following the day of receipt. From a buyers perspective this gives some piece of mind in being able to check out goods that they would otherwise be able to do if they visited the store. But, one is not able to view in a store and then buy online from that sellers internet shop, if they operate one. After this period, a buyer’s rights are governed mainly by the Sale of Goods Act, but this deals with defective goods or those not of merchantable quaility.

      A business trading in the UK is not allowed by law to limit a buyer’s statutory rights, something Apple recently fell foul of, but there is nothing, of course, that stops them offering a customer more. So if they offer a more generous returns policy, it wouldn’t be done if if wasn’t to their trading advantage. So coming down on this side of the fence, I agree with Jeff and Steve.

    • It’s the business model Amazon put in place to sell more stuff. It appears to be working for them.

      Also, I do believe they track how often purchasers take advantage of the return policy and will cut off those who appear to be abusing it.

      Kevin

    • Guess where the profits of businesses offering lax return policies come from? If 50% of the goods sold are expected to be returned, the selling price of each product would have to be bumped up by 100% to protect margins. The economics is pretty simple. Know what you are paying for — in this scenario, double the price of products that you do end up keeping.

      In any case, I am thankful to Steve for this review. I canceled my order. Phew.

  21. It seems like it is focus bracketing and then storing all the files on a server and presenting which ever one is closest focus to where you click.

    • It’s actually a plenoptic camera Matt:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light-field_photography

      Not focus bracketing – even though it doesn’t focus exactly where your mouse clicks on the photo, the reason it seems that way is there is some sort of file compression loss of the light information, when you think about it a RAW file from a DSLR is a flat image and that maximises out at around 29MB (depending on the codec) and these files 3 dimensions of information in a 46MB file size… do the math; to take a true 3D photo would create an immense image file size (probably taking about 1GB+ per image).

  22. I guess the whole point of this camera is a technology demonstration. Not much more. It’s far from being an actually useable product, but maybe it’s not intended to be. See it as the first prototype of a newly evolving type of camera. Give it a couple years and then take a look again.

  23. Its the first stage, kinda like when digital compacts came out and pros where stil shooting film.

    Think about it 10 years ago digital cameras where about 2 to 3 megapixels now we are in the 20 – 36 range for SLRS, and mirrorless at about 12 to 16. Whos not to say that in 10 years mirrorless cameras will have this sensor at a 20 – 36 mgpx range? The fact that its mirrorless and doesnt have to focus means it would easily be able to do over 10 fps, sure you get a million out of focus shots in camera but later on in post you correct it.

    I think unfortunately these will be the cameras of the future. Photographers will shoot all day at ridiculous frame rates and then their workflow will include focusing in post process before exporting the final print. It does how ever open up creative options maybe as the software improves you will be able to focus on varios planes….. as in something focused then something behind it blurred and then something behind that in focus again.

    I guess only time will tell

  24. 2 words come to mind: Pistol grip. Add an additional battery, shutter button, and maybe one dial mode.

  25. I don’t believe these cameras are going to be revolutionary
    it’s all hype
    They essentially take many photos at once with different focus points.
    the software then joins them together.
    Its a neat trick, but the file sizes are huge!
    imagine a 20 megapixel file size!

    The low light issue is essentially because each sensor is so small.

    not convinced

  26. Hmm, interesting technology (but the theory behind it is quite old) and fun to read the review. Thanks.

  27. yeah i was going to email you to see if you would be reviewing one.Wow i did not know the IQ would be that bad! think about what you could get for $400! Your right its not worth a penny over $99! thanks for taking the hit on this for our benefit but for your sake i know your sending it back.

  28. I think a few people have got it right. It’s just the first step. They probably should have waited to market something a little better, because nowadays, people expect something better. But, we haven’t heard the last of this yet. I wonder where this technology will be five years from now.
    I think we’ll all be amazed. But, they definitely should have waited a little longer and perfected it a little more.

  29. I love Apple products as much as anyone but anyone saying Mac only is a pro is just trying to stir sh*t, even Apples own iPods, iPhone and iPads work on PC’s

  30. Ha! This was an absolutely fun to read review…

  31. I see sony buying these guys out and putting that sensor in their a500 or whatever it is they will call their translucent mirror pseudo dslr at the time.

    75mpx
    25 fps
    light field camera.

    Photokina 2018 release.

  32. http://reefbuilders.com/2012/05/29/lytro-pictures-estherea-hotel/
    http://reefbuilders.com/2012/04/05/lytro-light-field-aquarium/

    Seems to be good for something! Corals in aquariums are hard to photograph
    but $400 is steep if that’s all it’s good for. However maybe they are onto something – good for close-ups?

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