Lytro Illum: How it Works and Re-focusing Technique

Lytro launched a new camera few months back, Illum. The Lytro Illum camera uses thousands of micro-lenses with mirrors to capture a wide spectrum of light across four dimensions, as well as the direction of light. And with this, it changed photography. It changed the complete outlook and dimension involved with photography. Since its inception in the 1800’s, photography had but one basic concept. Point, focus and Shoot. With this camera, people shoot first and then ‘re-focus’ later. One can click a picture and then choose a point later to focus on. The most interesting option is to turn shots into what Lytro calls ‘living pictures’. You can say upload a photo on a social media site, and then, people can play around with it, i.e., focus on different aspects like the background or on the subject itself. Illum focuses on everything at once. Coming with a price tag of $1500, Illum is definitely heavy on the pocket.

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How does it manage to do it? How can a camera focus on everything?

To understand the concept, one must know what Plenoptic or Light-ray photography is. It is a concept first proposed in the early 1900s. Now, light field images are based on research from Stanford University that captures all of the light rays streaming into a camera from a scene–from every visible point in the foreground to every point in the background. A light-field camera is one that uses a microlens array to capture 4D light field information about a scene. In simpler words, it works by breaking up the main image with an array of microlenses over an image sensor. There can be more complex ways to describe, but in its essence, Illum captures the direction of light rays and not just freezes the image in a single plane like any other camera. What it also stores is the depth, i.e. the distance between various objects in the picture frame and then basically renders a 3D image using an inbuilt processor.

Any Plenoptic camera like the Illum would include refocusing of an image, high shutter speed, sensitivity to low-light and obviously the ability to create 3D images. High shutter speed is one of the biggest advantages, and the reason: Illum doesn’t need to focus anywhere. It just focuses everywhere.
 Lytro Illum has a big drawback though; post conversion to jpeg, the resolution is very low, which is approximately 4.3 megapixels for the Illum.

Coming to the camera itself, it represents a traditional SLR camera. On the back of the camera is a four-inch touch screen with a resolution of 800×480 on a hinge that can be tilted. It also has a built-in editing software which highlights the objects which are in camera’s re-focusable range. Powering the Illum is a quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU processor – the unit that is found inside the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One M8, Nexus 5, and Sony Xperia Z1 smartphones. The Illum uses SD cards as storage, supports USB 3.0, and is constructed with a magnesium alloy body. The unibody magnesium chassis keeps the weight down, as does the lighter lens. The sleek design is unfamiliar in a world of buttoned-up cameras. Instead, the Lytro only has two physical buttons and two physical dials, everything else is touch-sensitive. It also has a ‘hot shoe’ that allows the attachment of a flash. The camera features a lens that has 8x optical zoom and a constant aperture that allows the camera to capture images in low light. As we’ve mentioned before, the Lytro Illum features a 30–250mm equivalent f/2.0 lens. Yet, the camera itself is less than the total length of a conventional 70–200mm f/2.8 lens. In fact, not only is the entire camera smaller than the 70–200mm f/2.8, its also cheaper — $1,500 for the Lytro Illum vs. approximately $2,500 for the 70–200mm f/2.8 lens with image stabilization.

The Lytro Illum is the future of photography, but not the immediate future for a camera lover. It still has a long way to go. It still has to reach its zenith in terms of the commercial market, and advancement in technology. Lytro has to come up with a better and a heavier camera to lure photographers into buying the ‘future of photography’.

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Do leave in your comments and let us know what you think about the Lytro Illum.

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