I’m A Sucker For New Technology.
Playing with a new gizmo brings me an incredible level of joy. This is true even if the technology proves itself not quiet ready for prime time. So I ordered the revolutionary Lytro, the first consumer focused plenoptic camera, also known as a light-field camera, without a single moment of hesitation on the first day it was available for purchase. On Monday, after several months of waiting, my Lytro finally arrived.
I immediately went outside to snap a photo. Looking at sample images and reading up on the technology in advance had prepared me for what was going to be required. To get the best results, I would need to have one object very close to the camera and others further away. To get even better results, I should shoot the photo using the camera’s 8x zoom at full strength. So that’s what I did.
This photo below was my first plenoptic image:
Click on the photo to refocus on the flowers in the foreground or the van across the street. The Lytro certainly delivers on the magic it promised, giving the viewer the ability to refocus the photo. And, I must say, this is some of the coolest technology I’ve ever seen. But my awe was quickly dashed as I plugged the camera into my Mac, the only operating system you can use the camera with, and downloaded the photo for processing.
Why You Should Probably Not Buy A Lytro.
First, the resolution of the images is incredibly low. This is something that will obviously get fixed, but it’s also probably one of the main reasons not to buy the first generation camera. What you see in that first photo above is the highest resolution I can give you. In fact, that format is the only thing I can give you. Which brings me to the next problem.
Second, they can only be viewed using Adobe Flash technology. Considering the fact that Adobe killed flash development for mobile devices four months before the Lytro’s delivery to my house, I see this as a major weakness. Right out of the box, I know these photos can only be viewed on a browser on someone’s computer. In fact, they can only be embedded in web page like this, shared to Facebook, or viewed on my Lytro page via link. Thank goodness they’re at least Pinterest friendly. (Edit: Thanks to Gahlord Dewald for pointing out that they indeed CAN be viewed in HTML5. I had never visited a living picture from my mobile phone. When visiting from a computer, it defaults to Flash, whether here on this page, on Facebook or at the Lytro site. And thank you to Kira Wampler from Lytro for clarifying it on Twitter as well.)
Third, they can only be processed on a Mac. Since I’ve been using a Mac since 1984, this actually made me smile. But if you’re not a Mac owner, you can’t process the photos from this camera. This is a fairly large impediment to use if you own any other brand of PC. 🙂
Fourth, not everyone is a good storyteller. While there is no focusing required, which should mean taking photos will be faster, this is not the case. Because the main benefit of the camera is the ability to refocus, you’re going to want to make the focal points something of value. This requires some thought and planning. “Issues of composition and sequence are more narrative than straight ahead,” Gahlord Dewald wrote in his real estate focused Lytro review. “The kinds of images that are made with the Lytro require thought and planning in a different–more storylike–way.”
Why I Won’t Be Giving My Lytro Up
I’ve been “playing” with my Lytro for four full days now. Sometimes dangerously. And that’s been just long enough for my initial frustration with the limitations of the technology to fade away. I’ve moved into “art mode.” It is exactly the “different–more storylike–way” that this camera enables that has me most intrigued. Shots like this one, of Wendy Forsythe and her new business card, have the potential to tell a story in a way other photos may not be able to.
“I strongly suspect that the Lytro will proceed along a path that appeals primarily to art photographers,” Gahlord added, “and will gain traction there slowly due to the low pixel dimensions of the images.” I agree. And I certainly fall into the category of amateur art photographer. So, I’m going to put up with the pain of the technology limitations and the haptic flaws in its design and play with the potential of creating “living pictures,” like the one below from Gahlord. It’s a classic illustration of what Lytro is all about.
Should you buy the new Lytro camera? Probably not. It’s certainly not for everyone. Not yet anyway.