Two-and-a-half years ago I made a Technopolis TV video on a revolutionary new camera from a West Coast startup called Lytro. Its debut product, the Lytro, was a near-featureless square tube that looked as if it had been captured from a crashed UFO but was in fact a light-field, or plenoptic, camera that harvests every light ray from every point and every direction it can see, leaving you to change the focus of the image, the depth of field and other creative variables after taking a photo. Weird but true.
The Lytro was more like a science project than a consumer camera, but was utterly fascinating for geeks like moi. This is Lytro’s first more-camera-like camera, the Illum, which nevertheless still looks as if it’s been captured from a crashed UFO and is also more like a science project than a consumer camera, with all the original’s light-field features. It’s rather bulky too, at 940g and 14.5cm from back to front, due to its big, 30mm to 250mm optical zoom lens and Star Wars-sounding 40-megaray light-field sensor.
What’s the use, then, of the Lytro Illum? Well apart from being a marvellous collectors’ piece even while still in production, it does offer some wonderfully creative possibilities. By altering its strange 3D-like “live” pictures to maximise drama. It gives “a subtle but immersive sense of the picture being living”, as inventor Dr Ren Ng correctly puts it. The pictures look particularly impressive on an iPad. One for tech enthusiasts.