Lytro, a company you’ve probably never heard of, recently announced a camera that features a new approach to photography that you’re likely to be hearing a lot about in the next few years. Instead of producing a camera that packs more mega-pixels, or one that’s lighter or cheaper, Lytro has taken the initative to try and change the photography industry by making a camera that takes digital photos that contain enough information to allow them to be focused after they are taken. Thats right, the picture above is two pictures of the same photo, refocused from Harry Potter to the girl on the lawn after the fact. ENHANCE!
These data rich photos are taken using something called light field technology. In layman’s terms it works something like this. When you take a picture, light is reflecting off various surfaces in various directions. A standard camera takes a ‘shapshot’ of what it sees, recording the light that’s reflecting, but nothing about the direction. That gives you a standard photo. Light field pictures, however, also record information about the direction of the light, resulting in a picture that is more similar to a digital replica of the scene than a traditional ‘picture’ is. That is what lets you refocus.
Unfortunately, this camera is only being demoed at the moment, so you won’t be able to get your hands on one just yet. The technology is definitely revolutionary. While a standard digital photo doesn’t have any qualities that make it inherently digital, light field pictures simply cannot exist, in full, on paper. Still, despite the wonder of it all, most photographers are rather accustomed to focusing their pictures before taking them and they seem to have been getting along fine that way for years. Light field technology might be an interesting gimmick to play with, but it’s doubtful it will reach it’s full potential in consumer model cameras. However, in security and other fields where pictures aren’t taken deliberately, but rather ‘just in case’ light field technology could potentially change everything. Most importantly, it may allow the CSI ‘ENHANCE!’ to be a viable command instead of something that know-it-alls tell you isn’t actually real…yet.