What is light field photography really capable of?

Light field photography will be an enormous hit in 2012 and its popularity will only grow in the future. This may seem as a bold statement for new technology that is not even freely available in the market and that hasn’t been thoroughly tested yet. But we feel pretty confident about it and in the next article we’ll take a look at some arguments about it.

Light field photography – refocus after the picture is taken

Lytro light field camera - photo from Lytro.comThe Lytro light field camera is being marketed as the camera with which you can take a photo very fast (no delay for focusing), in almost any amount of light (no need for flash) and, most importantly, you can refocus the photo after it has been taken. All of this functionality (especially change of focus) is mind blowing and you don’t have to be a prophet to realize that it will be a huge success (if it works as advertised, of course, but we have seen so many photos taken by different people that we are pretty confident it will do all they say it will).

To have the ability to manipulate the photo with just one click is very appealing to all camera and computer users – there is no need to be a Photoshop master, anyone can do it. And you even don’t have to worry about pictures being out of focus or being taken a moment after the one you were planning to capture (very common when photographing children, animals, events etc.).

But what we have seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg. We are confident there is a LOT more to come in the following years. If you are intrigued, read on.

Light field photo editing is the key

As you have probably already figured it out, taking the photo with light field information is only the first half of the equation. The real game changing experience lies in the ability to manipulate the picture with all the data that has been stored. Instead of pixels (or megapixels) we now have rays of light (11 megarays in the case of the Lytro camera to be precise).

So what can we now do with all these rays? With the right photo editor, we can do miracles. Just to get some perception about how much data is stored in 11 megarays. According to Wikipedia, the size of the photo once converted into jpg format will be 1080×1080 pixels (1.2 megapixels). Whoa … wait a minute. Only 1.2 MP? You can hardly find a camera in a mobile phone with such a low resolution. Where is the point?

First, let’s take a look at how big are the files, that are made with the Lytro camera. On their website it says that a camera with 8 GB of memory can store 350 pictures – that’s approximately 23 MB for one picture. 1 MP photo takes up less than 0.5 MB, what’s with all the rest of the data? Well, here is the trick – the data stored is not pixels, it’s rays of light.

We all know that with Photoshop or some other tool you can manipulate classic digital photos and change them a lot, pixel by pixel. But with light field photos you don’t manipulate pixels, you manipulate rays of light. What this means is perhaps best said on the Lytro blog:

… when you interact with a light field picture—for example, when you refocus it—you aren’t changing the captured light field data, but are instead changing parameters that control projection of those data to the sequence of 2-D images that you see …

And also:

Because the megaray data are included, the desktop application can generate any of a wide range of projections of these data, including refocused images, or stereo image pairs for viewing on 3D displays.

The point of the light field photography is in these two quotes – with special light field photo editing software you are able to change the perspective of the picture and how it is presented – you don’t watch the fish through the glass of a fish tank anymore – you are in the fish tank.

 

 

Light field photos are made for watching and sharing on a digital media, this is where they break the barriers of traditional digital photography. Refocusing the photo afterwards is a great feature and a fantastic selling point, but the really crazy stuff will start to happen once we go deeper.

Lytro will provide its customers with a desktop application that will allow photo editing of their living pictures. But it’s only a matter of time before some third company releases their own light field photo editor that will allow users to manipulate photos as never before – and this is, in our opinion, the most exciting part of the light field photography that will be here very soon.

Better light field sensors for larger, more detailed pictures

With all the excitement about the light field photography we must not forget that the Lytro camera is the first light field camera that will be released. With new versions of their camera or cameras from other manufacturers (if Lytro will license the technology) there will undoubtedly be many improvements to the device. Certainly there will be better and more capable light field sensors which will capture even more rays of light with even more data – all resulting in larger pictures once exported (way over 1.2 MP) and even more options for manipulation of photos.

Just like with any new technology the newer versions of devices bring new and improved features, better quality, more options – the same will happen with light field photography.

Light field photography meets 3D

We have already mentioned in a quote that living pictures will make it possible to create stereo image pairs for viewing on 3D displays. It’s the natural next step really. Once you have all that huge amount of light ray data stored it is only a matter of filtering and presenting all that data to create different projections. Imagine viewing your holiday photos in 3D and literally sitting amidst the pyramids once again in your living room – because of the photos you took with your little light field camera.

 

We will wrap up with article right here before we go too far into the future (and we’ll keep this topic for some other time). We hope you have cached a glimpse of what will hit the world of photography very soon and how exciting it is going to be. If you are intrigued about the light field photography, please follow our website as we will continue to provide news and insight articles on this topic.

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