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The Lytro camera is a first generation consumer light-field camera. In a nutshell, a traditional camera takes a flat image, all you have are x-y coordinates and color information. With a light-field camera you also capture the directionality of the light. This means that you can refocus the shot after the fact, a very cool trick. The Lytro website is full of pictures where you can shift the focus along a fence or move from a foreground object to a background object, but how does it fare in the real world? I got the chance to pick up a refurbished model recently and I've been playing with it.


The ergonomics are very different from other cameras. It's a big square tube with a rubber grip at the rear and a big glass lens in the front. It looks...unique. There's a microusb connector on the bottom with a nice dust cover. There's also a power button there, but don't expect to use it often as the shutter button will turn it on and it will turn off automatically. The shutter button is a little indent on the top and behind it are a few ridges to control the zoom. These ridges are the first issue I have, they aren't clear enough that I forget they're there and the otherwise minimalist controls seem a bit ruined by having the ability to zoom. Still, it's what the public wants...

The viewfinder is a bigger issue. It's a tiny LCD square at the back of the camera. Admittedly, the camera is very small and it needs an LCD to view the images, but I'd much rather have an optical viewfinder and put the LCD on the top of the camera. Pretty much the viewfinder is useless to me, it's not easily visible in bright sunlight and it's too small to actually see whether the image I took is a keeper.


Here's another issue. The camera stated that Windows or MacOS are needed. No problem, just about everything I own says that and all it means is that I have to manually copy files over. But not the Lytro. All you see when you plug in the USB is instructions on how to download the software. And the software is not lightweight. After bumping up my Windows 7 VM I was able to get it to run, but at the expense of dedicating all of my RAM to it. This is a big strike. I'm fine with a VM for initial configuration and firmware updates, but I need to be able to download the files off the camera without any drivers - especially since it doesn't have any external storage.

As near as I can tell, once you've downloaded the images you need to process them to add perspective control. This takes a while in a VM (it probably will leverage your GPU if you're native Windows) and I'm not sure why it doesn't happen on import. Once this is done I can upload them to Lytro or share them to Facebook. Luckily after this final step I can view them in a standard web browser and share them to Google+. Of course, even the way they call albums "Stories" irritates me after this process...

This workflow to me doesn't work at all. What I need in a Lytro2 is the ability to either process them with a Gimp plugin or in-camera and just copy files around. I'm fine with needing to upload to to actually view them, it's not ideal but I understand if it's necessary. I'd much rather have software to let me self-host them on an Apache server, but I'll takes what I can gets.

Image Quality[edit]

I come from a DSLR background. I understand the principals of photography better than a camera phone shooter and perhaps there is where I'm having difficulties. There is no focus. There is no aperture control. As near as I can tell it's just the same as a camera phone - hold it steady and click a button. But the lack of ISO control means that it always seems to output a very noisy picture. What I want is to be able to easily tell it that I'm not hand-holding and use the best quality ISO you can, but night shooting is pretty much useless on the Lytro.

But even daytime shots are harder than they should be. Color reproduction seems a bit flat, depth of field seems a bit too much to get shots that really show off the refocus capabilities. I will grant you there are a lot of great images on, but the painful process of getting images off the camera really cripples my desire to use it enough to figure out what it is I'm doing wrong.


It's their first try. It's a solidly built device and looks sharp, but I think marketing had too much of a hand in the design and functionality. At this stage I think the Lytro is an oddity, a toy. It's got a nice little niche placement, but thus far I haven't managed to capture any images that I feel are worth sharing - the similar image I got with my Df tells the story much better and at a much higher quality. Still, I'll look forward to a Lytro2 and hopefully the workflow will be able to be fixed.