Lytro Cameras

Photography has come along in leaps and bounds in the last decade or a so. But what’s the next big thing? What can be done to take photography to the next level? EFTM reviews the Lytro camera.

Dr Ren Ng PhD, Inventor of the Lytro Camera

When Aussie Dr Ren Ng expanded on his PhD to create a working prototype of a camera using light field technology he quite possibly created something that will change the way we take photos in the future.

Fortunately for those of us who are early adopters, the technology and that prototype camera have been brought to market by Dr Ng in the shape of the Lytro camera.

Available now in Australia from $499, this is a pricey little unit. Call it the early adopter tax if you will, the price overall is hard to justify if you are comparing printed photo to printed photo between the Lytro and absolutely any other camera at that price range. If you’re printing photos and comparing them side by side though, you’re looking at the wrong camera here.

To truly enjoy the power of the Lytro you need to experience the photos taken with it as “living pictures”. These are nearly almost impossible to explain with words, but I’ll try anyway.

Imagine you take a photo at the park. In the background of the photo are a series of buildings. All around the park are people playing and kicking balls around. Close to you, perhaps one metre away is one of your children, smiling with an arm stretched out in front of them holding an apple. You snap the photo.

On many cameras today, you can create such a wide depth of field almost all of the photo is in focus, from the Apple, to the smile, the kids playing and the buildings.

On a good quality camera you can choose a more narrow depth of field and focus on just one of those things. Amazing photography does this well. This is the sort of thing we experience when we first use an SLR type camera.

Bring in the Lytro. That same photo is alive on your computer or online.

You snap the photo, take it back to your PC and sync with the Lytro software. On your screen you can see all your photos, but this time the photos are clickable. On your park photo, you can click on the apple to bring it into focus dropping almost everything else out of focus. Do the same with your child’s smile – a beaming smile in focus while that apple is out of focus as is the background. The same concept applies to literally any area of the photo.

The first time you see a Lytro Living Picture will be a “wow” moment for you. It’s hard to imagine this is even possible.

In the near future you’ll even be able to explore the photos in 3D using additional technologies Lytro are developing that somehow create a parallax effect.

It’s all made possible by using a lens with an 8 times optical zoom and a constant f2 apature. Essentially, it takes in the entire light field of the frame and reproduces it in an interactive photo Lytro call the living picture.

The shape of this thing is something very different. At 41mm square and 112mm long, it’s an odd shaped camera that does a lot for a small package. It certainly fits very nicely in your hand, and there is a slot for a wrist strap if you’re nervous about dropping it.

The “Designed in California, Made in China” tag on the anodised aluminium shell give it a premium quality feel.

Unfortunately the 1.5-inch screen on the Lytro is tiny, and quite poor quality. You can certainly frame your pictures on it, and in those close up subject with distant object style photos you can event tap to refocus right there on the screen. That however doesn’t allow you to forget the low resolution and size of the display itself.

Discussing the Lytro with others, the idea perhaps of a wireless connection to your smartphone or tablet as a viewing screen could be a great future option for the device to allow it to retain this size and form with an improved screen.

Using a Lytro camera

The desktop software is relatively easy to use, and while the sharing options are limited, you can get what you need from it, including and possibly most importantly sharing with friends on Facebook – although be warned it’s unlikely they’ll be able to see the living pictures on their mobile device (60% of people view Facebook on a mobile) because the living picture display uses Flash.

The image quality is, as it was described to me by a colleague “disappointing” This is about function not megapixels.

There’s a fair bit of noise in the pictures so low light environments will be a worry.

Here are some example photos I’ve taken.

Firstly, this one has a very clear foreground subject (the bottle) so you can see with remarkable clarity the focus and re-focus:

Next, more of a wide depth of field style picture. You can see here, even when clicking around there isn’t much to change in terms of focus.

But again, with a subject in the foreground, and even a step further back (the pamphlets) the Lytro effect is amazing (thanks @JM77 for this one):

The bottom line is, with Lytro, perhaps more than ever, the placement of the subjects of the photo and the lighting are ever so important.

That’s all relatively easy to live with if you want to be at the forefront of something very cool. This thing will improve over time, and the prices will come down for sure.

Smart photographers will also from today be able to take advantage of a new range of manual controls which may just overcome the lighting issues I’ve mentioned.

The new controls are:

  • Shutter Speed – By manually controlling the shutter speed, Lytro photographers can keep the shutter open longer to capture living pictures in dark conditions. The maximum shutter speed is 8 seconds and the minimum is 1/250 second.
  • ISO Sensitivity – Controlling ISO gives Lytro photographers more ways to take creative living pictures in a variety of lighting conditions, from low-light concerts and restaurants to brightly lit soccer fields and amusement parks. The ISO range is 80 (min) to 3200 (max).
  • Neutral Density (ND) Filter – When in full manual mode, Lytro photographers can turn on the ND Filter to adjust the amount of light captured in extremely bright settings.
  • Auto Exposure (AE) Lock – Lytro photographers can lock the auto exposure while changing the composition of a picture in a scene.

At this time, if you love playing around with photography and have $399 or $499 at your disposal, I’d recommend a Lytro to give yourself something new to enjoy about creating photography, and something very cool to share with your friends.

Lytro have a full gallery of living pictures to blow your mind at, and for full Australian stockist information, head to

Price: $399 (8GB) and $499 (16GB).
Web: Lytro