The new Lytro Light Field Camera has just started to ship, and for those of you who have not heard of it yet, it uses a completely new technology and approach to image capture to create something of a living image. No, nothing from or for the Daily Prophet, but a clickable image that will allow you to reposition the image’s focal point on your computer.
The Lytro Camera is a plenoptic camera which essentially means that the camera’s sensor is recording information about light from various different directions and sources meaning that one could – in theory – convert a single plenoptic image in to a 3D image because of the greater amount of information gathered. If you would like to read more about the technology, check out the company’s “Science Inside” page or have a go at the CEO’s PhD thesis.
click on the water in front of and behind the swan to see how the image changes
But, the reason why the Lytro camera has the potential to revolutionise digiscoping is because the camera collects so much information that it is remarkably easy to re-adjust the focal plain after taking the photo. For anyone who has tried to take digiscoping photos or photos with a focal length of over 1000mm, you will have experienced just how difficult it is to get the focal plain exactly where you want it (on the bird and not on the branch or tree behind it). The Lytro Camera promises to make this a thing of the past.
The two most burning questions for me were:
– would the Lytro Camera work behind a telescope?
– what would the images be like, just how much depth of field play would be available?
So I took it out to one of the local castles to play around with it.
click on the ducks
Behind a Swarovski Telescope and a 30x ocular, there was no appreciable vignetting, but I had to unscrew the eyecup to get just a little closer to the telescope’s ocular. The one thing that did stand out when looking at the images on my computer at home was that if the alignment is not particularly good, then the resulting photo gets strange vertical lines through it. Not sure why.
strange lines creeped in to the image when the camera was not perfectly aligned
But what amazed me the most was just how deep the available depth of field was – normally we would be talking about an image plane of a few centimetres, but with the Lytro Camera and an effective focal length of about 1200mm, I had many metres of focal plane to play with. Of course, this additional depth of field is just available to you to adjust and play with as you wish, but the image viewed at any one time will still have a rather shallow depth.
playing with a line of flowers
Now when testing the Lytro Camera I did it in a similar mind-set as to when I am testing a new prototype of anything – focussing on the core technology or idea and forgetting about all the small details that still need to be worked out or that could be better. I found the handling of the longer camera behind a telescope rather cumbersome and it was not always that easy to make sure that the image was working, especially because the viewing screen is really tiny and the dynamic range was really poor. A lot of what I was experiencing with the Lytro Camera reminded me of the 2 MegaPixel cell phone cameras of old – convenient and quick, but not exactly a Hasselblad.
the trees in the background are about 20m behind the Pinus mugo in the pot
But the core idea of it – the technology and how it worked behind a spotting scope – really did pique my attention. Early criticism of the Lytro light field camera have included that the types of images that work really well with this camera always look kinda setup and stilted: one object neatly in the foreground and a series of interesting things in the background (partially hidden in the bokeh blur, but accessible at the click of a mouse). But, I suspect that as more people use, play with and explore the possibilities of a light field camera, that more and more will be discovered. Just remember what people were saying about digiscoping when it first got started and look where we are now.
I would not suggest rushing out and buying a Lytro camera for digiscoping just yet, but this is definitely something we will want to keep an eye on as it could well get really interesting.