20 April 2012

My Review of the Lytro Camera

Disclaimer: This is not THE review by professionals stating technical specifications and mathematically correct calculations. Believing that this is THE review by professionals is like believing the men in white is doing their job not for the money, but for the passion and the heart to serve the people. And now, MY review.

Lytro is a company that produces the first light field camera. This is started by Dr Ren Ng, a light-field photography research at Stanford University. The science behind this technology is essentially capturing the "amount of light traveling in every direction through every point in space" of an object or scene. So, Lytro camera is not measured by megapixels as captured by the conventional camera sensor.

Lytro camera has an entirely new sensor called light field sensor which has a micro-lens array specially adhered to a standard sensor. Measurement of this sensor is by "light rays". In the Lytro camera, it captures 11 million light rays. The philosophy of Lytro camera is "shoot first, focus later". This technology might just change the playing game in terms of camera technology in years to come (this is just my speculation, could take decades as well). Imagine pointing your camera and pressing the shutter button all at once. No need to worry about focusing. Focus later on your Macbook. Cool, isn't it? I mean, since people are always spending so much time usnig LightRoom, Photoshop and other image editing tools to touch up their (sometimes really bad) photos, it shouldn't take much longer determining the focus point, right?

Here is the link to the unboxing of the Lytro camera.

1) 11 'Megaray'* sensor
2) 8x 43-340mm equivalent, constant F2 lens (limited to 43-150mm range in Everyday mode)
3) 8GB or 16GB internal memory (depending on model)
4) 1.46" (33mm) 49,000 dot touch-screen
5) Instant power-on, instant focus in Everyday mode

* Taken off from Dpreview website

Body and Design
The dimension of the body measures 41mm x 41mm x 112mm. The design is of a lipstick stick, definitely something unconventional in today's definition of a camera (not to mention those cool Harinezumi and toy cameras).

The camera feels comfortable in the hand. Definitely very pocketable, but I am not too sure about the magnetic lens cap (more on that later). My definition of "pocketable" doesn't mean the pockets of a skinny/slim jeans. I mean pockets of a jacket or a bag. I don't have the habit of putting my gadgets (except my iPhone) in my jeans pocket. The main body that houses the lens is made of extruded anodized aluminum structural skin, similar to the kind of texture of the Macbook Pro. Smooth~~~ Just don't drop the camera. I'm sure the body will have permanent dings and dents. I've not tried it (and I don't want to try it!), so this remains to be seen. The part that holds the shutter button, zoom slider, on/off button and USB port is covered with rubber/silicon that is comfortable to my hand. The shutter button is nicely designed on top of the camera and allows a comfortable press to trigger the camera. The zoom slider that allows you to zoom in and out is threaded, so you can feel it with your fingers. The on/off button is at the bottom (depending on how you rotate the camera) together with the USB port. There is also a hole for you to put your hand strap (included with the camera) through.

I have no problem with the design of the body, but I have seen reports online stating that the lipstick design is not comfortable. I feel that this is very personal, so do take this (and other reviews) with a pinch of salt. Go handle the camera yourself to find out. Singapore viewers can feel free to contact me to have a go at this camera. ^__^

Operation and Handling
OK, now we have come to the juicy part of MY review. Handling-wise, it is difficult to operate with one hand as I have tried over the past few days. Imagine having to hold steady the camera in one hand, maneuvering the zoom slider and pressing the shutter button with one hand. Quite hard to do. Unless you forgo the zoom slider, you can literally point and shoot. But if you want to do some zooming, I'd advise you to use both hands to prevent dropping the camera.

Starting up, it is fairly simple and straight forward. Switching on the camera is very fast. With my own human calculation, I estimate the time between pressing the on button to the actual state that you can start shooting to be about 0.376859673 seconds (don't take it literally). In my context, it means FAST! You can also press the shutter button to activate/start up the camera. Same FAST start up! The camera has 2 modes. One is the Everyday Mode (EM) and the other is the Creative Mode (CM). The first time I start up the camera, it was in EM with just the screen with no colored border. Swiping the screen upwards brings up the menu where you can switch to CM by tapping the icon on the bottom left. When in CM, there is a blue border when you are framing your shot. I will explain the difference between the two modes in the coming paragraphs. Everyday mode. That explains everything. It is basically the simplest mode to use. Just point and shoot. The refocusability range is set for you. You just tap on the screen to change the metering. The trade-off for this simplicity is the zoom range. You get only about 3.5X in this mode. Below is a screenshot of how the Everyday mode will look like. No color around the border.

In the Creative mode, you get up to 8X zoom range. Touching the screen changes the point of focus, so you can go up real close to your subject and select your focus point. I can practically go to the point where my subject is very very very close to the lens! I find that the Creative mode that I use most of the time because of the close up and extended zoom range! Note the blue border below in the Creative mode.

Zooming-wise is one part I might have a little problem with (depends on individual). Using the Creative mode, the zoom range is about 8X. Sliding your finger (thumb or knuckle or other body parts) from left to right across the zoom slider will zoom in. I find that the zoom is little slow and sometimes I do miss out on certain shots that I want to zoom in and capture. If the next firmware upgrade is out (if any), I do hope they can improve on this. Maybe a faster slide can translate into a faster zoom, similar to those of the touchscreen phones. You can click on this link to access my Youtube video on how the zooming is like.

Touch screen is very responsive. Not iPhone/Samsung S2/HTC phones kind of responsive. But as a amateur consumer, the touch screen is more than enough. Simple menu and large icons. For my Asian fingers, I find the size of the screen and icons on the menu pretty decent and usable. However, for someone with a thicker finger, it might be a problem.

OK, let's move on to the shooting part! YEAH~~~ OK, I shall tone myself down a little on this juicy portion. Shooting with the Lytro camera is a pleasure. OK, not 100% pleasure, maybe 90%. Why?!!! Because of the viewing LCD screen. The screen is very clear if you hold it on level with your eyes. However, if you are planning to shoot something from bottom up (I'm not into voyeurism!) or top down, it is quite difficult to view the screen. I think it is not designed for multi-angle viewing. Maybe Lytro will come up with a right-angle finder soon? This is the only thing I have an issue with regarding this camera. Nonetheless, do not let this small issue irk you on this awesome invention.

Shooting using this camera is fast and fuss-free. Just power up the camera, point, (zoom if you want), press the shutter button and voila~ Image captured! Shutter speed is really fast (OK, not 1/4000th second kind of fast) but I do get occasional motion blur if the person is walking etc... Do note that the more you zoom in, the higher the chance having motion blur due to hand shake. Nonetheless, shooting stills is snappy and easy.

As for the magnetic lens cap, it is not very tight. I put the camera in a pouch and sometimes, I do notice that the lens cap will be dislodged from the camera when I pull the camera out. So I think Lytro should have included a pouch for us users to minimize the chance of losing the cap. I also noticed that Lytro is selling the cap separately, so I don't know if it is a marketing strategy to have users buy the cap when one goes missing. I do hope mine will remain, so I'm still going to use the pouch to contain my Lytro.

Sample Pictures
I have yet to figure out how to export the "living" pictures onto my blog. Nonetheless, I will provide the link to my profile where you can "interact" with my picture here. Double click on the image to zoom in and click once to re-focus. Simple as that.

For every gadget lover, I guess a new toy is always something fun and addictive. The same goes for me. I enjoyed using the Lytro so far. It's been easy to use and an attention-attracting experience! People who don't know about this camera will be staring and wondering what the heck is that. I mean, I am not an attention seeker. But I do enjoy the thrill of leaving people in suspense after I walk away. Hehehe~ I do hope there's a firmware update to fix the zooming portion so that it is more responsive. All in all, I'm satisfied with the camera and will be shooting more in the coming days. Please do be patient with my picture uploads as I am working in a camera-restricted environment, so I only get to shoot on off days and holidays. In the mean time, I'm going to shoot more and focus later~~~

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your comprehensive review!