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Light L16 | A Camera To Change The Game & Set The Stage For The Future, Now

By Kishore Sawh on October 8th 2015

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I hate (and that’s a strong but right word), that I end up using my phone so much for photography. And before you dismiss anything I have to say on SLRL ever again, let me clarify that I don’t do professional shoots with it; I still leave that to larger format cameras. However, that old platitude that the best camera is the one you have on you has a lot of truth to it, and it’s painful, because you know just how much better your everyday images could be with a proper camera. Alas, the burden of size and inconvenience wins in casual situations.

Carrying around a big camera to get big results just has practical limitations, and frankly, something else I hate is whipping out a big camera with a phallic lens at a party or event, because, well, that’s somewhat akin to pulling your John Thomas out at a party. It may be impressive, but it’s not exactly civilized.

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This conundrum thus far has been addressed by increasingly good smartphone cameras and a few powerful pocket cameras like the Sony Rx100 series. Sure, the new iPhone 6S camera is good (for a phone) and a step in the right direction, but it’s not a big enough step, and the approach isn’t exactly in the right direction. There’s a new player at the table now though, and it’s sitting across the table as mysterious and attractive as a Bond Villain’s girl. It’s called the L16 from a company called Light, and it looks brilliant. Here are the Cliff Notes:

It’s the world’s first multi-aperture computational camera, and it’s more like many little cameras in one. It uses breakthrough folding optics design with what’s touted as the most advanced imaging engine ever created; all to give you the control and ability of a DSLR with the convenience of a smartphone. It has 16 individual cameras and fires 10 of them simultaneously from a series of fixed focal lengths (35, 70, 150mm). The images are then computationally fused to create a final 52MP resolution file.

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One of the problems I’ve had with smartphone cameras is the issue of focal length because they are typically very wide, and the zoom is digital so you get no benefit of compression. The L16, however, seems to be able to do away with this issue. Similarly to a Lytro, the defocus of the image can be done after the fact to mimic something either 35mm, 70mm, or 150mm. Nice.

[REWIND: SONY’S SENSORS ARE SO GOOD THEY ARE GETTING A COMPANY OF THEIR OWN]

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The L16 features a large rear screen which rids the need of a viewfinder, and even with that screen should be able to take 400 shots per charge. It uses a modified version of Android to run, but it also will be able to share photos via WiFi. To handle all this functionality and massive files requires a lot of processing power, which will come in the form of the Snapdragon 820 from Qualcomm (QCOM in case you want to jump on the stock), which is a quad-core 2.2Ghz “system on a chip.” Oh, and while it may be an Android OS, it’s more like Apple hardware, given it’s beautiful, and will be made by Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn who also makes iPhones.

It’s going to get a lot of resistance, I think, from the photography community at first, but such is the way of the world that it all changes. This to me is a good indicator of the future, maybe not even ten years from now. It’s just not in our nature to snuff out the fire. Let it burn. To buy one, you’ll also need to let it burn a small hole in your wallet, to the tune of $1600 USD for a mid-2016 delivery. You can do that here.

About

Kishore is, among other things, the Editor-In-Chief at SLR Lounge. A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

15 Comments

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  1. Dave Haynie

    Kind of interesting. I have no doubt that an image composited from 4 to 16 tiny cellphone sensors will outperform the typical cellphone camera… for each camera added with the same information (depends on how they do the compositing, since of course, they’re not perfectly aligned), you get get twice the dynamic range = 1 f-stop, 1-bit, or 6.02dB depending on what scale you’re looking for. I mean, when I composite 50+ shots from my OM-D, I’m outperforming my Canon 6D or, depending on the shot, most any single shot photo.

    Now, how about actual light gathering? Let’s take the iPhone sensor at 1/3″, that’s an area of 17.3mm^2. So sixteen of those gets you an area of 276.8mm^2. The Sony RX100 sensor is a 1″ sensor, that’s an area of 116^mm. A Micro Four-thirds sensor covers 225mm^2, and a full frame 35mm covers about 860mm^2. Maybe their “computational photography” does some magic on this to improve things specifically over using a single sensor. I wouldn’t be shocked if this is better than an RX100-class camera, at least on some shots (since it won’t always use all cameras), but I don’t think it’s a DSLR in the pocket. And unfortunately, it’s being sold initially at a DSLR price. And either all of the users are very tiny people, or that gizmo’s about twice the overall size of a modern smartphone… more pocketable than my OM-D, but the Pen E-PM1 with a pancake lens might give it a run for pocketability.

    Still, very cool that someone’s trying to think in these terms. And given the typical $8-16 price for a cellphone camera subassembly in volume, if they can get the price of the other optics down as well, it might well become competitive with other devices supporting the same image quality.

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  2. Peter McWade

    Well, its cool but……..Its just one more thing to carry around in your pocket or pouch or purse. Do you really want or need another phone sized item in your bag of tricks.

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  3. Lakin Jones

    Interesting, but not one action photo in their online gallery. Event though their promo video has a guy photographing a skateboarder mid jump followed by a “nailed it” action. Then their skateboarder sample is of a guy standing next to a ramp… makes me wonder how 10 cameras shooting at once capture high speed low light action and merge them all together.

    That and (currently) zero capability to mount filters onto a $1,600 camera?

    Guess I’ll have to wait and see how it all pans out, for now I’ll stick with my DSLR.

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  4. Harry Lim

    There is a $400 discount if you reserve this month. That brings the price down to $1200. $199 is due now and the balance is due in late summer 2016. I think this should be noted in the article.

    I saw a vide from the CEO where he says a comparable DLSR kit would cost more than $6,000.

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  5. Harry Lim

    I’m intrigued and would consider getting one. The primary use would be for travel or even out and about to use instead of my cell phone camera.

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  6. robert garfinkle

    let me ask? does it feel like you are taking a “real” picture if you have a device in your hand which feels like a camera, allows you to manually adjust every dial n gauge, along with a lens that you mount and can focus manually if you wish?

    or, is it the end result (the picture produced), even if the device was whipped out of your shirt pocket, like a phone (or this new thingy)???

    The L16 could be the best new kid on the block, outperforming everything in it’s path, and it may just do that… but that’s all technical and programming. and what I mean by outperforming, could be color wise, depth-of-field wise, even auto-compose the shot for you.

    a couple things with that…

    1. Do I trust it? will it know, how I the photographer perceives / wishes the shot that should be rendered?
    2. How will it look, if I show up to a wedding (as a pro) or to some other paid event with a small little box?

    How would you feel if you were hired as the photographer and showed up with your gear in your pocket? :) How would the customer perceive you?

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  7. Dustin Baugh

    I don’t want anything like this, I just want a digital version of my old Nikon SLR. But I’m so glad they’re making things like this. A few revisions down the road this could be the camera tech of the future and people walking around with single lens DSLRs will be looked at the way large format users are now, respected but never again the majority.

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  8. Paddy McDougall

    Had me right up to the price, however, if they get the demand v2 will come down in price. What would really be interesting is if a smart phone company licensed the design and new smart phones had the multiple lenses on the back I would certainly buy one.

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  10. morgan glassco

    “it may be an Android OS, it’s more like Apple hardware, given it’s beautiful, and will be made by Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn”

    This is terribly naive and silly. Trying to give apple credit for a product they have no connection to because it is beautiful and made by Foxconn. News flash, there are more beautiful Android phones than Apple and Foxconn is not Apple, they make Android and Windows Phones as well.

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  11. Stan Rogers

    This looks a lot like the sort of “camera of the future” that Ctein proposed some years ago. (If you’ve been around long enough, you’ll recognize the name. If not, he’s a master printer known primarily for his dye transfer work and for years of contributions to darkroom-oriented magazines. He’s also a physicist.) See http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2011/01/tablet-view-camera.html and look for a functional resemblance. You might be surprised at how many photographers would like to return to the slower taking pace that a camera like this would allow (and if they get the screen right, you’ll even need a dark cloth — YAY!!!).

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  12. Paul Empson

    hmmmm.. read the blurb, went to their website.. watched the two videos above… looks very interesting. If the price comes down and the images really are good enough to print big and hang on your wall (as in the video) in tough light conditions too… it could be a very nice bit of kit and one I’d seriously consider.. especially as a walk around bit of kit..

    * of course, never satisfied.. I’m already thinking is 35mm really wide… enough :-D

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  14. Kayode Olorunfemi

    Seems like an interesting take on digital camera but the price… I might have to sell my 5DMk3 to get one.

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