Within any generation, there are usually a few innovations that don’t quite sit well with the majority. Perhaps it’s just that they’re just so unusual our minds don’t want to do the work of rethinking a given platform, or maybe it’s ahead of its time. When the Jumbo jet was created people didn’t understand why such a behemoth of an aircraft needed exist, as flying was still thought to be the foray of only the wealthy who would travel on aircraft like Concorde which was in the production pipeline. But Pan Am’s Juan Trippe was more forward thinking and figured it would only be that if manufacturers catered to that thought.
He saw, and rightly so, that the future of air travel was in cheaper, mass transportation. He changed the game, and most of us didn’t see it coming. We see this sort of thing time and time again in all industries, though photography has been, arguably, a bit slower. Unlike aviation, which has gone from a brief hundred yard dash to Space flight in 60 years, photography has had more evolutions, than revolutionary thinking. Lytro, is trying to make the next leap with its Phlenoptic ‘light field’ cameras, capable of refocusing parts of an image after it’s been shot. If their first offering was their ‘Wright Flyer,’ their second, ‘The Illum,’ which is about to go to market, seems like an F-22 Stealth. The question is…is there a use for it?
Lytro & Living Pictures
The Illum features a 40 Megaray sensor, a 30-250mm lens with a constant f/2.0 aperture, and a 1:3 macro. The lens weighs around half a pound, keeping it light, and it has a wide aspect 4 inch LCD touchscreen. It uses SD storage, has a hot shoe, tripod mount, and removable battery. Unlike the original Lytro, this one vaguely resembles the look of a more standard DSLR, even if the lens in fixed. It features an overlay that shows the user the relative focus of the objects in frame, and also which objects are re-focusable after the fact. It sounds, and looks like the future.
Lytro has recently given Illums to 5 photographers in widely varying genres with the challenge of capturing, “emotions in a different light.” From music and entertainment portraiture, to fashion, conceptual, sports, and dioramas. The emotions to be captured were hope, love, fear, rage, and grief. The video itself is less far out than the description can lead one to think, and it’s an interesting look to see how these photographers experience this new type of shooting, and how they have to reframe their thinking in order to use it.
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This seems to me, a tremendous departure from what we know in our field. Most cameras are able to be picked up and used with a sort of ease due to the fact that the output, for all intents and purposes, is essentially the same; the result is a still image, and the mechanics in most are similar. This though, is not. When the original Lytro came out, I considered buying one to fool around with, but then figured I wanted more control, and I don’t care if I can refocus after the fact.
Now though, I think I was a bit naive, and didn’t grant enough interest in thought to the matter. Mind you, that was two years ago, and in tech a lot has changed, and trends that may have been sprouting can be great giant pines by now. I didn’t quite see the growth in interactivity with online galleries as I do now; I still thought of photos as something a bit more two dimensional, in a good way; as a moment frozen that otherwise would be lost, or undervalued.
With the popularity of Instagram, Vine, and the like, what I see is that pictures as we know them, have a different playing field now – a screen. I didn’t understand what this meant, but I’ve had a bit of an A-ha moment, and I see that there is room for the Lytro. What it does is really let you explore a photo’s scene. Clicking around the different areas of a photo taken on it, is akin to being in the scene re-adjusting your eyes to look at different objects. It’s immersive. It’s special. I just wonder if it will really catch on… and when. What do you think?
You can look around an interactive gallery of Lytro images and learn more about it on their site, and pre-order the Lytro Illum now on B&H Photo.