can't wait for 3D post-processing
First week review and first 1,000 images with Lytro -- the camera that lets you refocus after you shoot

I was very fortunate to have had a +Lytro camera for the last week. What is that? It's a new kind of camera: one that captures the light field, aka all the rays of light that are hitting your subject.

This lets you do some remarkable things AFTER you shoot the picture. What?

1. You can refocus the image after you shoot (and your viewers can even refocus images when they view).

2. You can choose to make parallax images (feature coming later this year). This will work even on images you shoot now. It lets you "move around" your subject slightly. Lytro's chief photographer +Eric Cheng has posted examples of those over the past few months.

3. You can choose to make images 3D (feature coming later this year). This too works on images you shoot now, and works even though there's only one lens on the camera. If you get a new 3D TV this will be more and more important.

Over the weekend I shot two things. First we went to the Sacramento Railroad Museum. Why is this a good subject? Because it has lots of things that can be refocused later (trains, rails, and machinery). It also is a brutal test of low-light capabilities. More on that later in this review.

I also shot brunch at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay with my family. This was a good place to test out skin tones, color saturation, and macro photography.

Scoble give me the TL;DR

This is not a camera for many people. For folks like my wife I'd just get them a high-end Android or an iPhone. There are several reasons for this:

1. Low light sensitivity sucks on the Lytro.
2. Sharpness and printability sucks on the Lytro.
3. Portability sucks on the Lytro.
4. Color saturation and quality isn't up to par with even cell phone cameras.
5. Slow shutter speeds (fastest is 1/250th of a second) means you gotta work to make sure you don't get blurry photos due to camera motion.
6. Processing images takes time and means picking focus point.

That said, I really love my Lytro and I've been showing the images around the office. Bob, our office manager, just said "no way" when showing him the refocusability of the images. I also am a 3D freak and can't wait to see all my images in a new way once Lytro comes out with updates.

So, let's take on the negatives first, I made more than 1,000 images and ended up with about 130 good ones. The photographic press will, I predict, really pan this camera. It really does suck on a whole range of things. Let's cover the cons, first.

1. Low light sensitivity. It has no flash, and no capability for flash, and in low light images get very grainy and lose even more color saturation. When you can see the grain in small images shot in low light on screen like here you know you won't be able to print these out.

2. Sharpness. I'm spoiled by having an awesome DSLR that just has tack sharpness even when blown up at huge sizes. Lytro just doesn't make images that are hyper sharp, even when compared with cameras on cell phones (look at the new Nokia images for what's coming, too). That said for use on the web the images are just fine and a good photographer will be able to make images that are excellent anyway. This image of bread at the Ritz is among my sharpest: Blow it up and you'll see it falls apart, but on screen it's plenty good.

3. Portability. The camera is a tube. It fits well into my new +Scottevest's large pockets, but it's not something I'd want to carry in my pants pockets the way the iPhone is. That said, most of us who take photography more seriously already are used to carrying around a lot of equipment. I just wonder how often I'll have this camera with me (I forgot it at home today, for instance, even though I want to show it off on the +Thomas Hawk and +Lotus Carroll Google+ hangout tonight).

4. Color saturation. The colors, in the best of situations, are just "passable." For instance, this box of strawberries looks yummy, but if I put it next to a photo from my iPhone you'd see what I'm talking about. The colors are muted and not nearly as rich as on other cameras:

5. Show shutter speeds. I had lots of photos that just were ruined because of blur from camera shake. The top speed is 1/250th of a second, and if you zoom in, or if you aren't careful when making images, you'll have lots of blur. This makes the camera hard to use for sports, too. Here is an image of my son, Ryan, running and you can see his leg is blurred: I shot some pictures of a Harley Davidson on the road and they all were blurred, too, even though we were in bright sunlight.

6. Processing images off of my iPhone is a lot faster than it is for the Lytro. Because of how the light field technology works, each image (which in raw state is about 16mb) not only needs to be imported into your computer, but needs to process before you can even view them. I found I could process images faster than the computer could. I found that after changing my workflow (importing photos and then letting the computer run for an hour) that this problem went away, but this is probably why they haven't yet turned on wifi. Even after the images were processed so you can see them I found I needed to set the default focus point to a different spot than the camera picked. That's more work than many people will want to do.

7. The electronic viewfinder is sometimes hard to see in bright sunlight (not that big a deal because you don't need to see focus when shooting but takes some practice to get used to).

OK, that's about all the negatives. Now for the positives.

1. The camera and images draw a crowd. Everyone I've shown the images to says "that is freaking cool" or something similar. Same for when people noticed me shooting with it.

2. The camera is fun and lets you see in a new way. Shooting with it was fast, and because I didn't need to focus I was able to shoot a lot more images without worrying.

3. I can't wait to see my images in the future after new processing technology comes out. +Eric Cheng came to my house and showed me images in 3D, for instance. That rocked.

4. As a start of a new technology this stuff just has me excited. These sensors will be improved. The cameras will get more features. I'm sure that wifi will be added at some point. I totally want to cheer on the team that made this camera, because it's just a well designed product that will bring me great joy, even with its limitations. Here look at this photo of my 18-year-old son, Patrick, and his girlfriend: This is a shot you can't make on other cameras. Click on her (Audrey Land) to see the shot "refocus." I love this.

By the way, unlike other reviewers, I actually bought one and I look forward to using it in the future.

Some other thoughts. If you shoot something very close up, like this flower: then there's a special macro mode in the camera (you turn it on by sliding the UI up on the display with your finger). Unfortunately here you see the limitations for how far you can push the focus. That said, shooting macro photos like this is much harder on a normal camera than on the Lytro. Why? Getting focus exactly right is hard and takes practice on a normal camera (and often expensive lenses). On the Lytro the shot came out every time.

Some other fun examples?

My son Milan enjoying the train exhibit and acting like a train whistle: (try refocusing on the train).

Pick a pastry:

Ryan goofing around and making faces:

Follow the rails to Ryan's face:

I have a ton more photos here: from the weekend.

OK, end analysis of Lytro's business. Is this camera going to be successful in the market? I am skeptical. It doesn't solve most people's pain. My dad put it this way "I just shoot a ton of photos with my digital camera and throw out the blurry ones." In fact, even here I needed to do that. Is the "trick" of refocusing, or 3D, or parallax interesting enough to sell more than a few 10s of thousands of these cameras to geeks like me who are willing to put up with the pain? I am not confident. Company officials are, as you might expect, very optimistic and say that this is just the start of a range of products from them. That might be so, but it's very hard to get anyone interested in a camera that's not in their cell phone now, so Lytro has its work cut out for it. That said, I'm rooting for them and love the product.

Get more info at and see you tonight on the +Thomas Hawk and +Lotus Carroll show.

You can watch other reactions to the Lytro here:

+Techmeme is keeping track of the reviews here:
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