I’ve been following the first consumer light field camera since June 2011. I wrote about it here, calling it the future of photography. In October 2011, I preordered the camera and I finally got one on March 2nd 2012.
My first reaction when opening the box was how Apple-like the packaging is but that’s not a complaint. It’s easy to open and displays the product nicely. Seeing the camera in person for the first time was surprising. It’s small and dare I say, kinda cute. The camera is not that heavy and the square, tube design makes it a…unique experience. Sometimes I find myself having no issues with the odd design of the camera and sometimes I find myself wanting to hold the camera differently but I can’t. The little indent for a shutter button and the little lines you rub your finger against to zoom makes the camera very minimal since it has no real buttons. The problem with this is that it tends to be form over function. You quickly forget where all the “buttons” are. I find myself setting up a shot and when I want to zoom, I move the camera to find the zoom lines and then I have to go back and re-set up the shot since I had to move the camera to find the zoom lines. The glass LCD touch screen on the back adds to the difficulty of taking pictures. It’s sort of hard to compose shots and the horrible viewing angles makes it impossible to take a picture unless you are directly looking at the center of the LCD. The touchscreen does work really well surprisingly, so that’s one plus. The magnetic lens cap is nice but it doesn’t seem too strong so I wouldn’t be surprised if the cap comes off if it rubs against something. My camera came out of the box with a dead battery, which I thought was odd. I posted on Twitter saying that the camera came uncharged and Lytro’s twitter account replied to me right away, followed by them asking me for my order number. I was then replied to by Lytro’s Support twitter account where I was told to email them about the camera not having any charge when it arrived. Clearly, the camera should have came with some juice.
The camera seems very sturdy and the aluminum body is nice and seems like it will be able to go awhile without being scratched. The rubber on the end of the camera does make it easy to grip and overall it seems very nice to hold. It also looks pretty stylish, in my opinion.
The software on the camera is very simple. There is only two shooting modes,one named Creative mode, which gives you a bit more control on where you want the focus to be and the default which is Everyday mode. You can delete an image or star it so it imports to your computer first. You can also review your images and choose a focus on the built in LCD. The problem with choosing the focus on the LCD is the fact that the LCD is so low quality, you can barely see the focus change in most cases. I tend to just take a picture and import the photos to my computer to choose the focus.
The software that you need to import and manage the photos is built into the camera and will install when you connect the camera to your computer. The software now is currently Mac only but a PC version will be coming. The software is pretty simple. You can choose a focus, upload pictures to the Lytro site or to Facebook to share the images on your Timeline. You can also export the images to a JPG. There are no editing features so the only thing you can really do with this software is import and share. There were reports that the software while importing basically froze the computer because the Lytro software is a resource hog. I did not experience this on my MacBook Pro (Early 2011). While watching videos, like on YouTube or iTunes, the video did stutter a bit but the computer never froze and the fans never kicked on.
The camera is very hit or miss in terms of what comes out well and what doesn’t. While the whole point of this camera is to have something in the foreground and background so you can change focus but if you take an image that is “flat”, you will get a pretty bad image. Even some images I took that had a foreground and background came out pretty bad. Those JPG exports I talked about: Horrible. They are small (about 81KB) and they are about 1 megapixel, so they are grainy and not something you would really wanna keep. Some pictures come out really well but it doesn’t happen often. This camera also doesn’t do well in anything besides sunlight, from my experience. The zoom also doesn’t work quite that well. I noticed that whenever I used the zoom, the majority of the image would be blurry, even after setting the zoom after with the Lytro software. The first few times you change the focus and it actually works, it is pretty fun but when looking at the final result, I kept going back to the images I have taken with my D90, images where I played around with the depth of field and aperture and as you can expect, my D90 images are far better. That’s not surprising since this camera is not a DSLR replacement and I wouldn’t even consider it a point and shoot replacement since it only does one type of photos well, but it still is worth noting that you can get a better finished product with a different camera.
The Lytro camera is a nice piece of hardware and it definitely is an interesting bit of technology. It’s difficult to be hard on this camera since it is brand new technology and the first generation is never the best, especially in a technology that has not matured yet. For $100, I would say this is a fine camera to take around with you and use when you get the opportunity to take an image that this camera does best. For $399, it’s a bit hard to recommend. This camera is expensive for being a one trick pony. It’s hard to say but it’s true, it only does one type of photography well and that’s a shame. It’s also not something I personally would pay $399 for, especially when you can pick up a point and shoot for less than that, get better JPEG images and you can create the same effect that the Lytro camera does. Again, I do not want to discredit the technology because the tech behind the camera is incredible and I see it going far (perhaps being implemented into a cell phone or DSLR) but right now in this early stage, for $399, I can’t say I can recommend it to the average consumer or to anyone who cares about picture quality over focusing after you take a picture.
I’m going to continue playing with it for a few more days but I have a feeling this will end up on eBay in less than a week. I’ll buy it again when it does better JPEG exporting and when it takes good pictures all around.
Pictures taken with the Lytro:
Lytro JPG exports: