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Focus-free: Digital Photography’s Next Frontier?
By Jason Marges - on 02 Nov 2011, 5:58pm

Shoot from the hip? Sure. Literally, at that. With the Lytro camera, you can worry about focusing your shot AFTER you take it.

June 2011 brought forth news of what many have claimed to be a game-changer in the digital photography scene. October 2011 saw its release.

Enter: the Lytro camera. Developed by a startup company since 2006, this innovative digital image capture device is supposedly able to capture all light rays in any given scene, including the direction of each ray. The result? Excellent low light performance, and – get this – the ability to focus the image after it has been taken. AFTER. And without any additional fancy hardware, at that. (Unfortunately the software is only Mac-compatible as of the announcement date.)

At the moment, the Lytro camera is available for pre-order at the company’s website for USD 399 (8GB) and USD 499 (16GB) and will begin shipping in early 2012. It comes with a decent 8x optical zoom range and an f/2 lens and features only two physical control buttons (aside from the shutter, the other one is actually just the power button).

Meanwhile, on the software side, Adobe recently introduced a new Photoshop tool, currently still under development, that promises to unblur out-of-focus images at a click or two of your mouse. Granted, similar image-sharpening tools already exist in Adobe and other imaging software, although this new one appears to be far more advanced, due to the use of advanced algorithms that calculate camera lens movements during the time of image capture.

So what’s going on here?

On one hand, we’re seeing the development of technologies that may, in fact, make digital photography a literal shoot-from-the-hip affair. Convenience aside, this can open up more avenues and opportunities for visual creativity for those who would actually choose to adopt the new tech. And surely, from a purely technological perspective, there’s enough cause to be excited.

A quick peek into the inner workings of the Lytro camera, adapted from Lytro.com. (Click the image for a larger, more readable image.)

Then again, how will the more seasoned practitioners of photography – those who’ve invested years honing their craft – react? Remember how film photographers first regarded the first few waves of commercial digital cameras? Needless to say, we can expect a lot of points for debate to come up once (if at all) these new innovations see mass adoption.

Then there’s also the question of the actual usability behind these technologies. Exactly how effective will these new applications of light field research and software calculations be once set out in real-world use? And how so, once placed in the hands of the average consumer?

Suffice to say, we here at the HWM and HardwareZone labs can’t wait to get our hands on these just to see for ourselves. We’re sure we won’t be throwing away our legit snappers in favor of a Lytro just yet, but perhaps just getting the chance to play with what may be the first of many more ventures towards off-beat – albeit novel – digital photography is enough to get our shutter trigger fingers itchy.

(Learn more about Lytro straight from the source.)

Jason Marges

Jason Marges / Executive Editor, HWM Philippines

A member of the HardwareZone Philippines family since 2006, Jason is the Executive Editor for HardwareZone's print publication, HWM Philippines. Apart from his keen interest in all things high-tech, he is also a huge fan of basketball, pop culture, Internet memes, and free, high-speed Wi-Fi.