Looking at the future of Lytro

While many people call the Lytro camera a disruptive force in photography right now, it's the technology's future applications that we should be most excited about.

Many commentators have called the Lytro camera a disruptive force in the world of photography.

From the outset, Lytro has presented itself as a totally new experience in taking photos. This is most clearly visible when looking at the form factor of the camera, which is like nothing you have ever shot with. The shape and the way you hold the Lytro have no real parallels in the world of regular photography. There's not even a comparison to be made with the way we hold a mobile phone — it's that foreign an experience.

The Lytro is a long, rectangular object with one end housing the lens and the other a touch panel. Physical controls are sparse, save for the small indentation at the top, which acts as the shutter button; a zoom rocker, which works on touching across an almost unnoticeable line; and a power button at the base.

It's deceptive in its simplicity. While it would make sense to argue that the Lytro strips away most of the physical control to let you focus (no pun intended) on just pointing and shooting, I would argue that this very lack of control means that you need to acutely rethink how you take photos.

Normally, photographers see an image, pull out their traditional camera and then think about the best way to create the illusion of depth. With the Lytro, all of that depth information is now part of what you capture, without the photographer really even having to think about how their chosen aperture will affect the depth of field.

(Credit: Lytro)

So what is there left to think about?

We could talk about composition, framing and making an ideal shot within the boundaries of a square frame. But the square 1:1 format has been popularised by phone apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic, and it's nothing new in the world of analog photography.

Being able to click somewhere on an image and refocus the shot on a computer is a novelty. It's a limited novelty, though. When the technology becomes more ubiquitous — whether in the form of Lytro 2.0 or when licensed out to other devices — users will tire of that single task. I know that beyond the few experiments when working out that sweet spot, I soon got tired of refocusing average shots.

Even the promise of 3D, parallax and perspective shift won't be enough to sway the majority of consumers to keep playing with their images after capture.

What the Lytro does allow photographers to do — and this is the strongest differentiator from traditional cameras — is become more engrossed in the art of telling stories.

Refocusing images should become more than just a perfunctory task. It can be an essential part of how we see the world through the photographer's eyes. We've seen a few examples of this over at Lytro's official gallery, which showcases insects hiding behind leaves, only to be revealed when a click is centred in the right place. But there's so much more that could be done, and the exciting part is that this storytelling will be decided by the photographer.

This might all sound a little like pie-in-the-sky talk just now. While everyone discusses the disruptive effect of Lytro, perhaps we should look a little further, and contemplate how this technology will change the way we approach photography in the future.

 

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