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Lytro CEO on the light-field cameraLytro CEO and Founder Ren Ng comes to the CNET's Buzz Out Loud to talk about the first light field camera and why everyone in the tech world is excited about it.
-Today is Friday, June 24, 2011. My name is Stephen Beacham. -I am Antuan Goodwin. -and I am Brian Tong. Welcome to Buzz Out Loud, CNET's podcast of indeterminate length today's episode 1497, and we promised and we delivered a very special guest, very special, I'm telling you, Lytro's founder and CEO Ren Ng in the house for us. We're gonna asked him questions. We're gonna have you guys ask him all the questions that you want as well. We've seen and talk about on this exciting launch and announcement. Lytro has been everywhere, right? Twitter. -Yeah. -What's your life been like the past, you know, say 48 hours. -First of all, thanks a lot for having me on. -That's allowed. -The last 48 hours has been absolutely terrific. The responds I think with the world has just been outrageously positive just a huge amount of traffic through our website. We had a great launch party on Wednesday too. We had soaked to silly like character. -See they are not missing around when you talk about directives that you're not missing around. -It was amazing, yeah. -So, now, can you tell out listeners and people listening up a little bit about your background. You went to Stanford, correct, where you dissertation and this is kind of what spark everything. -That's right. Yeah, it was in Stanford for a long time. I came from Australia out to California by myself one of undergrad and then stayed for grad school as well, and I was doing all these researching and computer graphics and it was a very, you know, visually driven person, just love pictures, love photos, taking a lots of photos with film cameras, and the digital cameras, immersing in how you make pictures, you know, what the best of your graphics, and we're doing all these research on this thing called the light healed and taking, you know, 5000, you know, digital pictures -Uh huh. -and everything like as I will clearly what I need to be doing is studying cameras and how the application of all the best computer graphics in the world could make cameras better and that's how my wish is born. -Well, would you describe yourself as kind of a photo junky beforehand? -Oh definitely, yeah. I did a lot of rock climbing. All my best friends firm, you know, the rock climbing community. -So, you're telling us you got guns. -Yeah, less these days. A lot more rock climbing in the past. -A lot more, yeah, yeah, yeah. -and a lot more conference these days and you know, a lot of candid portraits and if you're here, you know, you hang for real, but you're trying to take pictures down, you know, down a steep cliff, you know, focusing on the right person at the right time when you're trying not to, you know, swing around of the wind is very difficult. -I can' imagine -and it was shooting with these kind of pictures, kind of shoot lots of candid portraits whereas like, you know, cameras are still really complicated, still really hard to use when you try and taking great picture and with all the things that we knew about from could be graphics because, you know, these days when you go to the movies, right, I mean so much of it is computer generated in a way that you just can't distinguish from reality because we understand who life works so well that we can simulate it in a way that you can distinguish the reality, and if you think about applying all of that knowledge, all the technology to a camera that's what you get with Lytro photography. -Now, one of the great things about this, we showed off some of these pictures and examples that are on Lytro site. It's L-Y-T-R-0, lytro.com. You can check out the picture gallery where these pictures have been taken and after the fact you can choose the focal point that wanna focus on. Indeed, use examples like flowers, 4 lovely ladies' faces and I clicked on each of them. -Did you like that one? -Which one here, you know it. If we can find, you know, let's-- if you can find that picture for ladies, we'll have a vote of which one we each prefer. -You don't like the one with a cat because like the one with a cat. -I'm not a fan of cats. -Lol cats man. -Cats party, -But the one that we talked about that we're amazed about the most was the one to the glass window -Oh yeah. -that had the geometrical shapes on the glass window. -Yeah. -And and you're able to, you know, she is the point of focus between the little hole in that kind of geometric square shape. -Yeah. -Yeah, there's a shot that you like of the 4 ladies that was taken by Michael Soo. He was photographer of the year a few years back and he shot early on with some prototype Lytro cameras we have a few years ago actually. So, he's been a, you know, real friend to the company and then the one that you talked about with, you know, the grimy window -Yeah. -That's taken by Richard Koci Hernandez. Yeah, I love that picture. -Looks almost 2 people [unk] -Yeah, there you go. -There you go, there you go. -Yeah. I love that picture because I'm very passionate about taking pictures that tell stories, you know, and i think this picture here really shows how Koci is taking light field photography, not just to things, you know, instant shutter, you know, taking picture with no delay focusing artifact. That's great for all of us, but for people that really wanna push the photographic art, they are all these new opportunities to take pictures that are inviting to explore. They are inviting you to interact in order to discover and I called it back in back in research days in my dissertation too; I called it the sensation of discovery, and I think that sensation of discovery when you can't quite see something that you wanna see and then you click and it comes into clear focus is just a magical moment. -It's kind of like travel like people here were getting gaiety about. -Yeah. -We're like, oh my gosh, look at. -Now, one of the questions that everyone has is, at your even you did have the cameras there. Now, they were according to sources wrapped in a leopard-shark type sucks stuff animal and this how we, you know, in this DNA job weeks all over the internet. You've got to protect your properties. That's right, the camera is still very much under apps. The sharks were, you know, the idea from our director of photography, Eric Cheng. Eric is, you know, one of the premier underwater photographers in the world. His taking is amazing, you know, one of you have seen any of those pictures of great white shark jumping out of the water to catch a seal. He has a shot a like that where that shark is like fully in the air like you know, suspended in the air. So, eventually he has a lot of sharks around his apartment, stuffing animals, and at the last minute they decided that will be the best way to mule the camera, yeah. -Now, the question is here, we know, I didn't get a chance to see how really, you know, big or small these cameras are. Is the technology here, the Lytro, is just going a lot of people are asking us is just going to be a consumer point-and-shoot camera or more the SLR camera like what is, you know, I guess the optics and the technology. -Yeah. -What form factor you guys are looking up -Yeah. -to launch with? -Yeah, no. -You know, light fields are applicable to anything with a lens in front of as sensor. The technology is fundamental in that way and applies to all, you know, camera optical systems. What we're really interested to do to take this technology out of the lab where it used to be, you know, really about very research oriented large, you know, application of photography systems and bring it to the masses, and we're not gonna do that half measure when I gonna come out with something that, you know, is still for industrial settings or something that is priced out of the consumer market. This is gonna be consumer form factor, consumer price point for everybody. -Excellent, so, what price point are you looking to target? Ren -It's gonna be a competitively priced consumer product. -Oh no. -Not that buzz word. -competitively priced. -Let's just-- -You know the game. -Let's just specific as we can get right now. -He knows the game. -You can't blame me for trying though. -No, no, that's fine, I'll ask you another question completely related. So, are you guys looking to launch this by the end of the year or in 2011 or next year 2012? When it's gonna be-- -It's gonna be in 2011. -2011. -Yup. -Excellent -Yeah. -It's a really exciting time to be this close to be able to bring this thing out, you know, that goes back to the mid 1990s writing in this technology from these 2 professors [unk] goes back to, I think, paper came out in 1996 and has been sighted, you know, thousands of times in research literature and to be able to go through these progression of under shadowing in big camera systems and small camera systems and now bring it out into something where it can be for the whole world is something I'm super, super excited about. -Yeah, you guys talked about small camera systems and we know how mobile phones and cameras have exploded -Uh huh. -Right. -Yup. -iPhone 4 is one of the number types of photos from a device upload. It's a flicker these days. -Yup. -Are you guys-- and this is a very, you know, down the road question, but are you guys looking new with your apps and technology fit in to mobile phone or is that something that you would license down the road like. What are you thinking in that direction. -It will definitely fit. It's fully compatible with, you know, cellphones, with large systems, [unk] industrial, all the rest of it, microscopes, that technology for Lytro microscopy has been pushed by Professor [unk] in Stanford and I collaborate on that since graduating. In the cellphone space, you know, I think that cellphones are so important to all of us because they are almost to be so ultracasual about taking the picture. So, you can document everything in your life, right, and I think that really what we see in the market today is just this exploding interest in more and more picture taking and I think that will underlies that is as human being. So, we just have this, you know, this core need is to be able to tell other people what we can do visually, -Uh huh. -and you know, if you go all the way back to the cave painting. They discovered this cave painting in France now like from 30,000 years ago right now, it's an amazing picture. You know, like all these cattle like jumping over ravine and this is what looks like to me. I haven't been to the [unk]. I mean it's such an action picture and you can just, you know, feel like someone that was out there on a hunt was just really compel it to wanna lay it down for posterity. If you're looking like, you know, the 1830s, the daguerreotype, you know, the first person to really brought photography to the masses and it was this, you know, silver plate. They have to put these chemicals on and I think it started with, you know, the chloride and then with the bromide and things like this that is really toxic. -Uh huh. -and in the very first week after Daguerre brought this thing out, you know, portrait houses sprang up all across Paris, and people will bring their families to try to take pictures because they were never able to take a picture the family before unless you are really rich and you get a painting done, and it was really hard to take these pictures. You know, you had to sit there for a couple of minutes. So, if you imagine trying to sit there for a couple of minutes to have your picture taken. You know, what happens is that, if you're trying to look at the camera, your eyes are gonna blur because you can't keep your eyes still for that long or, you know, arms will just move. It's just not possible. So, they would have to close their eyes, and they would have to sit in a chair with an iron collar to hold themselves still enough for this exposure to work. Just think about the length that these people all across Paris went to capture those pictures. -Uh huh. -I think when you look at, you know, digital pictures today that same energy is there for people to just want to take pictures with their smartphones. The people just have this craving for really great pictures of the people that they love, right, so, that drives and enormous camera market, dedicated camera market that was 38 billion dollars last year in sales, projected to grow to 44 billion dollars in 2015 and that's before the innovations that Lytro technology and Lytro wants to bring back to this place. So, you know, the history of progression of photography something I'm very passionate about as well. -Okay, we definitely will ask you more questions, but wanted to get questions on our audiences that were asking of you. So, Antuan, there's couple of them rolling by-- -The one that keep thinking the most is how does the file size for photo that's captured in this format compared so something like JPEG or Raw. -Yeah. -Is it gonna be an image file or? -It's not gonna be an image file. They're gonna be comparable to the regular picture files, and it really comes down to compression level. So, might be slightly larger depending on where we end up, but it's not gonna be like an [unk] larger than pictures [unk] -Will they be their own kind of file? -Right. -Inherently, it has to be because this information that we're collecting is not a photograph, right. -Uh huh. -So, it collects all these extra information and now, that's it. Once you have a Light Field engine, that's our software to form the pictures from that light field Well, after that, you know, you could save as JPEG, shift it out, of course use interactive capabilities. -Right -So what we wanted to make sure is that, you know, people don't just have really powerful technology under the hood for the photographer and then you shift them out and your friends say, oh nice picture, but they don't even know. When you buy a light field camera, it's something that you really take some exciting content with and that is why we have launched the company with these living pictures on our website. That is what people are gonna be able to share with their friends and family, and if you think about it right, when people are gonna wraps up right now when you guys went, You don't have to install any software. See it right. -No, no. -The problem with formats in the past, you know, with its Tiff or JPEG or Raw was that the modern software with the software infrastructure of the world at that time hadn't grown enough so that-- It wasn't a in a ping. I mean, you have to download software, make sure it compatible on this kind of things. Today, with modern web technologies, we can deliver something on mobile phones, you know, on web browser, now on the iPad. People can see this living pictures without installing anything and that's the simplicity and unification of the experience that we wanna deliver to our customers when the product comes out. -Now, on the demos on your web pages, it is using HTML 5 to read these files. -It depends on where you look at it. It's either flash or HTML 5 on the browsers like HTML 5 and on the mobile phone is HTML 5 on a browser. -So for someone, let's say my mom who in the future buys Lytro camera. Will she need to some sort of Lytro software on her own computer initially to interact with photos? -Yeah, initially, you know, that's probably what's gonna happen, but when she shares with you or with anyone else in the world, they don't need to install anything to appreciate the living picture. -Now, how does the-- that chat room is asking, how does time between shots differ? Does it take longer to take the photo pictures? -Yeah, it's a good question, and you know, we're not ready to go into some specifics of the product right now because a lot of those things are still in development, but inherently-- -We do like to exclusives, Ren. -Right on like-- -This is the exclusive-- -You are the exclusive. -Is it exclusive right here? -Yeah, how much more do you want Brian? No, I'm just kidding with you. -One person can now be in 2 places at the same time. -But keep on-- -Can you do it? -It's against the law of the physics and-- -Shutter speed or -Yeah, yeah. -Inherently with Lytro technology, this is a single shot, right. -Uh huh. -So, it's not taking many pictures and try to stitch them together. So, inherently, light fields are of the same speed or potentially faster exposures than for conventional cams because we can shoot less light, so you know things like that, shot to shot speed and taking multiple pictures really just come down the electronic system is independent of Lytro technology. -Okay. -So, you know, we didn't see too many, I guess, action shots like let's say a runner or some thrown down a slam dunk like we will be able to that okay. -Oh, definitely, I think there is someone-- Once I did this. I think a picture of. I lot of pictures, you know, still coming through and going because [unk] are working with I think this one of [unk] with some volleyball players in the background. I think, you know, this player is about the spike the ball. So, there are difference in action shots out there and yeah it's-- oh, oh and in fact the best one. The one that like most is there is a baby shot on there. This is a friend of Eric's daughter. Yeah, there is baby Kay. This is like the happiest baby in the world. You see a lot of pictures of baby Kay, and the amazing thing about this picture, which might not be able to tell if you look closely it's baby Kay on a swing at the park and I don't know if you guys have ever tried to take the picture of a baby on a swing in park -My nieces and nephews. -Oh yeah -Easy -and it's a great show because they love. I mean babies just love being on the swing, you know, but the conventional camera, I mean, you know you have to focus and use your conventional cameras have that half press, right. So, you know, that's by the way a really simple thing where complication just right at the moment you take the pictures just means lots of people taken up the wrong time and they don't know you need to do that, which is why is pokes on wrong point and you have to half press it to try to focus it somewhere and then you have to wait for the baby to try to go through that point. It's basically impossible. In that shot, you click it and because you can focus after that act and any of that, you can make the pictures perfectly focused. -That sounds very compelling right there you just click it. -Yeah and this is something which is-- not just the right focus, but also at the right time because when you click it, it takes instantly without any delay. Alright, and that I tell you is on of the hottest features. -Well, that's gonna be the next that was asking, what about the opposite end of that, people who enjoy things like long exposures -Uh huh. -Will you still be able to do that for the [unk]. -Definitely. -and you know the thing about light field photography is I wrote about this in my dissertation that is I'm very passionate about cameras where I shot lot of slide film, but I love Velvia. It was the kind of film that I used. It's really saturated colors outdoors and there were digital cameras, you know, The same kind of craft of composition of the picture. It also kind of controls that you can have creatively. It's something that I'm, you know, just really passionate about and light field photography feels so natural because it very much ease photography as we've known it right, and the focusing that you see through this pictures feels so natural because it is just the light field engine doing the physical work of the lens that would normally have been done in conventional camera return the focus ring. We just do that physics now in software. It's just an accurate simulation of that the best way that we can, which is why it looks high [unk]. So, all the things you know from photography will continue to work except now the thing that you get is a little bit more life in the picture preserved forever. -And that's a great point because I think that's one thing that everyone is worried about [unk] proprietary camera. How much control do actually get? -Right. -But this is really after the fact, you know, being able to manipulate in dealing and dealing. You know, enjoy these photos [unk] -Right, right, right definitely. And you know, there are so many capabilities that comes from light fields, and it's gonna take time for us and for the ecosystem to bring all of those benefits to the consumer over time. This is gonna take years, right, but the amazing thing is that right at the gate, you got a living a picture that does things that you can never do before and the file that it came from, the light field file contains all of the richness of that data forever. So, we have had an example of flying bird that was pigeon that I shot in Japan like 3 years ago with an early [unk] -You didn't kill the pigeon. -No, no, definitely not at all. You we're-- -I'm just investigating. -We're not into animal cruelty at Lytro and anyway, the amazing thing was that, you know, I have this ** I did capture the bird just at the right moment as it was flying by and it used to be focusing only, but when we developed our 3D capabilities and built that out last year -Yeah. -The same light field file from 3 years ago became 3D. So, now, if you put glasses on, you can see a flying bird in 3D Even without glasses, we have this immersive 3D that lets you change the perspective in the picture. -Ren, you're killing me right now. I'm juiced now. You know, I signed up. You can go their website on Lytro and there's e-mail list, right, to sign up to get a camera. -Yeah. -How long is that list? You won't tell me. -I can't say, but I'll say we have been totally amazed at the level of interest and are so grateful to people for, you know, the support of the company. Now, we're gonna wrap things up, but it's kind of final question. Obviously, the cam industry is growing and exploding, but it's really competitive, right. So, for you, what do you think are some of the challenges that you see that you guys can have to address out of the gates, you know, to get people to really normally understand Lytro, but jump on board with it. -Yeah, definitely, you know, I think that what the company has to do is keep a product design philosophy, our Silicon Valley [unk], you know, really intact as we go forward because when you look at lot of the cameras on the market today, I think a lot of them are still polishing technology per technologies. It sort of like the, you know, CPU is back, the CPU market, you know, back 90s right, was just megahertz for megahertz sake with more megapixels is not visible to any of these when we see pictures and our orientation is to really use the best technology we have to make a simpler camera, faster, more delightful, more magical for people, and if we keep that end to end product experience intact as we go forward, which we have our eyes totally focused and committed to, I think the company will be really successful. -That's amazing. Last good question from the chat room, can apply the lights sensor to videos as well? Is that possible? -Definitely, we saw this flying bird -Yeah. -so, it's a single shot in time. When you do a video is a really important thing for us in the future. -That was cool. That was cool. -Right, that was safe. -Yeah, I'll give you that. That was very cool. Oh, it's awesome. -See, I'll give guys one other, you know, final thought. Holograms, right, that can be research phase single shot of light field camera. We can create a full parallax hologram in color, full color that you can move around and see things in full 3D. -Yeah, amazing stuff. -The file is collected with a Lytro camera provides, you know, that opportunity compatibility in the feature. -Awesome, Ren thank you so much. -Thanks Brian. -Yeah, thanks a lot. -Thank so much for coming out. Please put my name on the top of the list. -I signed up 2 days ago. I really appreciate it, but -I actually hear that. -Lytro you hear that? -Lytro guys you hear that? -Hopes around it. -Anyway, thank you very much for coming to the studio, and we'll definitely keep our eyes on you guys and we appreciate everything. So, we're gonna go to a break every one and we'll be back at with the stories of the day. Ren thank you very much. -Thanks Brian, thanks Antuan. -Ho, applause baby. -I'm only one clapping, let's go. -Thank you guys, alright, great to be here. -We'll be back in a moment guys.