We’re automatically drawn to anything that features phrases like ’40 megaray’ in its basic description, but even moreso when, like the Illum, they a) promise to make us throw out everything we’ve ever known about photography and b) are more attractive than our last office party hookup.
What is the Lytro Illum?
A camera that thinks about light in a radically different way than your DSLR. Instead of a large sensor capturing a flat image much like your feeble human eyes see it, Lytro’s cameras use a cluster of hundreds of smaller sensors to track the direction, colour and brightness of light through a scene and create a 3D block of light information.
If you’re into insects, it works a bit like a bluebottle’s eye. If you’re not, Lytro images are cubes, compared to your pixel camera’s square images. They understand where objects in an image are in relation to each other, leading to its killer feature: the fact that you can adjust the focus in a Lytro image to any point at any time, including after it’s taken.
So it’s just for correcting the focus on your holiday snaps?
No. Hell no. Thrice times no. That is not what the Illum is about at all.
Let’s be clear: the Illum is a little bit incredible. The macro is zero, so you could literally focus on a speck of dust on the lens. It takes images that the viewer can refocus themselves, so they can choose what they want to see. It takes images that have parallax, so you can move them around to see behind things, and view them in stereo 3D if you have a compatible monitor. The Illum does not want to be your new DSLR, it wants to do all the things your DSLR can’t.
So it’s for…?
Well, anyone who wants to use focus creatively, or who wants their images to be more in-depth and interactive. One area where Lytro have seen an insane amount of success is with product imagery – in their trials, viewers who typically spent four seconds looking at a flat image on an eCommerce site spent 40 seconds with an interactive Lytro image, highlighting different elements and viewing it from different angles.
And if you’re selling something complex, like an intricate bit of kit in our case, or your house, this lets people see more of what they’re getting before they make contact, so you’ve got more chance of a positive outcome. You could, hypothetically, photograph something with four Illums, put the images together and print them as a 3D model, which is a cheap and easy way to reproduce things. And let’s face it, it’s just flipping cool.
What’s a ’40 megaray sensor’ in old money?
Right, in terms of eventual image quality, it’s about five megapixels. But because Lytro cameras don’t use pixel sensors, they’re measuring performance in rays, rather than pixels.
And the rest of the specs?
Pretty impressive. It comes with a 30-250mm lens with a constant f/2.0 aperture and 8x optical zoom. The more light information available, the richer your image will be, so there are limitations in less than ideal conditions, but a proprietary flash is on the way (you can pre-order it now). Its touchscreen interface is also a winner in terms of simplicity and ease, with our camera specialist James finding it about as easy to pick up as his iPhone. For the full list of hardware and software specs, head here on the Lytro site.
Can I edit these magical pictures in Photoshop?
Yes. Photoshop converts the Lytro images into a seven layered image, plus an eighth ‘map’ layer which essentially contains the instructions for how to put them all back together again. Plug-ins to support Lytro images in Aperture and Lightroom are being coded as we speak, so expect broad support soon.
How much does it cost?
It’ll set you back a none-too-shabby £1083 ex VAT or £1299 inc VAT. But given that a) it’s the future and b) it produces images so rich in information that NASA are using it to remap stars, we think that’s pretty good value.