Focus no more

Has this tube-shaped gadget just obliterated the purpose of your favourite hobby? Kathrine Anker finds out

I’ll start by dispelling any fears that we’re dealing with a tube of doom; just because the Lytro lets you pick your focal point and adjust your perspective AFTER you’ve pressed the shutter, doesn’t mean photography as you know it has become pointless; rather, the world’s first consumer light field camera offers a new way to go about it.

The oblong tube is a little under five inches long — a good handful — and needs to be held like a mini telescope. On top there is a shutter button and a slider for the 8x zoom, which can be operated easily with your index finger. The thumbnail-sized touchscreen lets you navigate a simple menu with two shooting modes, ‘Everyday’ and ‘Creative’ with a blue frame appearing around the screen to remind you when you’re shooting in Creative mode.

The most prominent feature of the Lytro is of course the ability to change focus after your picture is taken — not only can you do this, your friends can click on your image and do it to their heart’s content after you’ve shared it on social media with your Lytro app. The way the refocusing works is that an array of microlenses each capture the rays of light in one spatial point, and all this information from all the spatial points is stored in the picture, ready to showcase what the light would have looked like had you chosen to focus differently.

So what’s it like to use? Well first of all it requires you to think. Far from a careless recording device, the refocusing effect will only work if you consider your composition. There has to be something in the immediate foreground and something further away for you to see the difference when you refocus later, and if the foreground point is too close or too far it won’t look as sharp as expected. So it requires a bit of practise and it’s cool to mess around with; imagine the fun you can have lining up your friends and letting their faces come in and out of focus in a living GIF file on social media.

The downside? Really small image files. The only way to increase the pixel count would be to add more microlenses capturing information from more spatial points, so at the moment this is a social ‘toy’ that perhaps appeals more to gadget geeks than photography enthusiasts. On the plus side, any new features created for the Lytro will be available for free to existing owners, and new effects can be applied to images you’ve already taken, such as the ability to change perspective (slightly), and the new ‘Creative Mode’ which lets you get up close and apply your focus more precisely for macro-style shots.

Oh, the other downside? The price tag. It will set you back between £400 and £470 for 8GB and 16GB respectively — just so you’re warned.

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