Monday, November 18, 2013

The Smartphone as a Hardware Platform for Photography

People use their smartphones a lot for photography.  Ooh, sorry, I probably should have asked you to sit down before I dropped that bomb on you.  The smartphone has been a software platform for photography for a long time, thanks to semi-decent hardware, and a lot of creative developers.  There's the biggies for sharing, such as Instagram, or editing, such as Snapseed, and these apps have helped me take some camera phone pictures that I actually like.






My favorite apps, however, have always been the somewhat more quirky, esoteric apps such as Rando or ThrowBack.  And of course there's apps for shooting time-lapse, apps which turn your camera into a light meter, apps that help you record metadata for your film photos, and even apps that aren't strictly photography applications, but which have been enthusiastically adopted by photographers, such as apps that help you figure out where the sun will be.

So that's cool.  But even more interesting, there seems to be a growing movement to use the smartphone as a hardware platform for photography.  It started with add-on lenses and adaptors, which range from, "hmm, interesting" to "please, don't insult me", and has gone seriously over the top with the Sony QX10 and QX100, which by all appearances are entire add-on cameras.  Conceptually, they remind me of the Ricoh GXR, except they might actually be successful because they leverage something you already own.

That's the key to the smartphone hardware platform movement.  I can't be bothered to buy a film scanner, but I'll rave about a demonstrably inferior product because at its heart is a phone I already own.  These hardware add-ons come from everywhere, but in particular crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo seem to spawn smartphone photography add-ons at a dangerous rate.  By which I mean, dangerous to my wallet.  In addition to the Lomography scanner, I have funded and am eagerly awaiting the Snapzoom, Poppy, and Nova.  I even funded the Cookoo watch, mostly because I wanted a remote trigger for the shutter on my phone (which is lucky, I guess, since that's about the only thing the watch does that actually works).  And it was only through an act of sheer will that I avoided pulling the trigger on a $450 Enfojer.  By the way, the Enfojer video has the best opening line of any Kickstarter/Indiegogo pitch video ever: "Hello!  And enough about me…"

There's something undeniably appealing about being able to essentially buy peripherals for your camera.  Not a lens, or a flash, or a grip, such as you might buy for a conventional camera, and which simply helps you do more of what the camera already does, and which may not even work with the next camera you get.  Rather, many smartphone camera peripherals are radical enough that they turn the camera into something that it's otherwise not.  And for the most part, they're generalized enough that they'll work with your next smartphone.  And that's key.  The ultimately disposable nature of the smartphone actually increases the value of the peripherals, since you know you'll rarely have to wait longer than 24 months before you've revitalized the camera at their core.

I feel that somewhere in all this is a profound insight waiting to be made, but I can't quite articulate it.  Since I seem unable to end this post in a blaze of pithy wisdom, I'll just say that I think it's interesting that, for whatever reason, most of these devices originate on crowdfunding sites.  It's almost like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have become the app store of smartphone hardware add-ons.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The World's Greatest Film Scanner

I shoot film. Not a lot, but it happens. When I shoot film it's usually with a wonky camera that does something cool that my digital camera can't do. Such as the awesome Lomography Spinner 360. Who could say no to a camera with a rip cord? So anyway, I shoot film. Then I take it to one of the three places in the world that will process it (no prints, and please don't cut the negative). And then it sits in a drawer. That's pretty much it.

What I need, of course is a film scanner. I've never bought one because, damn. Another piece of crap that does one extremely limited thing that I hardly use, and which takes up space in my life. Of course I could have the photo lab scan the film, but they can't seem to manage unusual negatives such as those from the Spinner 360. So, yeah, into the drawer.

Until the Lomography Smartphone Film Scanner came along.



I originally funded the scanner on Kickstarter, but it can now be purchased directly from Lomography's site. The LSPFS is not really a scanner at all. Instead, it's a device that holds your smartphone, and some film, and points the one at the other. It backlights the film, and it is adjustable to hold most any smartphone. Once you've got your phone clamped in place and your film inserted, you simply snap a picture of the film with the phone's camera. Of course you can do that with any camera software on your phone, but the LomoScanner software provides built-in functionality to scan and automatically assemble motion pictures from your Lomokino, or panoramas from your Spinner 360. And of course it's got one-button sharing to the social photography network de jour.



Did I almost forget to mention that the scan quality is crap? You're no fool, you probably figured that out already, though it may be even worse than you imagine. Don't think that you'll be getting scans at the camera's full resolution, because the film frame occupies only a small portion of the camera's field of view. For example, my iPhone 4S has an eight megapixel camera, but the scans I get with the LomoScanner are closer to two megapixels. That's hardly the only problem, of course, since the dynamic range of your phone's camera is tiny compared to that of film, and so on. Even so, this is still the world's greatest film scanner, for the following reasons: unlike any other film scanner, it is small enough, cheap enough, and easy enough that I actually bought it and use it. I don't have to buy a dedicated piece of delicate electronics that will eventually become obsolete, or break. The LSPFS doesn't seem likely to break, its electronics consist of a single lightbulb. An LED probably, but I haven't taken it apart to see.

And while relying on a smartphone camera to scan your film might guarantee mediocre quality, the quality will improve every time you buy a new phone. (And hey, if you use your phone's built-in HDR mode, you can eke a bit more detail out of the scans.) The film is coming out of the drawer. And best of all, when I'm done scanning, the LomoScanner is so cute and tiny that it can go into the drawer.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Doin' it Wrong, Doin' it Right

Camera manufactures just keep on making cameras.  I don't know if you've noticed.  The latest and greatest will come out and then a few months later, boom, there's a new sherif in town.  Good as today's cameras may be, we expect better versions tomorrow, in the same way that we expect the sun to rise.  And yet, as with the dawn, there are occasional cloudy days.

The Sigma DP1 Merrill


I am one of the three people who bought the original Sigma DP1.  I loved that camera right up until the day it spontaneously stopped working, a not uncommon experience judging by the internet chatter.  The DP1 was a flawed masterpiece.  It was a quirky, limited camera that was slower than dirt in every respect.  It took 5 seconds to boot.  The auto focus would carefully explore all of its options at a leisurely pace.  You could get in a quick nap while the camera buffer cleared.  The lens was an f/4.

But the camera produce these gorgeous, lush, perfect photos.  I wrung more beauty out of that camera than any other camera I've ever used.  Of course that was due in no small part to the Foveon X3 sensor, but that ridiculous f/4 lens was a thing of beauty as well.







None of the above was ever a secret.  Every review written said essentially what I've said here.  OK, here we go: you work at Sigma.  Your job is to design and produced the next version of the Sigma DP1.  What are you going to do to make the camera "New!" and "Improved!"?  This isn't a trick question.  The answer is as obvious as it seems.  When the latest and greatest DP1 finally did emerge, what did we get?  Did Sigma deliver the obvious?

When you read reviews of the DP1 Merrill, you notice a funny thing: they sound exactly like reviews of the original DP1.  "Slow, limited camera, beautiful photos."  But here's the thing: these reviewers are comparing the DP1 Merrill to other cameras.  They're not comparing it to the original DP1 which is, of course, what I did.  As a member of the cult of DP1 it couldn't be helped.  Even before I picked up the DP1 Merrill, I was excited by the fact that the lens was now an f/2.8.  And when I first started using the camera, I was very pleased.  The performance could hardly be called "class leading" or even "middle of the pack" but it had certainly moved up from egregious to acceptable.  Sigma, it seemed, had made a reasonably successful effort to address the shortcomings of the original camera.  I was ready to buy.

And then I looked at the photos.  And they looked… OK.  No one else seems to have reached this conclusion, so maybe my expectations were just too high.  Read the reviews at Imaging Resource or Luminous Landscape, these guys will tell you how excellent the image quality is. And they're not idiots.  It's hard to argue with the comparison shots that Luminous Landscape posted: the Sigma does indeed seem to be bitch slapping the competition.  But as I said before, I wasn't comparing the Merrill to a Sony NEX-7 or a Fuji X-100.  I was comparing it to the original DP1.  It's possible that an objective comparison of the Merrill to the original DP1 would reveal that the Merrill's pictures best the original's in some fashion as well.  But I wasn't making an objective comparison.  I was shooting pictures, looking at them, and reacting, and the photos from the Merrill just didn't do it for me.  It's not something that I can explain with color swatches or a resolution chart.  Here's the best I can do: more than any other camera I've used, the DP1 was transparent.  By which I mean, when I looked at its photos, all I saw were the pictures, I didn't see the technology that produced them.  The Merrill is not transparent.  When I look at its photos, I can see the fingerprint of the camera that produced them.

As such, the Merrill just isn't worth it.  I gladly suffered the idiosyncrasies of the DP1 because it produced photos like nothing else.  But the Merrill has lost that edge.  It may still stack up in an image comparison, but for me the magic is gone, and there are a zillion cameras out there that are better in every other respect.  If Sigma had simply made a DP1 that was fast, I would have bought it. As it is, I've moved on.

The Fuji X-20


In March of 2012 I took the original Fuji X-10 on a weekend trip to New York.  I loved that little camera, it was such a joy to use, with its retro style and its manual controls.  My favorite aspect was the zoom lens.  It was a manual zoom, which is essentially unheard of in a point and shoot.  And there were nice little touches, like the zoom ring doubling as the power switch, and the optical viewfinder zooming in sync with the lens.  I really enjoyed shooting with it, and I felt like I got some nice shots.







There were only two things that bothered me about the camera.  First, I wished that the image quality was a bit better.  It was fine, but given the cost, and the otherwise excellent nature of the camera, I was expecting better than fine.  In particular, noise performance, even at low ISO, could really have been better.  Second, I loved the optical viewfinder conceptually, but I found that I didn't actually use it much, for two reasons: I had no idea where the camera was focusing, and I had no idea what exposure settings the camera was picking.  I needed to look at the screen to see that info, and so I always looked at the screen, and the cool little viewfinder went to waste.

Introducing the Fuji X-20.  It is identical to the X-10 except for two things.  Do you want to guess what they are?  Image quality, in particular noise, has been marginally improved. And focus indicators and settings readouts have been added to the optical viewfinder.  Awesome.  The X-20 is, in essence, a perfect version of the X-10, and it seems to me that should be the goal of any successor.

Look, I'm not breaking any ground here, but I'll spell it out just the same, if only for Sigma's benefit: if you want to improve something, you need to correctly identify the shortcomings of the original, and then fix them, and only them.  Simple.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Space Shuttle Endeavour

OK, no curious cameras were involved (just a boring old Nikon D3).  But the space shuttle Endeavour flew over San Francisco today, on the back of a 747, and I had so much fun shooting it, I wanted to share a couple pictures.

Today was the last day that any of the shuttles will ever fly.  Endeavour is now on the ground in Los Angeles, where it will soon be ensconced in the California Science Center forevermore.  Seeing it overhead for the last time was a sad and beautiful thing.

space shuttle endeavour

space shuttle endeavour

Update: I run the San Francisco Lightroom user group, and at our October, 2012 meeting I used the black and white photo above as an example while I talked about some of the things you can do in the Lightroom Develop module.  If you'd like to see what the photo looked like originally, and how I made it look the way it looks here, you can watch the full presentation here, or you can watch an abbreviated version here.

Update 2: The website PetaPixel has featured the how-to video that I made, you can see their article here.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Leica M-Monochrom and our Love of Rangefinders

Earlier this month Leica announced the M-Monochrom, an eight thousand dollar digital camera that shoots only black and white, and I recently had the opportunity to spend a day shooting with a pre-production model.

Shot with the Leica M-Monochrom

Shot with the Leica M-Monochrom

Maybe the lovely Tony (pictured above) is scratching his head because he's wondering why on earth anyone would spend eight thousand dollars on a camera that shoots only black and white.  Why not buy a camera with the advanced "color" feature, and convert the photos to black and white later if that's what you want?  If you believe Leica, the rationale is that the elimination of the color filter array results in better light sensitivity, since the filter array isn't cutting the light, and better detail, since there's no demosaicing required.  And, in Leica's words, the image is a "true" black and white, since each pixel registers full luminance values.

And it's true, the detail and tonality are remarkable.  But consider for a moment the Foveon X3 sensor, and the Sigma cameras that use it.  No color filter array, no demosacing, full luminance registered at each pixel location.  And, get this, it shoots color.  The point being, there's no technical necessity to limit a shooter to black and white, just to achieve the alleged advantages that limitation brings.

So then, what is the real reason that someone would spend eight thousand dollars on a digital camera that only shoots black and white?  The real reason is that it's an eight thousand dollar digital camera that only shoots black and white.  It's the same reason anyone would shoot with a rangefinder at all these days: it's obtuse to the point of cool.  Or, more charitably, limits breed creativity (a topic about which I've written before).  Of course historically there were actual advantages to rangefinders, but the advent of digital obviated most of those advantages to one degree or another.  DP Review recently tried to articulate the appeal, but basically these days it boils down to, "I am a bomb-ass photographer, and a baller to boot; I like my exposure controls physical, my focus manual, and I'll be goddamned if I'm going to shoot in color.  Check out my sweet Leica man-jewelry.  Yeah, they left the "e" off the end of "Monochrom" on purpose.  Less is more, man."

I sound scornful, but I'm really not, I see the appeal.  And so does everyone else, judging by the incredible popularity of the micro four thirds format, and other rangefinder-style cameras.  Leica is the only company making an actual, true digital rangefinder (though based on the eBay prices of the six year old Epson RD-1, other manufacturers might want to consider it).  But plenty of the new mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras bring that rangefinderesque joy, perhaps none more so than the recent Fujifilm X-Pro 1.

Tony (of head-scratching fame), let me borrow his X-Pro 1 for a recent day of shooting on the Golden Gate Bridge.  A tough subject if you're concerned about "originality" since, as the sign in the adjacent gift shop mentions, it is the most photographed bridge in the world.  (The sign does not mention that it is also the world's number one suicide destination.)

Shot with the Fuji X-Pro 1

Shot with the Fuji X-Pro 1

As soon as you start using the X-Pro 1 (or any other mirrorless interchangeable lens camera) one advantage of the Leica (and the Epson RD-1, for that matter) becomes immediately clear: fifty years worth of truly superb lenses (at truly bone chilling prices).  Unless you want to use an adaptor, there are currently three lenses available for the X-Pro 1.  The 35mm is a brilliant lens, fast and sharp, a real joy.  But after using the glorious 35, the 18mm seems a bit soft, and the 60mm spends most of its time hunting around for focus.  Limiting myself exclusively to the world's most boring focal length was an interesting creative challenge, but using only one lens does rather call into question the value of an interchangeable lens camera.  But using the X-Pro 1 feels like using a camera; it's got physical dials in all the right places, including an aperture ring on the lens; it's got a viewfinder that takes all the advantages of an SLR viewfinder, a rangefinder viewfinder, and a digital screen, and crams them all into one improbable package.  It's got those silly little modern niceties like auto focus, and color, but it's also got that great retro appeal, that classic, dyed-in-the-wool je ne sai quoi.  All 10,000 people on the Golden Gate Bridge who were carrying a Canon Rebel around their neck looked at this camera out of the corner of their eye as they passed.  One guy stopped and asked me (in a combination of what I believe was Japanese and broken English) if it was a Leica.  If Fuji's goal was to capture the essence of a Leica in a more modern, usable package, I believe they are now free to lean back, clasp their hands behind their heads, and let loose a maniacal laugh.

The Leica M-Monochrom and the Fuji X-Pro 1


Addendum

While the Leica M cameras and the X-Pro 1 feel like brethren of a sort, like they share some fundamental philosophy, there are other philosophies on offer in the mirrorless, interchangeable lens world. A couple days ago I got my hands on a Sony NEX-7.  It's another small, mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera with a rangefinder style body, so it fits right in.  Sort of.  Compared to the X-Pro 1, it's less like using a camera and more like using an electronic appliance of some kind.  But it's cheaper, smaller, faster, and has a better selection of lenses.  The pictures look great, and it can manage some basic tasks that flumox the X-Pro 1, such as focusing in anything less than broad daylight.

Shot with the Sony NEX-7

It has no retro appeal.  No one looks at it out of the corner of their eye.  Instead, it just works, all the time.  I miss having an aperture ring on the lens.  But not too much.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lightroom User Group

Tonight I will be hosting the very first meeting of the Bay Area Lightroom User Group at the Adobe San Francisco office, 601 Townsend Street.


We're pretty much booked up for tonight, but if you're interested in attending future meetings, please join our group on Meetup.  It'll be a great way to learn all about Lightroom, and meet other photography enthusiasts!  We plan to meet once a month, and will alternate the location between the Adobe San Francisco office and the Adobe San Jose office.

Update: We had a great meeting!  You can watch a recording of the full presentation here.  My actual presentation starts about three minutes in, and runs for about an hour.  Interested in Lightroom, but never tried it out?  Watch the presentation, and in one hour you'll learn everything you need to know to start using Lightroom productively.  You can purchase Lightroom here or download a free 30 day trial here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lytro - It's Aliiiiiive!


The most succinct description one could give of the Lytro Light Field Camera is this: it's not a camera, it's a purchasable tech-demo.  That was my impression when I placed my preorder last fall, and six weeks of shooting with the device hasn't changed my mind.  There, you can stop reading now.  You're welcome.




Oh, hi.  You're still here?  As you may already have noticed, you can click on the picture above to change the focus.  Seriously, try it.  Focusing after having taken the picture is a neat trick enabled by the Lytro camera.  Lytro calls this a "living picture", and their site is steeped in a thick broth of marketing copy explaining how much more engaging these photos will be for the viewer, compared to the static, fixed, presumably "dead" pictures of yore.  I suspect I'm not going out on much of a limb when I say that's a bunch of crap. Viewers will find clicking on photos to refocus them to be fun for exactly 17 seconds, after which they'll be bored, not to mention annoyed that they're being made to do work the photographer should have done already.  As for the folks behind the camera, placing the focus is a creative decision, and in general, photographers aren't going to want the end viewer making their creative decisions for them.  Lytro knows this perfectly well, as evidenced by this picture from their website:




You'll notice that this is not a "living picture."  You cannot click it to change the focus.  Why ever not?  Because the photographer has a specific intent, an individual element of the picture on which they wish to focus your attention.  I'll give you a hint, it's not the chick in the background.

Let me be clear, I'm not skeptical about the value of being able to set focus after the fact, I'm only skeptical about the value of letting the viewer set focus after the fact.  Letting the photographer set focus after the fact is fantastic.  Any technology that shifts creative decision making away from the crucial moment of capture, and instead lets you make the decision later from the comfort of your couch, is hugely valuable.  If we didn't think so, we wouldn't bother shooting raw.  As such, it's easy for me to imagine that this functionality, if not necessarily this specific technology, will make its way into a wide variety of cameras in the future, and I suspect that Lytro's goal is not to become a consumer electronics manufacturer, but rather to license their technology to established camera makers, or perhaps be purchased outright, à la Foveon.  The camera is a proof of concept.

So, does it work?  Yeah, sure, I guess.  It has a tiny little sensor, so like any small sensor camera, pretty much everything is in focus pretty much all of the time anyway.  If you actually want to see the power of refocusing at work, you essentially need to compose your shot with that in mind.  You need to put a humming bird feeder a few inches from the lens, with San Francisco Bay at infinity in the background.  Lytro talks about how this camera eliminates the need to worry about focus.  But of course you want to take advantage of the cool thing that your camera can do, so you end up thinking more about focus when shooting with this camera, rather than less.  It would be a different matter if shooting with the Lytro were like shooting with a 50mm f/1.2 on your Canon 5D Mark III, where your shot of that beautiful woman can be ruined because you focused on the tip of her nose, rather than her eye.  Besides the fact that the Lytro can't achieve a depth of field that shallow, it doesn't have sufficient resolution to reveal missed focus that subtle.  That's not soft focus you're seeing, that's the maximum resolving power of the 1 megapixel image.

And both the camera and software have enough quirks, flaws, and oversights that shooting with the camera isn't always quite the experience you might hope.

For example, the camera has a tremendous zoom range, 8x, roughly 35mm-280mm equivalent.  But in order to avail yourself of the full zoom range, you need to put the camera in "creative" mode, which then requires that you, get this: focus before shooting the picture.  That's done by tapping on the screen, and is quite slow.  Positively glacial, actually.  You can still refocus after the fact, but only across a narrow range, thus the necessity to specify the center of that range at the time the picture is taken.  Why is this required?  I'm honestly not sure.  DP Review's article on the Lytro makes it sound as if, in non-creative mode, the camera is simply set to hyperfocal distance, everything is captured in focus, and portions of it are then presumably defocused later.  But maybe I'm not understanding them correctly.  Certainly Lytro CEO Ren Ng's dissertation does not make it sound like this is how it works, though my reading of his dissertation was admittedly cursory.

What else?  The screen on the camera is terrible.  You haven't seen an LCD screen this bad since the mid 90's.  Which is a real shame, because this camera attracts a lot of attention, and people always want you to show them its trick.  But the screen is so incredibly low resolution that you can't tell focused from unfocused except in the most extreme conditions, thus making it essentially impossible to demo the magic for interested bystanders.  Simply from a word-of-mouth marketing standpoint, it would have behoved Lytro to put a better screen in this thing.

The form factor of the camera, including the placement of its touch sensitive zoom strip (hyper-touch sensitive; I'm constantly zooming by accident) and its tap-screen-to-focus creative mode mean that shooting with this camera is pretty much a two-handed operation, despite its diminutive size.  And the lens cap attaches magnetically, which seems very slick until you realize how weak the magnets are and how easily the cap comes off.  I'm quite confident I'll lose it at some point.  (Update: yup, lost it.  To Lytro's credit, they sent me a replacement lens cap for free!  I'm going to tether this one.)

The software is extremely limited, which is fine, this is the first go, and presumably it will be expanded going forward.  But even allowing for its minimal functionality, it has some inexplicable usability flaws.  For example, you can't view your pictures at 1:1, or full screen (though you can once they're uploaded to the website - what?).  And it's twitchy.  Sometimes it fails to hold focus on the point I specify, and it's crashed on me a handful of times.

And here, perhaps, is the most telling thing of all: a week after I got the Lytro in my hot little hands, after having eagerly anticipated its arrival for almost six months, I took a weekend trip to New York.  Of course I brought the Lytro with me and guess what: I never took it out with me, not once.  I wasn't carrying a bag, it's too awkwardly shaped to fit in a pocket, and perhaps most importantly, I had a great little camera, the Fuji X10, slung on a strap around my neck.  When judged on conventional criteria, the image quality of the Lytro can't even compete with your phone.  Resolution is low.  Noise is high.  Dynamic range is poor.  I knew that if I ended up capturing something nice with the Lytro, I would wish that it had been taken with the Fuji.

And yet.

Beyond the obvious wow-factor of "shoot first, focus later," there are a lot of reasons to love, or at least be impressed by, this camera.  First of all, it's a beautiful little object, a characteristic I actually place a lot of value on.  The software is also attractive.  They've taken something that could easily have been overly complex, and made it overly simplistic, which is really quite an accomplishment.  And this whole "light field technology" thing enables some not-so-obvious things too:

The camera is really fast.  Shot to shot time, when you don't have to focus, is essentially instant.  It's liberating to have a point and shoot that shoots as fast as the quickest SLRs I've used.  It boots fast too.

While the lens does exhibit mild barrel distortion and pin cushioning, there's no chromatic aberration.  Why not?  Heck, I don't know, probably something to do with micro lenses.  I don't notice any vignetting either.

The 8x zoom lens is an f/2 across the entire zoom range.  A 35-280 f/2 zoom in a cheap little point and shoot.  Are you still shooting with that 5D Mark III?  A 200mm f/2 prime will cost you six thousand dollars.  I don't mean to suggest they're equivalent, but any technology that enables fast, small, cheap, long zooms with no chromatic aberration is pretty cool, never mind being able to focus later.

The reach of the optical zoom can be seen here when we go from full wide:


to full telephoto:


And there really are instances where focusing later is handy.  For example, it can often be hard to capture the right focus when shooting small, fast moving things close to the lens, such as hyper active dogs that charge whenever you hold something down at their level.  Picking focus later makes this shooting situation much easier.  I know I want the dog in focus, I really don't want you clicking on the house instead, so I'm not giving you a "living picture."  Instead, after setting the focus on the dog in Lytro's software, I export a JPEG, bring it into Lightroom to touch it up a bit, and then post it here.  Just like a regular picture, except without a blurry dog.


Lastly, I guess I have to admit, there are times when being able to to rack focus back and forth across a shot is kinda cool.






Then, of coures, there's the future.  And I'm not talking about improved hardware and better cameras, though surely that will come.  I'm talking about improvements to the Lytro software, which will enable you to do more with the pictures that you've already shot using the first gen Lytro you own today.  Lytro has already demoed the ability to subtly shift perspective in a picture.  Not just from one set view to another, as with the two images taken by a stereo camera, but continuously, albeit across a very small range.  I assume the same shift could be made along the Y axis as well.


This animated gif is from Lytro's blog, and it illustrates some intriguing possibilities besides just perspective shift.  Most obviously, the ability to shift perspective like that also means that 3D images could be created from single exposures.  Although I regularly boycott 3D movies, I'm a big fan of 3D photography.  Life is full of contradictions.  There are some other, less obvious, things about this photo as well.  Note, for example, that everything is in focus, the depth of field is infinite.  Currently the Lytro software only allows you to place the focal plane at the point of your choosing along the Z axis.  The software does not allow control over depth of field, but presumably it could.  The ability to create photos where everything is in focus, like the one above, would be cool, but cooler than that would be the ability to use a small sensor point and shoot to create a photo with as shallow a depth of field as you're getting at f/1.2 on your full frame SLR.  Either way, decoupling depth of field from aperture would open up some interesting possibilities.  And is there any reason that future versions of the software couldn't allow you to swing the focal plane, as with a tilt-shift lens?  If Lytro really does continue to enhance the software, this camera will be the gift that keeps on giving.

Despite the camera's shortcomings, shooting with it has been a lot of fun, and that's really the only reason I shoot with anything.  If you think of it as a regular camera, it's a disappointment.  If you think of it as an amazing photographic novelty, it's a blast.  Heck, if nothing else, it's a great conversation starter.