Is Lytro about to be bought by Google?

Back in 2011 Lytro took the wraps off the world's first 'light field' camera, which is capable of focusing after a shot has been taken. 

This odd-shaped camera packed an 8x optical zoom and f/2 lens, and was able to capture what were called at the time 'living pictures', as it was possible to endlessly refocus the shot by clicking on different elements of the scene.

It worked by using a light field sensor to capture the color, intensity and direction of every light ray flowing into the camera. To process the information, the camera also featured a light field engine, which would 'travel' with each picture so that anyone could refocus the images on web browsers, mobile phones and tablets.

Seven years on, and TechCrunch is reporting that Google is looking to purchase Lytro for in the region of $40 million – which would be quite a bargain when you consider that it was valued at $360 million only last year.

Why it makes sense

While it might seem a bit of a random purchase for Google, look a little closer and it starts to make more sense.

Despite the clever tech, and the high hopes Lytro had for its Light Field cameras, they've never really captured the imagination of the buying public, thanks in part to pretty hefty prices they commanded. 

Lytro has since switched its attention to VR video capture, with the Lytro Immerge VR system. This includes a camera rig for VR video capture, as well as a server for storage and processing, an editing platform, and a playback platform that can work on different VR headsets.

Lytro's Light Field tech comes into its own for VR, with the Immerge capturing what the company calls 'Light Field Volume', or very detailed depth of field information.

Now look at what Google has been up to recently, announcing an app to display photography in virtual reality (coincidentally called Light Fields), as well as a multi-camera rig to capture this information. With Lytro's 59 patents based around Light Field tech, there are bound to be a host of assets that Google believes will allow it to push these innovations even further, especially as it has the money to plough into development that Lytro just doesn't have.

Phil Hall

Phil Hall is an experienced writer and editor having worked on some of the largest photography magazines in the UK, and now edit the photography channel of TechRadar, the UK's biggest tech website and one of the largest in the world. He has also worked on numerous commercial projects, including working with manufacturers like Nikon and Fujifilm on bespoke printed and online camera guides, as well as writing technique blogs and copy for the John Lewis Technology guide.