Shoot first, focus later camera explained

Lytro's technology allows you to shoot a picture and change the focus point later

Back in June, Lytro announced it was developing a new camera technology to allow photographers to shoot first, focus later. Using 'light field' technology, the camera would allow for action to be captured quickly as it happens, with the focus point being set later.

We spoke to Lytro to find out more about this interesting technology, which has the potential to change a fundamental area of technology, especially in consumer compact cameras.

The idea for the shoot first, focus later camera first came to Lytro's CEO and founder Dr Ren Ng while writing his dissertation for a computer science degree. While photographing a friend's 5-year-old, he realised the limits of digital cameras when shooting a fast-moving or unpredictable subject.

While 'light field' technology had been around for a while, Ng focused on miniaturising it to allow it to be used in pocket sized cameras that would benefit everyday consumers. Working with professors at Stanford University, the team was able to create the prototype camera that was previewed in June and is expected to be available on the market later this year.

Light field

It's worth clarifying at this point, what exactly the 'light field' is. A Lytro spokesperson explains, "The light field is all of the light travelling in every direction in every point in space. Conventional cameras do not capture the light field; they just capture the 2D plane of light."

The Lytro camera includes a sensor for capturing the colour, intensity and direction of light. This information is processed on the camera, as well as on computers and via the internet. So, if you click on various points within the pictures on Lytro's website, you can alter the focus point (see example below). Lytro takes advantage of Flash and HTML5 to display the photos on the internet and calls these images, "living pictures."



This kind of technology has the potential to significantly alter the way consumers use point and shoot cameras. "Our first Lytro light field camera is designed to make taking great pictures effortless," said the spokesperson. "We hope that living pictures will give photographers a new creative avenue for taking pictures, letting them express themselves with an entirely new way to capture a scene. As more people take light field pictures, we're excited for the tremendous creativity and innovation that the camera will unleash."

At the moment, Lytro has no plans to move the technology into other sectors of the camera market, such as DSLRs, but it could be a possibility in the future. The spokesperson said, "For now, our focus with our first product will be to provide a Lytro-branded camera that is meant for everyday consumers to use."

Keep following TechRadar for more on Lytro's new camera as it emerges.

Amy Davies

Amy has been writing about cameras, photography and associated tech since 2009. Amy was once part of the photography testing team for Future Publishing working across TechRadar, Digital Camera, PhotoPlus, N Photo and Photography Week. For her photography, she has won awards and has been exhibited. She often partakes in unusual projects - including one intense year where she used a different camera every single day. Amy is currently the Features Editor at Amateur Photographer magazine, and in her increasingly little spare time works across a number of high-profile publications including Wired, Stuff, Digital Camera World, Expert Reviews, and just a little off-tangent, PetsRadar.