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Light Field - Depth of Field - Redefined




I am a photo enthusiast. I always have been since I owned my first DSLR in 2004 - a Nikon D70. I love that camera. That is still my primary DSLR over the years. Over the years, I have seen a Pixel war and then a lens war and off-late an ISO war between the two main stream camera companies - namely Nikon and Canon. Then there was a phase from the last two years where micro four thirds is trying to capture our imagination with the idea of selling a point and shoot camera with interchangeable lens. Although the idea seems novel and intriguing, that a small light point and shoot camera that can fit in your pocket taking pictures of near DSLR capable camera,  the price of the camera and not to mention the already cluttered lens market, makes the compelling reason not so compelling. The best micro four thirds cost nearly as much as a Canon T3i. 


Photos as we know are changing


Over the years we have seen evolution in camera technologies, but there is also a paradigm shift in how we take our pictures and what pictures really mean. I remember growing up, we had family pictures taken, washed and printed. Those became our albums and memory. Even today, we take those pictures and we join the dots to our memories. With the recent advent of smart phones, our very concept of taking pictures and sharing has changed. Our pictures today are a collage of our life in a daily basis and are shared on Flickr and Facebook and Picasa and other cloud services. In a very short time, with iPhone and other smart phone cameras,  we have seen a sea change concept in taking pictures and sharing our lives in digital age, where printing has taken a back stage and sharing of our pictures is digital. To add some credibility of how we take pictures, you don't have to look beyond a recent survey where last year, the pictures taken from iPhone surpassed the digital camera pictures on Flickr.com, the biggest website for storing and sharing pictures.


Ray of Light - Light Field


OK. I have said how mobile phones, are changing our way and the very concept -- but recently I started reading about a new technology that would probably change the way we know Photography. I hope so and I am excited about Light Field technology. It is difficult to explain what light field is in common language. Light field is a different kind of sensor. It is a sensor that captures the color, intensity and vector direction of the rays of light. With traditional camera, the light does hit lens in different direction, but gets lost and is stored on single ray of light - with Light Field, the amount of light traveling in every direction though every direction through every point in space. It's all the light rays in a scene. Light Field also utilizes software along with the hardware processing to take pictures. This is a huge advantage over traditional digital camera.


So what does this technical jargon means in real world practical use?


1. It means you can wake a camera to taking a picture in less than a second. Yes. A second.


2. You shoot first, before focusing. It's that freaking awesome! 


3. You are always in focus even when you are not focused on the subject!


It's not all rosy


I started the article describing, how iPhone and other smart phones have shaped our traditional habits and how we look at our pictures -- the very same argument can be made for Lytro and its Light Field camera. Do we have an appetite for taking pictures and investing money in buying another digital camera? With the gap between the smart phone and digital point and shoot camera closing in -- it would be a hard sell for some consumers to take use of this awesome technology.
Also, the lens in traditional sense at this point is not matured to put that in a camera. This is where Pelican Image and it's technology has an advantage over Light Field as it can be ported to smart phones and build purely for smart phones. The problem with Pelican Imaging is that it is not Light Field. But today -- technology can be awesome, but the business plan also needs to be awesome and Pelican Imaging has a bigger chance to move forward. 


I just hope, Lytro, who invested so much in the R & D in technology, license it to the big boys like Canon and Nikon to move forward the awesome technology that I am so looking forward to use in my day to day life.



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