No, I don’t begin to understand the physics or electrical engineering behind it, but I suspect that Ren Ng‘s PhD dissertation at Stanford University on light field photography is going to forever change the way most people shoot pictures. I suspect that he stands to become a very wealthy young man. (He has started a camera company that is manufacturing the cameras now. They should be available soon.)
So what’s the big deal? Well, imagine that the photographer never has to think about focus again. S/he takes a picture and absolutely everything in the photo is always in focus. The photographer pays attention to composition and lighting, to communicating the story of the shot, to grabbing that fleeting moment and grabbing it in perfect focus.
The viewer, the person seeing the photo online, decides what is in focus by clicking on the portion of the photo s/he desires to be in focus. Yes, after the shot is posted online, the viewer decides what’s in focus and can change it at any time with the simple click of a mouse.
For example, the above picture of Baby Kai is on their site where you can click on the mother (or anything else for that matter), and then she appears in focus. Double click on her, and the photo zooms in to her. Both pictures shown in this post are the exact same photo. The focus and the zoom are controlled by the viewer. It’s pretty amazing really! (You can view a gallery of these Lytro photos at this link.)
This will probably upset some serious photographers who want to completely control the viewing experience, and certainly there is a place for that, but this will delight most people, especially casual photographers who may be “focus challenged.” You will never have another picture out of focus again because the Lytro camera, in some mysterious way that Ren figured out, captures the entire light field in the shot.
You can read more about it at the Lytro blog, even read his dissertation if you wish, but actually experiencing the photos yourself, changing their focus and zooming in or out to anything you want to see, is pretty mind blowing.
Hat tip to @ChrisSwanson for sharing this with me.