New Camera Focuses Photos After They Are Taken
Whether art imitates life or life imitates art, the two will soon resemble each other more than ever in the medium of photography. When looking across a landscape, people choose what to zero in on and they're free to shift their focus as new details catch their attention. But cameras record the world very differently. Even with the most sophisticated digital tools, photographers have always had to set their focus before pulling the trigger.
But a new camera unveiled last month by Lytro leaves all of the details to later, allowing photographers to manipulate the focus and perspective of their images even after the shutter snaps.
Ansel Adams once said that 90 percent of photography occurred before you clicked the shutter, the other 10 percent taking place in the darkroom, said David Torcoletti, a professional photographer who exhibits his work in New York City. Modern digital processes have profoundly changed that ratio for many photographers.
The Lytro camera will shift this ratio even more by collecting an abundance of information. When rays of light travel from a scene toward the lens of a camera, they are moving in all different directions. Once they pass through the curved lens of a traditional digital camera, they converge on a photo sensor that records how much light came from each point in the scene. This convergence destroys all information about the angles of the incoming light.
But there is a way to reconstruct this complexity. Light field cameras, such as the one Lytro is now putting on the market, insert a grid of smaller lenses behind the primary lens, redistributing the rays to capture a four-dimensional field of light.
Researchers have been playing with this optical phenomenon since the early '90s, initially creating a light field by stacking numerous cameras into a grid. Mathematically, it's exactly the same. It's just arranged differently, said Dan Schonfeld, a computer engineer who studies light field technology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The final product depends on how the data gets processed. Software in the Lytro camera will allow users to change the focus of their pictures on demand. But light field technology itself could have much more to offer. With all angles of light accounted for, new cameras could shift the perspective of the image or pop it into 3-D.
These manipulations could benefit a diverse range of professional tasks, said Schonfeld. Image analysts in the military could pivot an image, allowing them to actually look behind a clump of foliage. A tool like this would be equally useful to a doctor who needed to peek around a blood vessel while doing camera-assisted microsurgery.
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If you're doing surgery, you can actually change the point of view, Schonfeld told InnovationNewsDaily.
Lytro has even attracted attention from people who want to use the camera to detect paranormal activity, said Erin First, a spokeswoman for the company.
For now, First said, Lytro is focusing their marketing on general consumers with the hopes that a light field camera might unlock [creativity] in people who didn't consider themselves to be photography enthusiasts before.