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Lytro Illum Camera Review

October 1, 2014 6:32 pm

lytro illum camera

If there’s one thing that photographers around the world can relate to, it’s taking what seems to be the perfect shot- only to realize that it’s slightly (or extremely!) out of focus once it pops up on a larger screen for editing. But this all too common problem may soon become a thing of the past, thanks to the technology you’re about to see illustrated by Lytro’s new Illum camera, and everything you learned about focusing your camera lens is about to go out the window. David Pierce of TheVerge.com was able to experience the Lytro Illum firsthand, and what he had to say about the camera got our attention.

The Main Focus

What sets the Lytro Illum apart from all the other cameras on the market is its light-field technology, which allows it to capture a stunning amount of data for each shot and has David Pierce of TheVerge.com calling it the camera of the future. Photography is all about light, and most cameras record light in a single and rigid view of the scene. As a photographer, you make all of the adjustments necessary to focus on the perspective that you want the end image to show. But not with light-field photography.

When you get down to the basics, what sets Illum and its light-field photography apart from the herd is the way that this camera records light, because its nothing like we’re used to. The Illum records light in a more complex way than regular cameras, from the amount of light reflecting on certain objects in the shot, down to the direction the light is moving through the scene. And having this complex amount of data available when you sit down to edit is where the real fun begins. You’re not limited to adjusting the light on a stiff image of a single layer focus, you have a flexible three dimensional scene you can play with. After you take a photo with the Lytro Illum, you can sit down and change the focus, adapt the perspective, or even create a 3D rendering of the scene.

Light-field photography is what makes the Illum a game-changer, and Lytro is using it to introduce photographers to the idea that where they could previously preserve an image, they can now record the entire scene. The ability to record multiple perspectives of the same shot at the single press of the shutter is an idea that’s well worth getting used to.

The Lytro Illum: Body and Lens Design

At first glance, the Lytro Illum looks pretty much like a regular DSLR camera. It has the same right-handed type of grip and shutter button placement, a large but normal looking lens on the front, an LCD screen on the back, and a hot shoe waiting accommodatingly at the top of the camera’s body. It’s heavy enough that you’ll want to use both hands to support it, very similar to how you would hold a regular DSLR with a large lens attached to it. There’s a basic set of manual controls which allow the photographer to make the normal adjustments to the camera’s settings.

The most noticeable sign that would tip you off that the Lytro Illum is a very different kind of camera is its large and slanted screen. At four inches wide, the Illum’s display screen is larger and more practical for viewing than the average camera you’ll see on the street. This is important, because the Illum lacks a manual viewfinder, so you’ll need to rely entirely on the screen display when you go to take a picture. The slant on the screen is a practical design move, allowing you to see the display while holding the camera at a lower chest-level without any strain.

When it comes to the Illum’s lens, it’s very large and admirably versatile. The zoom range extends from 30-250mm, allowing you to take both wide angle landscape type shots and get much closer composition on subjects with a simple twist of the lens.

The Illum records all shots at F2, which you can later adjust down to F16 in editing. This gives you the ability to set a narrow depth of focus on your subject, while the Illum’s maximum shutter speed of 1/4000th second allows you to freeze the action of nearly any scene imaginable.

Lytro Illum: The Upside

The biggest strength for the Illum is its remarkable ability to shoot multiple layers of a single image. There’s even a helpful button dedicated to making this easier for you to learn and adjust to, adding a visual guide to the display to show the focus range for the scene, from the closest part you’ll be able to focus on in editing to the furthest point.

Many photographers consider editing to be a chore, but the Illum easily turns post-shoot editing into an almost irresistible art form. Editing seems like much less of a task when there are so many new things you can learn and play with. You’re not just changing light and contrast, but focus, zoom, and perspective. This becomes even better when you’re editing for a 3D digital image, as the editing software for the Illum’s light-field technology allows you to make “animations” of the scene, so you can walk viewers of the image through shifts in perspective.

While the ability to interact with the scene later is definitely the Illum’s biggest draw, its versatile lens and attractive body style certainly don’t hurt. This camera will attract a few stares, questions, and conversations with fellow photographers who might not even know this class of camera existed yet.

Lytro Illum: The Downside

Unfortunately, where there’s so much data to be recorded, lagging and freezes aren’t far behind. The processor of the Illum takes a noticeable amount of time to record everything before its ready to shoot the next photo, which is a definite deal-breaker for certain types of shooting situations. The Illum itself is susceptible to freezing or even crashing, and you’ll need a powerful computer to handle all of the editing once you get those data-packed images back home.

While you can refocus your photos later, the focus might not be as sharp as you’d like it to be. This is most noticeable in prints and saving in file types that compress image layers. The Illum also lacks image stabilization, so a tripod or a steady hand are a must, or you’ll end up with multiple layers of blur.

The Future is Still Ahead

With its high price tag and complications that can arise during shooting and editing, the Illum isn’t a very practical camera for beginners, and for you pros, it’s not quite ready to replace your DSLR. But if you can afford something fun to play around with, when you get those perfect shots with the Illum there’s nothing that can compete with light-field photography. David Pierce had fun playing with the Illum when he reviewed it, and you probably will too.

It may not be a practical choice for most photographers just yet, but Lytro is still at the beginning stages of refinement with the Illum, and the future for light-field photography is looking very bright indeed.

Now, have some fun playing with Lytro’s living photos!!

Click to refocus / Click and drag to perspective shift