Lytro begins shipping Light Field Camera—just an expensive toy?

Lytro aims to redefine digital photography with its Light Field Camera, which lets you focus images after you snap your shots.

Lytro Light Field Camera image courtesy of Lytro

Lytro Light Field Camera image courtesy of Lytro

I'm still waiting to be proved wrong about the Lytro Light Field Camera that is generating so much buzz for a third time—first in June 2011, when Silicon Valley start-up Lytro announced development of an innovative light-field camera, and again in October when the actual product was revealed, and now that the camera has begun shipping.  Don't get me wrong. I'm totally excited by the idea of the camera—both the feel-good Lytro backstory and the potentially revolutionary technology. I mean, what's not to like about a cutting-edge imaging technology that captures the entire light field of a scene, recording color, light intensity, and vector direction of every ray of light so that you can focus and refocus on different parts of a photo after the shot has already been taken? Just take a look at the photos in this gallery to get a taste of why everyone from Walt Mossberg to my father-in-law is sitting up and taking notice.

My skepticism lies in the fact that at four or five hundred bucks a pop, the current incarnation still feels too much like an expensive gee-whiz toy (like you'd buy from Hammacher Schlemmer). I don't see the real utility of the current camera especially in comparison to the high-end point-and-shoots, interchangeable lens compacts, or even dSLRs you can buy for the money. Sure it's fun to click back and forth between foreground and background subjects in an image and watch as they magically come into focus. But after a while, that gets a bit old, and the limitations of printing and even sharing the images—you need a (Mac-only) desktop app to process and then have to upload to before sharing on Facebook, Twitter, etc.—in the current incarnation of the camera start to set in.

So I'm waiting for Lytro 2.0 before I start hooting and hollering. But, hey, I'd be happy to be proved wrong.


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