The Lytro camera is getting a major software upgrade. The quirky camera that can take photos you can re-focus later is adding extra manual controls, giving users more creative freedom.
You may remember the Lytro — the stick-of-butter-shaped camera that shoots square photos that will magically re-focus any point the viewer clicks on. That ability, called light-field photography, earned the camera praise for being novel, although the camera itself was criticized for its limited resolution, which is a little more than a megapixel.
The new controls obviously do nothing to boost resolution, but having more control over the light the camera takes in will give users the ability capture photos with potentially more color, brightness and detail.
Lytro was kind enough to let us try out a camera with the new manual controls, and they definitely make a difference. While users have always been able to re-adjust the “center of focus” in the camera’s Creative Mode (allowing for spectacular close-ups), now the Lytro also lets the user select shutter speed and ISO rating — the camera’s sensitivity to light. (The camera’s aperture is fixed at f/2, so adding a control for that wasn’t possible.)
Once you update the camera’s firmware, you can enable the manual controls via check box in the settings menu. Then call them up by swiping down from the top of the camera’s touch screen. Users are already used to swiping up to get to the basic settings menu, so it’s a good choice.SEE ALSO: Lytro: The Most Social Camera Ever Made [REVIEW]
You change shutter speed and ISO via onscreen sliders (pictured at right), similar to the touch zoom on the top of the camera. There’s also a neutral density filter that will limit the amount of light coming in in extremely bright situations. Finally, the new controls include an auto-exposure (AE) lock that will freeze the picture settings while you change composition.
Manual shutter speed is the biggest new addition, so I spent most of my time with the upgraded Lytro studying that. Lytro provided one of their tripod “rings” (really a square) so I could experiment with some really long shutter speeds, but for speeds between 1/10 and 1/30 of a second, I found they Lytro did okay without it. That may be because of the low resolution of pics, which probably mutes a bit of minor camera shake. Or maybe I just have really steady hands.
Still I took some tripod pics, too, including the ones below. Using the camera’s Creative Mode (in which you tend to get the most dramatic effects), I took the first in “full auto” mode (shutter speed 1/30 of second) and the second at a shutter speed of one-fourth of second. You can easily see the colors are brighter with the longer speed.
I did find, however, it was a challenge to snap pics without inducing some camera shake due to the nature of the Lytro’s trigger button, which is indented on the top of the camera’s rubberized exterior. It makes you wish for a trigger accessory or something even better — a wireless connection that would let you snap pics via a smartphone app. Maybe that will be in Lytro Camera 2.0.
I also tried out the adjustable ISO. With the shutter speed at a full one second I then took the ISO down to 100, to bring out the most detail possible. Here’s the result — notice how sharp Wall-E’s eyes are when you focus on them:
I’ve only just begun to play with the Lytro’s new abilities, but they’ve impressed me so far. They’ve also left me wanting more — I would love the ability to shoot in different aspect ratios, capture light-field video, snap huge panoramas and even select focus points in a photo where there are no objects to click on.
Lytro is working on much of that, I’m told, but for now it’s focusing on a couple of already promised abilities: putting everything in a light-field photo in focus and axis shift. The latter is similar to a 3D effect (which is also in the works), where you can change the angle of a photo slightly in any direction. The company showed me a demo, and the effect is eye-popping, even if the change is slight.SEE ALSO: Lytro: Shooting Matrix-Style ‘Bullet Time’ Video Isn’t Far Away
Until a new Lytro camera appears, light-field photography fans have the new manual controls to tide them over. While it’s probably not enough to win over that many pros (1.2 megapixels just isn’t enough for serious photography), the growing cadre of light-field photographers (400,000 pics strong, according to the company) has something to celebrate.
What do you think of the Lytro’s new manual controls? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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