A quick review of the Lytro light field camera

I’ve had the Lytro camera for a couple of days now, it arrived while I was away at GDC. Having pre-ordered the thing last year when the pre-order was first announced, I was pretty eager to play with it. After a couple of days of shooting with it, though, I am severely underwhelmed. If you’re looking for a more optimistic and perhaps ‘professional’ review of Lytro, you can check out Engadget’s review. While they did mention some of the shortcomings, Engadget seemed pretty caught up in the technology of the thing.

Yes, it must be amazing that they have packaged a light field camera into such a small, sleek package. But the end result – the photos – just don’t compare to either my severely dated Canon 5D Mark I nor my iPhone 4S camera. A quick visual comparison shot:

Lytro “living picture” taken in bright sunlight:

Same jump, different horse & rider, same light conditions, distance, etc. This one taken with a Canon 5D Mark I, with 50mm 1.2 L series lens:
Jumping at Columbia Horse Center
Note the Lytro image is also at full resolution, while the Canon image has been scaled down from 4368X2912 to 500X333 pixels. Well, ok you can get the lytro image a bit bigger on their web site, but the quality and resolution are no better. Which is another irksome point…you can’t just post, share, or store lytro images the way you can normal images. So, while I have hundreds (thousands?) of photos on my iPhone photo library I took with the Canon and iPhone, Lytro images can only be stored locally on your computer or hosted by Lytro.com. Absurd…

So, I can supposedly refocus the Lytro image after taking the photo, while with the canon, iPhone, and any traditional camera I have to focus first, and then shoot. The fact is, both the Canon and the iPhone have far better low light, bright light, and every other light shooting capability, they can focus the subject better before the fact than Lytro can after the fact, and they can shoot in burst mode, which Lytro cannot – so you are much more likely to miss the shot entirely if your subjects are actually in motion. I only posted a single comparison here but I shot quite a few both outdoors (in bright sunlight) and inside the barn (low light but still bright for the Canon and iPhone). In every case Lytro came up short. In fact in bright light you can’t really even see the LCD screen on the lytro, which is super low-res anyway so even if you could see the screen it would be hard to tell a decent image from a throw-away. After two days my only question is, can I have my money back? $399 is expensive for toy camera.

Update: low-light example (inside the barn – same horse, time, etc)
Lytro:

Canon 5D Mk I w/50mm 1.2L:

feeding the horses treats

(Featured Image:courtesy of Aaron Parecki https://www.flickr.com/photos/aaronpk/)