I pre-ordered the Lytro back in October, excited by the stunning live demos on their site. A camera that captures a focus-less light field and allows you to do the focal interpretation later was just too amazing not to buy. The potential and real advantages were immediately obvious: stunning "live" photos, potential for effective single lens 3-D capture, potential for faster picture taking with no need to wait for auto focus, no out of focus pictures, ability to take better pictures in worse light conditions, ability to capture subtler image detail across the objects photographed.
My Lytro was one of the first to be shipped and it arrived just three days ago. Sadly Lytro's absolute requirement that you have a Mac with version 10.6.6 or higher to view your photos, it wasn't until today that I could actually try it out. My initial excitement that had become frustration rebounded at the chance to see just what this camera could do! Sadly upon viewing the photos I'd taken it beat a hasty retreat.
The Lytro is cool, but I cannot imagine myself actually using this thing in my daily life. It can take amazing pictures, as proven by the stunning live demos on the Lytro site. But I now appreciate just how many pictures must have been sifted through to pick out those hypnotically good ones. If you've got the time and the artistic inclination I have no doubt you can and will do amazing things, but the vast majority of my shots look awful.
Here's what I discovered:
- The camera's effective resolution is low! Your pictures are 1024 x 1024.
- The lens requires a lot of light*! Unless conditions are right your images will be extremely grainy.
- Everything must be still*! Motion, both your own and other people's, must be minimized otherwise your photo will likely be blurry.
- Mac and only Mac! Unless you normally use a Mac daily (which I don't) you're just going to be annoyed by the absolute necessity of the Mac software. You cannot view images or export images without using the Mac software.
* Obviously capturing a scene sharply involves a trade-off between light and motion; less light is fine if all is still, and more motion is fine if there is enough light. I'm just saying that in "ordinary" life situations where people move, where light can be low, and where your hand isn't stabilized, this camera can be trouble.
My experience of my Lytro has, therefore, been pretty disappointing. I imagined myself taking this camera with me everywhere, eager to capture "living pictures" to use their lingo, freezing moments in a manipulatable form. But now I imagine carrying this thing around would only breed frustration as I could never rely on images I took coming out right. Some would stun but all too many moments would be unenjoyably grainy and blurry. As it stands I'm better off with the clearer dimensional realities captured by my ever-present Evo 3-D and where appropriate my Sony NEX 5.
And so my Lytro is now up for sale on eBay. If it were more amazing or much cheaper I'd keep it for those special moments where I could afford to experiment, but at $499 I don't want to be a guinea pig.
My bleeding edge Lytro light-field camera arrived today and thus far it's been an awful experience! And I haven't even used the camera yet! So what's gone so wrong?
- The packaging is scary bad! It's designed to be like a watch box or something where you lift off the bulk of the box to reveal the beauty of the Lytro camera. But unlike a watch box the Lytro isn't secured to its base, so if you happen to pull off the top while the box is at an angle the Lytro will come tumbling out, as mine did! By some miracle I happened to be sitting on a soft pile carpeted floor at the time, and my Lytro fell unharmed a mere 2 inches. I have to believe others aren't finding themselves as lucky. I pity those poor folks who've waited for months to get this thing and then see it damaged before they even got a chance to turn it on.
- A huge shock was to discover upon connecting it to my PC that you you cannot even view or export any images without Mac! The official notice merely says that Windows support will be added in 2012. I did not realize what this meant when I ordered the camera, nor can I conceive of how this is even possible. Every camera I've ever owned can be used on any computer I've ever owned. Sure, some cameras include custom OS-specific software for managing photos, uploading firmware, etc. but the software was always optional. You could always just plug in a USB cable and view/copy the photos, whether you were running Windows, Mac OS X or Linux. But not so with Lytro! Unless you have a Mac running OS X 10.6.6 or higher your photos will never leave your camera! There's not even an HDMI out. Surely the entire point of having a camera is to take pictures you can show others. If they have some means to share Lytro photos, which includes the image processing necessary, why on Earth do they not allow you to upload the raw files? I really think they should have done a better explaining this limitation as it defies all logic and historical precedent.
- I happened to have an old Apple Mini from my brief foray into iPhone app development a few years ago. I dug it out, hooked it up, and discovered that the Lytro software requires 10.6.6 (Snow Leopard or Lion), and my Mini was 10.5 (Leopard)... I figured I'd be able to easily upgrade online, but nope! Snow Leopard (10.6) can only be ordered as a physical DVD. And, to make things even more frustrating, Lytro software requires 2 GB memory, whereas my stock Mini has 512 MB. Ah well, I figured I'd just run to Best Buy or the Apple Store buy what I needed and be able to use my Lytro by nightfall. Nope! No shops sell OS X 10.6, not even the Apple store! So now I've got to wait at least two days for my Amazon orders to arrive.
Ah well... My Lytro day one experience was a rotten one!