Lytro Illum

The Lytro Illum

The Illum is Lytro’s second generation Light Field camera. Their first generation camera was about the size of a stick of butter. It had a tiny one inch LCD touchscreen on one end and the lens on the other. The first generation Lytro camera was fun and proved the concept. But images were low res and ergonomics were not it’s strong point.

The new Illum is larger, about the size of an entry level DSLR. Most of the bulk is in the large lens barrel. The lens is a 30 to 250 mm equivalent zoom at a constant f2 aperture. That’s an amazing spec, there aren’t many f2 zooms on the market by any manufacturer for any price.

The overall design of the Lytro Illum is impressive. The most striking design element is the pronounced forward slant of the back. The camera has a modern minimalist style.

The body of the Illum is Aluminum and Magnesium, it feels dense and well put together. The focus and zoom rings on the lens are grippy rubber. The focus and zoom are fly by wire, not mechanical. Their action can be reversed in the settings.

There is no viewfinder. The large four inch touchscreen swings out from the body to the vertical and up to the horizontal. The screen is bright, but can be hard to see in bright daylight.

The lens barrel is big and fat. There’s a comfortable grip on the right side of the body.

Unlike the first generation camera, the Illum has a removable battery. Battery life seems pretty good, I haven’t pushed it hard though. The battery is unique to Lytro and spares go for $59.

The Lytro Illum is not cheap, it retails for $1500. And that’s the rub. The Lytro Illum is a specialized camera.

The Lytro Illum is not a DSLR or general purpose digital camera. It’s images are designed to be viewed online–they’re not for printing. Images from the Lytro Illum are limited to only 5 MegaPixels when converted to jpeg.

So what does the Lytro Illum do that justifies it’s high price?

First you need to understand the concept of the Light Field.

Light Field cameras capture more data than a conventional digital camera. Conventional cameras only capture brightness and color information for each pixel. Light Field cameras also capture the direction of the incoming light rays and are able to capture depth information, or how far away each pixel is from the lens. Light field cameras also capture multiple planes of focus. The image can be refocused in software after the image is captured.

Lytro Illum images come alive online or in the Lytro Desktop software. When viewing an image online you can select focus points and even give the image a slight 3D wiggle. Images can be converted to movies for an impressive 3 dimensional Ken Burns effect.

For best results using the Illum, images need to have a lot of depth. You should have something in the foreground to contrast against the background. Ideally, images should have multiple planes of interest. Landscapes with everything at infinity are not good.

The camera can focus as close as the surface of the lens. This means the Lytro Illum excels at macrophotography.

When shooting with the Lytro Illum you can call up a Depth Histogram. Using the focus and zoom rings you try to spread the Depth Histogram across the camera’s range of focus. This maximizes the refocus ability and 3 dimensionality.

Lytro has an excellent series of videos explaining how to best use the camera here.

Is the Lytro Illum a one trick pony?

I don’t think so.

Images from the camera are much better than the first generation. The new software makes it easy to create high quality immersive and captivating images.

I think the Lytro Illum is ahead of its time. It points to the future of photography.

A future where software trumps hardware.

A future where we share images online instead of printing them on paper. (most people do this already)

A future where still images come alive with shifting focus and 3 dimensionality.

More of my Lytro images can be found here.