I'm a fanboy when it comes to new cameras. I obsess about new lens systems and bodies, drool over every rangefinder development and generally stalk press releases around the time of CES and Photokina. All of that fervor has fairly recently been replaced by a new obsession. Not a new camera or lens, but a whole new platform for camera technology.
Lytro's light field camera is a breakthrough. It effectively eliminates the need to focus a camera and instead, provides photographers the ability to selectively refocus an image after it's been captured. The research team at Lytro describes it like this:
The light field is a core concept in imaging science, representing fundamentally more powerful data than in regular photographs. The light field fully defines how a scene appears. It is the amount of light traveling in every direction through every point in space. [...] The light field sensor captures the color, intensity and vector direction of the rays of light. This directional information is completely lost with traditional camera sensors, which simply add up all the light rays and record them as a single amount of light.
What Lytro has achieved is incredible. It's likely to be prohibitively expensive for the foreseeable future but no doubt will trickle into mainstream camera systems. So until then, check out these amazing examples of what can be achieved with a single snap of the shutter. Once you click around a bit you can imagine how this would be a revolution for news and sports photography - allowing a photographer the liberty of rapidly snapping a shot without worrying about focus.
Try it out. Click on the images below to see how their software allows you to change the focus of an image. Remember, this is using information captured in a single snapshot - not many images layered on top of each other.
Another interesting example that shows the power of their technology. Click on the buildings in the background to bring them into focus.
Check out more cool examples at the Lytro gallery.