Shoot now, focus later with new camera tech

A new company says it can build cameras where you don’t have to decide how to focus the image until after taking a shot.

The basic principle of Lytro is remarkably simple: the camera is set up to capture all available data from the light that can be captured by the lens, rather than putting particular emphasis on the part that is in focus. The user can then play about with the image later on and get the shot they really wanted. In effect, the concept is like recording multitrack audio and then mixing the music later on.

If you’ve got Flash enabled on your browser, you should be able to see a demonstration of the concept on the image above by clicking in different locations to “refocus”: top-left and bottom-right show the differences most dramatically.

While that idea could have been created by anyone with enough imagination and a healthy dose of “why not”, the real technology breakthrough comes from the fact that Lytro inventor Dr Ren Ng says the camera will have processors capable of compressing the data such that the file takes up about the same size as a regular digital camera shot.

It’s also claimed that Lytro cameras — which are scheduled for release later this year — will be priced in the same range as existing models.

As well as the advantages of shots being as good as instant and requiring less thought and decision-making, the technology also theoretically makes it easier to take good shots in darker conditions because more of the light information available is captured. And with the appropriate screen technology, the shots can even be manipulated into 3D.

The technology developed out of Ng’s doctoral dissertation at Stanford University. He’s been able to develop those ideas into a business model thanks to a total of $50 million in venture capital funding.

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