Photographer's Dream? Focus Is a Thing of the Past

PHOTO: This technology by Lytro allows you to take a picture and then focus the image after the fact.
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"Shoot now, focus later" – that's the tagline for a new camera technology out of Silicon Valley that will allow photographers to snap a photo, and worry about the focus of the image long after the picture is taken.

Some photographers are calling it "revolutionary." Lytro, a start-up company in Mountain View, Calif., with about 45 employees, expects to release the camera onto the market sometime this year.

The camera uses what's called light-field technology, which rather than taking in the usual snapshot of light hitting a sensor, it separates rays of light so as to record their individual characteristics. That way it's possible to alter the focus afterward, creating what Lytro founder and CEO Ren Ng says is a "more powerful photograph."

Lytro not only touts its camera's ability to focus images after they're taken, the camera will also take pictures in 3D. It also allows for photos to be taken with increased speed since the time a normal camera takes to focus isn't applicable here.

Although research surrounding light-field technology began in the 1990's at Stanford University, according to Ng, this is the first time a product like this is being created on a consumer level. Ng said that the stages of this research began with a room full of cameras in order to capture the effect, and he was interested in miniaturizing that.

"I remember trying to take pictures of this five-year-old girl, and it was really hard to take a great picture of her with kids moving all over the place. It was hard to capture the right fleeting moment, or to focus correctly. I wanted to bring light field technology to make everyday picture taking a better experience," said Ng, who founded the company in 2006.

In order to refocus images, no special software needs to be downloaded. Lytro has also created a Facebook application that allows users to upload photos taken with the Lytro camera, and post them to their pages, allowing viewers to adjust the focus themselves (see images below for a demo).

But some say that the new technology might be more of a gadget than a game-changer in the photography industry. Tech blogger John Biggs of crunchgear.com said that while the camera is interesting, future cameras are moving in this direction.

"It's going to be hard to sell something like this. It'll be massively expensive. The difference between the way cameras work now than in the next couple of years is that you [will] choose the point of focus anyways," he said.

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