Hoorahs and Boo-Hisses: The Lytro Camera

So today, I got my paws on the highly anticipated, largely discussed, revolutionary new product:  Lytro.  This Light Field camera was released earlier this month and retails for $399 (8 GB) and $499 (16 GB).

Since there are tons of information about the technology behind the Lytro and techie product reviews, I won’t go into that stuff.  Instead, I wanted to give more of a friend’s perspective and answer questions, such as:  How did I like it?  Was it fun to use?  How easy was it to upload?  Will I buy one?

Let’s start with some images!

To get an idea of image quality, I took shots with both the Lytro and a DSLR.

(Caveat:  I wanted the review to be based on first impressions, so I only played with the camera for a couple hours today.  Thus, my photos are not very exciting, but I wanted to give you some examples!)

Lytro vs a DSLR

Below are some shots I took of my girls this morning.

Let’s start with shots taken with the Lytro camera. These are “Living Pictures”, so you can use your mouse and touch different parts of the photo to focus.  Go ahead, touch something!

Here are the same series of shots, but taken with a Nikon D7000.

 

This set of images tells me 2 things:  1) Lytro shots are more fun than a DSLR because the photos are interactive.  2) Image quality of the Lytro photos are TERRIBLE!  Yikes.

So I started in the brightest area of my house.  What if I took photos in a different location, one that is not as bright, which is more likely the case in everyday life?

Since Lytro cameras are basically point-and-shoot cameras because they don’t allow much user-control AND it does not have a built-in flash, how it performs in low light is something I want to know.  Let’s see.

Did you click on the Lego guy?  Cool, right?

Okay, now, shots taken with a DSLR…

  

What this tells me:  1) Since I was able to change settings on my DSLR to compensate for the low light in the room, I was able to get good exposure.  A DSLR will always take better images than a Lytro.  2) Considering the fact I can’t change the settings on a Lytro and there is no flash, the Lytro images are not that bad.  The camera’s shutter was surprisingly fast and the images are clear, as long as you’re okay with the graininess.

Lytro’s Strength

What makes the Lytro camera fun to use is it creates images that you can change focal points after you’ve taken the shot.  Literally, everyone who sees a Lytro image can have an experience with it.

However, you really only benefit from this by taking photos that have various levels of depth.  Below are a couple examples of this.

Click on the leaves in the foreground (below left photo)….and the tree in the background (below right photo).

There is no argument here.  With “Living Pictures”, Lytro has the ability to make these otherwise boring shots interesting!

Alright, I’ve seen enough Lytro images.  I’ve also uploaded, shared, and played around with the Lytro for a couple hours.  I’m ready for my review of this product.  Fasten your seatbelts, kids!  ;)

 

**MY REVIEW OF THE LYTRO**

HOORAH!  (The Good Stuff)

* Fun Factor = 9 (out of 10)

* Design = 10+!

The look and feel of this camera are SICK!  Though I’ve been reading about this product since last October, my expectations were still blown out of the water once I laid eyes on it myself.  All the controls are flush with the camera.  For example, the menu is a touch screen, similar to an iPhone and iPad.  And to zoom (yes, you can zoom in/out, but not much), you just slide your finger across the top of the rubber ridged area.  Wow.

The sleek white packaging reminds me of Apple.  Very nice.

It’s easy to hold, feather-light, and feels good in my hands!  For size comparison, I put my iPhone next to it.

BOO!  HISS!  (The Negatives)

* The compactness is great for portability, but the size of the screen is so small that I can’t really see what I’m shooting!

I know some may consider this as one of Lytro’s benefits because you don’t need to see what you’re shooting if you focus afterwards.  To me, that’s just shooting blindly.  Unless I’m super duper close to my subject, I can only see what’s in my frame and can’t see any details.  I wouldn’t be able to tell if my subject is smiling or frowning, blinking or has his eyes open.  Um…does anyone else see a problem with this?!!

* Editing control =  Boooo!!!

After years of shooting with an SLR and DSLR, having close to ZERO control in how my shots will turn out is torture!  Even when I take photos with my iPhone, there are numerous free apps that allow me to edit my photo after I’ve taken it.  With a Lytro, I can control only a couple things, from what I can tell:  cropping (though I don’t know how and where I’d do this) and shooting in Creative Mode, which only allows me to choose the focal ranges before I take the shot.  Even for amateur photogs, I think having this level of editing control is a bad thing.

* Image quality = 3.

This one is the biggest disappointment for me.  It doesn’t matter how fun the camera is to use if it doesn’t take great photos… or even decent ones (see comparison photos above)!  End of story.

* I don’t know how to categorize this.  Let’s call it Everything-you-do-between-pressing-the-shutter-and-interacting-with-the-image (like the ones I posted above) = 3.

I found this process to be quite a hassle.  Here’s an example.  *deep breath*  Okay, let’s say I took a photo of my friend and want to email it to her.  Here’s what I have to do…

First I have to find the USB cable.  Since there is no memory card for the Lytro, like other digital cameras, I need to use a USB cable to connect the camera to my computer.  The connection will trigger the automatic uploading of these images into the Lytro software.  (The automatic part is nice.)  This software step is a pain if you use multiple computers because the images are software-dependent (ie, you can’t share/upload/play with them without the software).  I must also note that the image uploading process moves at a snail’s pace — OMG!  Each photo is a huge data file, so uploading 12 or so images took me about 20 minutes.  (It felt longer!) 

After my images have uploaded, I can add notes and categorize the images into folders.  (That part is pretty cool.)  Then — yep, there’s more — I need to send the images to Lytro’s website where it hosts the photos.  That is where I would view the photos, post them on Facebook or get the HTML code to embed into a blog.  I cannot email a Lytro image to my friend.  <Insert “WA-WAAAH” gameshow sound here!>

That leads me to…

* Ease of sharing = 4.

The Lytro software gives you 4 ways to share:  Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or copy the HTML code.  Though there are 4 share options, you have to go through such a lengthy process to get to that point.  So unless I need my photos to be interactive, I would much rather take a photo with my iPhone and then email, post, tweet or text it all within 30 seconds!

* It is a niche product.

Though it seems to be marketed towards mainstream consumers, I can’t think of when I’d need to have interactive images with variable focal points.  I could only come up with a couple photographic instances where it would be better to shoot with a Lytro and not one of my other cameras (DSLR, point-and-shoot and iPhone).

* Versatility/Flexibility = 0.

It ONLY shoots this way, so I’d always need to bring another camera with me because I don’t want all my photos to be “living” (and in poor quality).

* Limited printing abilities = n/a.

I read on one of the Lytro forums that you can save it as a JPG, so you can print it.  Without following all the online forums and watching all the instructive videos, I have no idea how to do this.  Moreover, I don’t know if that even matters because the image quality is so poor that I wouldn’t want a print of it.  Shots taken with a Lytro camera are only cool in the “Living Picture” format.

SUMMARY

Do I like Lytro?  YESSIREEBOB.  I think Lytro is a very cool gadget.  I think Light Field technology changes the way we experience photos.  

Am I going to buy a Lytro?  NO.  What it boils down to is poor image quality and limited use ability.  It is fun to play with, but that’s about it.  Once the novelty wears off, I wouldn’t use it much.  I’d rather put $400 towards a new lens for my DSLR.

With that said, I think Lytro is a product to watch because it will keep evolving and improving.  The technology is definitely a game-changer in the photography industry.  It just hasn’t changed for me personally.

 

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to search the web.  I know my review is highly opinionated!  :)  Here is an article I recently read that was informative.

If you have a Lytro camera, feel free to share your experiences on this blogsite or my Facebook wall!

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1 Comment

  1. Kimberly C.

    I wanted to ask, when comparing these photos, did you edit the photos from your DSLR? Did you use a flash with the DSLR?