Lytro Gets Serious with Manual Controls

If you have read the About page, you may already know that every photo in this blog is taken with the Lytro light-field camera. We thought it was ideal for restaurant pictures since there is no flash required. We have since discovered that the camera itself is the attention grabber because of its unconventional design (so much for being stealthy). This week, Lytro released new firmware for the camera which instantly makes it a much more serious contender in the photography world: manual exposure capabilities.

The Lytro is based on light-field camera technology which uses whatever light is available to pass through its fixed aperture f/2 (F-Stop) lens. Prior to this release, the camera was fully automated which was great at capturing moments without the need for fiddling or focusing. This mode allowed me to grab my Lytro, take off the lens cap and capture this historic Endeavor shuttle fly-by from my office window without a moment’s hesitation (I was caught by surprise, and the total process probably took 2 out of a 3 second window that I had):

The new firmware allows for manual control of ISO and shutter-speed (SS) which is especially useful in low-light conditions such as dimly lit restaurants. Both can be manually set, or one set to auto while the other is fixed (e.g. shutter speed can be automatic while ISO control is fixed, and vice versa).

So let’s take a look at an example. Here is a picture of the She-Crab dish from St. Vincent’s Tavern using the fully automated mode (ISO 3200, SS 1/15 seconds). It’s very grainy and dark (similar to other pictures in earlier blog posts):

With the manual controls, I chose to fix the ISO to 400 and used the light meter indicator to find a neutral exposure which set the shutter-speed to 1/2 second. The difference is remarkable:

With longer exposure settings, “action” photography can be captured lending an artistic touch to the pictures. Chef Alex at AQ in San Francisco is one fast mover. This photo shows his fast hands cutting strip loin steak at a 1/8 second shutter speed (ISO 400):

Another view of Chef Alex’s speedy hands (ISO 400, SS 1/8 sec):

Chef Alex proves just how fast he really works in the kitchen (ISO 400, SS 1/8 sec):

This is not food related, but gives a great example of what a long exposure can provide from a photographic perspective. This seemingly unworldly thing is a photo of a moving lit match taken at ISO=80 and SS=2.5 seconds. What Lytro can uniquely provide is the ability to provide some depth where the living picture can provide refocus-ability:

Here’s another example of the same experiment. Click on the tail on the “light worm” to see how depth refocusing can be achieved:

Just imagine the possibilities that can be achieved with manual controls and the ability to refocus Lytro living pictures with this new firmware.

We will be doing further experimentation with the manual controls in the near future. Currently, the shutter can only be left open for a maximum of 8 seconds; but maybe with enough pressure, they could be persuaded to allow longer exposures in future releases. Thankfully, this should mark the end of grainy low-light photos in this blog. Maybe this just might be the impetus to get more Lytro cameras out there so it will no longer be the conversation piece whenever we pull it out.


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