Lytro Light Field Camera Digital Camera Review$399.00
The Lytro has just two shooting modes: standard (also called Everyday) or Creative, which is a slight variation on standard. Both are very much automatic shooting modes.
Since the Lytro is a light field camera, users can focus its shots after they're taken, using the Light Field Engine. There's no need for any autofocus or manual focus system, so shots are pretty much instantaneous in any kind of lighting, and accuracy is irrelevant.
Since light field cameras capture light rays in addition to pixels, the sensor output is measured in "megarays" instead of megapixels. We're not sure if that's an industry-standard term or if Lytro cooked it up for marketing purposes, but this camera can capture 11-megaray light-field photos in a square (1:1) aspect ratio, and that's the only quality option. These light field photos (.lfp files) are about 22 megabytes each, comparable to a RAW image file from a standard camera. When the shots are flattened out into JPEGs, they're about 1 megapixel (1080x1080).
The only special control on the Lytro is Creative Mode; no ISO, color, white balance, sharpness, saturation, or contrast controls to be found anywhere.
Creative Mode is still pretty similar to the standard (Everyday) mode. The difference is that it allows the user to select the middle of the refocusing range for a photo, instead of leaving it to the camera's default setting. It's a tough concept to explain, and even Lytro's tutorial video doesn't quite get the point across, but we'll try here:
So in standard mode, the camera basically assumes that you'll shoot pictures with an object very close to the lens, and an object (or several objects) considerably further away. This creates a start contrast between the foreground and the background, and the resulting shallow depth-of-field when you focus on either object looks very artistic and "pro" in a way that point-and-shoots can't pull off, and even DSLRs with their standard f/3.5 kit lenses struggle with.
But if you don't have such an obvious foreground and background, or if your subject is a fair distance from the lens, the refocusing won't be as effective and the shallow depth-of-field effect won't work. In Creative Mode, you can compensate for that limitation by tapping the object in the frame that should be the middle point of the refocusing range.
It takes some experimenting to really make good use of it (after a couple weeks, we're not totally confident with it), and the advantages aren't always obvious. And a few times, we forgot that we had Creative Mode turned on (it's tough to see the LCD at all in sunlight), and botched some shots that would've come out great in standard mode—we couldn't refocus on the foreground on the Creative Mode shots. It's a mixed bag.
We don't normally bother to cover proprietary software anymore since so few people actually use the image programs that come with their cameras. But with the Lytro, you have no choice—you have to use the software to view pictures on your computer, to share them, and to crunch them down into JPEGs.
The software is Mac-only (10.6.6 or higher) for now, which cuts out about 75% of potential users. The application installs automatically the first time that the Lytro camera is connected to a computer. Users are asked to create an account at Lytro.com before they start using the software. Any shared light-field photos go onto that Lytro.com account, so unless you're just sharing low-quality JPEGs, you have no choice but to sign up.
Photos can be organized into "stories" and stories or individual pictures can be uploaded to Lytro.com, either as public or private images. Users can copy a link or a direct-embedding code to share the shots. There's no way to share the light-field photos on popular photo-sharing sites like Facebook or Flickr yet, though.
The Light Field Engine (as Lytro calls the refocusing software) is excellent. Intuitive, easy to use, and effective, even on the camera's tiny LCD but especially on a proper computer screen.
On the whole, Lytro's software is fine, but we'd love to see support integrated into better-developed programs—maybe start with Apple-developed programs like iPhoto and Aperture, for starters.