Refocusing in software is a feat exclusive to Lytro cameras – we see if the latest model forecasts the future of photography.
In today’s world we’re accustomed to safety nets. Image stabilisation helps tame camera shake and RAWs allows you to correct exposure errors. Lytro’s latest Illum offers a different fail-safe altogether, as the Light Field camera allows you to change focus after the shot’s been taken.
The Illum is the successor to the original 2011 Lytro – a fascinating concept only restricted by its small, 1.2Mp images. The Illum sees an improved resolution, larger touchscreen and a more D-SLR-like build. But does it pave the way for future cameras?
Features & Build
Branded as a Light Field camera, the Illum doesn’t just sound like it’s out of a sci-fi film – it looks futuristic too. It oozes style with a strikingly-angled rear display, minimalist blue trim, and a bold, fixed zoom lens. It sports a magnesium and aluminium body and weighs a touch over 1kg with the battery inserted.
The bespoke sensor is based on a 1/1.2in CMOS with an active area 3.8x larger than its predecessor at 10.82x7.52mm. It’s billed with an impressive-sounding 40 Megarays but the final output for a still image is a much more pedestrian 4Mp; or roughly 10x7in at 240ppi.
The lens is physically huge, and its film-equivalent focal range of 30-250mm and constant f/2 aperture are equally impressive. There’s no viewfinder, so composing is left to the back-lit 384k-dot touchscreen on the rear. This is angled to make it easy to use when operating below eye-level, and can be pulled out and tilted up by 90° or down by 10°. Physical buttons are few and far between as most of the settings are accessed via the touchscreen. But, on the rear you’ll find twin command dials, AF, AEL, Fn and Hyperfocal Distance buttons.
On top you’ll find the power button, hotshoe, shutter and a Lytro button. Pressing the latter shows you the zones where you’ll be able to refocus successfully in post-processing.
In the bundled Illum Desktop software you can change the depth-of-field with virtual apertures for a shallow or large zone of sharp focus. You can also edit the RAW file in the Adjust tab with sliders including Exposure, Sharpening and Temperature. It’s possible to upload a ‘living picture’ to the Lytro website from here, where viewers can interact with your image, changing the focus point. The Illum doesn’t shoot movies but an Animate tab lets you create focus-pull videos from a single RAW. This is done using keyframes and presets such as Snap Focus.
The Illum captures more depth-of-field data than conventional cameras so its standard RAWs are quite large at around 55MB each. For the best image quality there’s also XRAWs which take up around 110MB per shot. A Snapdragon 800 processor handles the large files but only allows for a maximum burst rate of 3fps. The ISO range stretches from 80-3200 and the shutter speed covers 32secs-1/4000sec.
Performance & Handling
Despite its large lens, the Illum doesn’t feel front-heavy. The big, grippy silicone zoom and focus rings give it a reassuringly secure feel in the hand.
The 4in display is larger than most and its touch interface is one of the slickest we’ve come across. It’s equipped with good compositional overlays and focusing tools that are useful. The only niggle was that the touch focus resets itself to the central AF point when pressing the shutter, making it tricky to set. At 384k-dots the LCD is low in resolution, but it’s fine for composing and reviewing images.
The maximum 3fps burst rate is slow for a camera at this price. Arguably, the images that would benefit the most from its unique focusing are those taken at high frame rates with a moving subject rushing past. Macro is another area the Illum could excel at, but it’s limited to a reproduction ratio of 1:3 or one third life-size.
The Lytro took 3.1secs to clear a single RAW and 5secs to write an XRAW to card. Ten standard RAWs could be fired at 3fps before slowing and these took 21secs to write. Six XRAWs filled the buffer and then took 22.4secs to save to card. It also took a lengthy 14secs to turn on from a cold start.
On the software side, exporting from Lytro Desktop was quite slow, taking 20secs to produce a 4Mp JPEG. For animations you’ll want to put the kettle on, as it took 11mins to render 7secs of HD video.
Value for money
It’s tough to score value on a truly unique product like the Illum, as there’s nothing to compare it with. If you’re after the best image quality, a D-SLR like Nikon’s D7100 at £899 with 18-105mm lens or Canon’s 70D at £997 with an 18-135mm will do better. Panasonic’s FZ1000 bridge camera has a similar zoom range and a larger 1in sensor. It’s half the price too at £650, but nothing offers the post-focusing and virtual aperture choices, as that’s what the Illum is all about.
At 4Mp, the Illum has four times the resolution of its predecessor, and if the next model is four times greater than this, then we can see Light Field technology really taking off. But for now, you’re paying £1299 for a camera that’s beaten for picture output resolution by most cameras on the market. The technology is unique, fascinating and brilliant, but the final file can’t compete with the 20 or 24Mp image quality offered by similarly-priced cameras.
- Street price: £599 (As of July 2016)
- Sensor size: 1/1.2in Light field CMOS
- Resolution: 4Mp (2450x1634px)
- Focusing modes: Region AF
- Metering: Scene Evaluative
- Burst rate: 3fps
- Flash: No
- Hotshoe: Yes
- ISO range: 80-3200
- Shutter range: 32-1/4000sec
- Viewfinder: None
- Monitor: 4in, 384k dot back-lit LCD
- Write speed: 3.1secs (RAW), 5secs (XRAW)
- Storage: SDHC/SDXC
- Dimensions: 86x145x166mm
- Weight: 956g (body only)
- Visit: www.lytro.com
This review was first published in the Spring 2015 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.