Ina Fried

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With New Features, Lytro Aims to Show Its Futuristic Camera Is No One-Trick Pony

Camera maker Lytro has captured a lot of attention for its photos that can be refocused after a picture is taken.

But the start-up has a broader story that is only now becoming clear. By capturing far more data then just points of light, Lytro’s light-field images can be displayed in a variety of other ways.

Photo credit: Eric Cheng / Lytro

With a software update due Dec. 4, Lytro camera owners will soon have several new ways to manipulate their photos. One, which Lytro has been demoing for a while–and showed at our AsiaD event–is something called perspective shift.

The technique allows one to gain some three-dimensional perspective by subtly shaking a picture back and forth. (The embedded animated GIF with Walt Mossberg from AsiaD gives a sense for the effect.)

The effect must be enabled from Lytro’s Mac or PC software, but from there it is viewable on any device with HTML5 support. On an iPad, the perspective shift can even be viewed by moving the iPad around and using the tablet’s accelerometer to shift perspectives.

Lytro is also adding a series of filters to its software. While many image programs, from Photoshop to Instagram, can apply filters, Lytro’s filters can have different effects on the foreground and background and transform when the focus is changed or when the photo is put into perspective shift.

For instance, a mosaic effect keeps the focal point looking normal while the background is transformed into a series of tiles. Crayon (seen in this photo of sunflowers) keeps the focal point in color while making the rest of the photo black and white. Another, Blur+, heightens the blur of the parts of a Lytro picture that are not in focus.


Update: Lytro said test photos showing off the new features are loading slowly, so we’ve taken them out for now. We hope to have them back in shortly. In the mean time, this static image shows the Crayon filter

Combined, the perspective shift and new filters should help give the public a better sense for what the Lytro camera is capable of, says Eric Cheng, Lytro’s director of photography.

“I think that’s what we are most excited about,” Cheng told AllThingsD. “[We’re] showing how much data is captured and how we might use it going forward.”

As with other improvements, Lytro is making the change in software, meaning the new capabilities work not just on new pictures being taken, but also on all Lytro photos already captured.

Adding perspective shift does require the pictures to be reprocessed — a step that can take half a minute per photo. But at that point the photos can have filters applied and be shared back to the Web.

The move comes as the company is gearing up for the holidays. After months of working its way through a backlog of orders, Lytro has caught up to demand (though it won’t say how many cameras it has sold). The company is also broadening availability, which until recently had been limited to sales on its own Web site.

The company is expanding into a few international markets as well as Amazon and the Target and Best Buy Web sites, along with a handful of brick-and-mortar CityTarget stores.

In the mean time, here’s a YouTube video Lytro has done showing the perspective shift feature in action.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald