Ina Fried

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Camera Start-Up Lytro Fueling Up for Launch

Photo Credit: Philip Andrews

It has been a busy couple of months for Lytro, even if the camera start-up has been publicly silent since its splashy debut in June.

For those who need a quick reintroduction to Lytro, it’s the Mountain View start-up focused on building a new kind of camera using a technology that allows for instant image capture, 3-D pictures from a single lens and the ability to refocus images after they are shot. It is that last feature that most captured public imagination when the company revealed itself. Lytro uses a new type of image sensor that captures an entire light field as opposed to just the total amount of light hitting a particular spot.

Since its big coming-out party, the team has been focusing its work on two fronts — getting the hardware ready to go on sale later this year, and continuing to seed early units to pro photographers and having its own staff take plenty of pictures.

The company has had no shortage of inquiries from folks wanting to be the first to use Lytro’s cameras to do this or that.

While the company says no a lot more than it says yes to such requests, it has gotten a few offers that were too good to refuse.

Photo Credit: Kira Wampler

Days after the launch, the company got an unsolicited email from model Coco Rocha, volunteering to be the first high-fashion model to be shot using light field photography.

“I thought it was spam,” said CEO Ren Ng.

But sure enough, it was from the Canadian model. A couple of weeks later, Lytro photography director Eric Cheng was taking pictures with her on the streets of Manhattan.

Lytro also got an inquiry from photographer Philip Andrews, who wanted to use a Lytro camera to shoot the final space shuttle trip. Andrews had a very short time frame to learn the ins and outs of the camera before the final mission, but was able to capture some cool shots of both the cockpit and the emotional scene of that last landing.

Lytro is also looking to see how the camera performs in the hands of nonprofessionals, who are, after all, the company’s target market. Kira Wampler, who heads the company’s marketing efforts, has been checking out a test unit each weekend. Even familiar spots like her family’s Russian River cabin have become fun to photograph again, she said. The instant shutter allowed her to capture her kids — one cranky and the other smiling — in a shot that finally landed her in the company’s online gallery. (Ng still decides which shots go there.)

More importantly, Lytro’s “living pictures” have become the expectation at Wampler’s home. Conventional pictures are “boring,” five-year-old daughter Sophie informed her mom.

Photo Credit: Eric Cheng

“That’s a lot of the spark we are igniting,” Wampler said.

Meanwhile, many on Lytro’s team have been shuttling between Silicon Valley and the Asian manufacturing facility where the first cameras are being produced. While the design itself has been fully baked for some weeks now, the company has been working on smaller refinements and on validating the manufacturing and supply chain process.

The company has also been growing its ranks as it gears up to launch its first products. It now has 55 employees, up from about 35 in June, and is looking for bigger digs near its current offices.

“We’re out of space,” Ng said.

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