When people talk about Lytro, the unique point-and-shoot camera based on light-field technology, the easiest way to explain what it does is to say that it lets you refocus a snapshot after you’ve taken it. Which it does. But by capturing all the light rays within a scene, Lytro is collecting an enormous amount of information which garden-variety cameras don’t record. And this data can be used in ways that go beyond the refocusing trick.
Today, Lytro is announcing two new features: perspective shift and what the company calls “living filters.” They’re both enabled through updates to its PC/Mac software and viewers for the web and Facebook which will be released on December 4; the camera itself hasn’t changed. The company gave me a sneak peek this week.
With perspective shift, you can grab ahold of a Lytro photo with your mouse pointer or finger and wiggle it around — and people or objects at different depths move on separate planes, creating a nifty effect that sort of feels 2-7/8th-dimensional. (On an iPad, you can also trigger the effect by wobbling the tablet itself back and forth.)
As usual with Lytro, it’s easier to show than tell. Here are a few photos — provided by Lytro — whose perspectives you can fiddle with:
Living filters. meanwhile, are Lytro’s twist on the special effects you can apply in Instagram and innumerable other apps. Lytro’s filters change the look of photos in various ways, including letting you give a picture a 1970s look, rendering part of it in black-and-white or inserting a layer of textured glass. But the “living” part of their name refers to the fact that you can play with them after they’ve been applied by clicking or tapping to change which stuff in the photo gets the filter.
Lytro owners can apply perspective shift and living filters to any of their light-field photos, including ones taken before the features existed. Perspective shift takes about thirty seconds on a MacBook Pro, so unlike refocusing, it doesn’t get automatically enabled when you transfer snapshots from the camera. Once you’ve turned on perspective or applied a particular filter for a photo, the effect is available for anyone who views it on the web or in Facebook.
A Lytro camera — which is $399 for an 8GB model or $499 for 16GB — won’t replace your point-and-shoot. It’s not good at the things conventional cameras are good at — and can’t do some of them at all, such as shoot video. But the things it can do feel magical, and with the new features, it’s no longer a one-trick pony.