The Lytro Light Field camera is an intriguing device and quite unlike any other camera that has come before. A light field camera doesn’t capture light the same way a conventional camera does. Instead, it captures the 'light field', information which contains the direction of light. This allows it to do some mind-bending things, like change the point of focus after an image has already been captured. Light field cameras aren't new, but they've been massive devices constrained to concept labs. Lytro (the company) is the first to miniaturize and commercialize this technology.
Looking distinctly unlike a century of camera designs, the Lytro's rectangular shape feels solid in the hand. Made of anodized aluminum and silicon rubber, the Lytro feels distinguished and well-made. The lens cap cleverly attaches itself using magnets; it's strong enough to stay on but can be dislodged in a messy bag. The 1.5" touch-screen LCD is responsive, you browse images just by swiping the screen and the menus are easy to navigate.
There are only two buttons, the shutter release on top which doubles as a power switch, and a power switch on the bottom. A touch-sensitive strip lets you zoom in and out by gliding your finger along it. A single mini-USB port lets you connect to a PC and charge the Lytro. Start-up is as good as instantaneous.
Lytro says that the form of the camera follows function but we think Lytro might have taken the principle a little too literally. Its design builds the camera around the lens' long barrel, but it really should have followed the purpose of serving the photographer instead of the function of the hardware.
There's no comfortable way to grasp the Lytro. If you hold it like a torchlight with your index finger on the shutter, you're likely to move the camera downwards every time you press the shutter. Because the zoom slide sits behind the shutter, you can't zoom and shoot single-handedly (unless you use your third finger on the shutter, which isn't very comfortable).
Zooming is a long-winded affair. You have to stroke the strip in order to zoom once, if you want to zoom till the end you have to keep stroking and stroking the camera. The Lytro should just let you tap and hold on each end in order to zoom in and out. Because the strip is nearly invisible, it's easy to swipe it by accident.
We would have preferred a bigger screen, trying to frame through the 1.5" screen is difficult. The screen also has limited viewing angles, tilt the Lytro and the screen will typically wash out. In bright sunlight, it's impossible to make out what's on the screen.