The truth is that being able to re-focus your images, while fun and great for recovering from focus mistakes, gets old pretty quickly. The effect's only pronounced when you have images with clear foreground and background subjects. If the composition's pretty flat, not much changes when you re-focus an image. Photographers also prefer to use a shallow depth of field to enhance composition, allowing others to switch focus can rob the image of its original power.
While the Lytro gives you much more leeway than a conventional camera, it doesn't free you from having to consider things like shutter speed and ISO. The problem is that the Lytro abstracts these things away, so without control you may be able to re-focus the focal plane on a subject, but that subject may be blurred on an otherwise sharp focal plane due to an all-too-slow shutter speed. Lytro previewed an update for us where these camera controls will be opened up to the user, but we're not sure how usable they'll be with the camera's limited controls.
The Lytro is something altogether new, but there's a lingering sense that it has tried a little too hard to be original. There are reasons why cameras have evolved to the way they've become, and Lytro could have used some of these lessons. Many times we found ourselves wishing the camera could have been shaped like a conventional camera with a viewfinder, just so that we could have a stable body on which to hold and frame the shot from.
We sound bearish on the Lytro, but we're actually bullish on its potential. It's an instant-on camera which takes pictures instantly without having to pre-focus. Focusing mistakes are virtually eliminated because now you can change focus after the fact.
In addition to these, Lytro showed us some previews of future features which are very exciting. There's one feature that lets you slightly shift not just focus but also perspective; it feels like you're able to move slightly around your subjects. Another feature lets you not just select one focal plane, but have everything in the image be in focus (i.e. focus stacking from a single image).
With the help of 3D glasses, Lytro also showed us an ability to see photographs in 3D – reader; it's a heavy emotional experience. Photos don’t feel like flat pieces of paper anymore, they gain an immediate reality that hits you on a deep level. Another potential feature of Light Field photography is the ability to capture and manipulate all intensities of light – in other words, true HDR images captured with a single shot. These are all exciting possibilities, some of which are already scheduled to arrive.
When we were using the Lytro, we couldn't help but imagine what a more powerful camera with this kind of technology would be like – something with optical image stabilization, a bright zoom lens and the ability to output high-resolution JPEGs. That camera could very well redefine everything.
Lytro deserves a standing ovation for bringing Light Field technology to market, and building a brand new idea of a camera from the ground up. At the same time, it's clear that the current Lytro is a first-generation proof-of-concept that's full of promise, but just isn't there yet. This is a camera that you'd carry for fun, but not one you'd rely on as a main camera. S$648 (8GB)/S$778 (16GB) for a toy sounds expensive to us, but while we can't heartily recommend the Lytro, we dearly hope the company makes even more cameras. Lytro has a chance to advance the state of photography, and we'd like to see that happen.