Toshiba 'Out-Lytros' Lytro, Designing a Camera Sensor Capable of Video Refocusing
Lytro is a company implementing a novel and fascinating idea — obvious enough for anyone to appreciate it’s wow-factor, but original enough that visual creatives can be impressed with its technology — you can set your focal distance after taking your shots. Now, you can also even shift your perspective a bit, another near-magical innovation for digital photography. That said, right now Lytro cameras have several major limitations: they are stand-alone cameras, which may be inconvenient for shooters used to novelty photography on a tiny multi-use device — plus, there isn’t great direct mobile integration with social media. Interestingly, Toshiba has just announced that it’s developing its own lightfield-type sensor, specifically for tablet and smartphone applications — and, it’s expected to allow focus shift for your mobile video as well.
There’s plenty to be said for a ‘Lytro-type-thing’s’ desirability to be built into a smartphone, as opposed to a separate non-tweeting non-texting non-internet-surfing device unto itself — that may pretty much sum it all up there, actually. Beyond that, the other benefits Lytro provides for its own lightfields — such as the ability to unlock new qualities of your images via later software updates, are things conceivably Toshiba could follow suit on in collaborating with mobile manufacturers. With all the added benefits of mobile integration — think of the Instagram-type of appeal you’d think a lightfield shot would have — Lytro itself will probably be hurt by the potential success of Toshiba’s push here. With thanks to Engadget for the find, here’s some of the report from the Asahi Shimbun in Japan (image courtesy Takashi Kamiguri):
The cube-shaped module is about 1 centimeter per side and contains a dense array of 500,000 lenses, each 0.03 millimeter in diameter, in front of an image sensor measuring 5 mm by 7 mm. The same mechanism works similar as the way the compound eye structure functions in insects.
Each lens captures a slightly different image from one another, and the camera produces a large, complete picture by using original software to combine the 500,000 tiny images.
The principle of which should sound similar to anyone familiar with Lytro, except for the physical dimensions.
Lightfield lens array and sensor integration into mainstream mobile devices worldwide could be the next step in the evolution of this type of photography alone — but with the addition of video to the picture (literally), as the Asahi Shimbun also states, Toshiba’s surely looking to pull ahead.
The module-equipped camera can also be used to take videos, and allows the users to retain the image of a figure in the foreground while replacing the background.
U.S. camera manufacturer Lytro Inc. is marketing cameras that have similar focusing functions, but the devices are about the size of a human palm.
Unless Lytro can mobilize a new device — or even tap their already existing cameras for video, something that doesn’t seem likely — very quickly, they may be left behind in the burgeoning lightfield photography tech-genre they themselves pioneered. Or, perhaps, they come out of left field with more options of even greater novelty value than anything Toshiba has on the drawing board — we’ll have to wait and see, as Toshiba’s designs won’t see massively see the light of day until late next year at the earliest.
The most interesting aspect of all this, though, is the ability to refocus in motion pictures — and while I can’t even really imagine what this will be like (are we talking in real time, and how many times can I set or reset the focus of a moving shot?), it will surely be of interest to many of us, especially since RED seems keenly after a similar option.
In what ways do you think refocusing video abilities will affect what we do, if at all, even if just on mobile devices?