Conversation: Dr. Ren Ng, inventor of Lytro Camera

Say hello to Ren, Dr. Ren Ng, graduate of Stanford University who is set out to change the way we take pictures. No, he is not introducing a new lens, a higher megapixel camera or even a new chip in the existent cameras, he has invented and is introducing a whole new camera in itself – he has named it the Lytro camera.

Here I set with Ren to discover what it’s all about.

Mithaq Kazimi: Can you summarize the technology you are developing?

Dr. Ren Ng: Lytro is creating the first light field cameras. Unlike regular digital or film cameras, which can only record a scene in two-dimensions, light field cameras capture all of the light rays traveling in every direction through a scene. This means that some aspects of a picture can be manipulated after the fact. To capture this additional data, Lytro cameras include an innovative new light field sensor that captures the color, intensity and direction of light rays. Light field cameras unleash the power of the light, to forever change how everyone takes and experiences pictures.

What is your personal interest in photography: artistic, technical or both?

Photography has always been a passion of mine but I began to study light field photography when I was in the PhD program at Stanford University. I loved photography but was frustrated by the limitations of cameras. When trying to take a picture of a friend’s young, active daughter using my DSLR it was impossible to capture the fleeting moments. That personal experience inspired me start researching what would become my dissertation on light field photography and eventually lead me to starting Lytro which will be introducing the first light field camera for consumers.

How long have you been working on it?

I have been researching light field technology for more than eight years beginning with my studies within the PhD program at Stanford University.

What have you been challenged by while developing the technology?

The main challenges were really pulling together the diverse resources required to build the original prototype camera. We recruited a professor in EE to the project, an ME professional, raised $25K in research capital, developed a relatively complex set of supply chain partners to fabricate the light field sensor and build the custom camera, and developed all the software to render images. It was a very complex set of technical and operational activities over a six month period, and so satisfying when I glued the prototype together on my kitchen table and it worked!

Do you think people will embrace the technology as it becomes available, and why?

We do, the response overall has already been amazing! We’ve seen a wide range of interest from camera enthusiasts to the everyday person wanting to capture the important moments in their lives with this new kind of camera.

What is going to be different in your cameras?

The light field fully defines how a scene appears, from the foreground to the background and everything in between. Unlike conventional cameras, which can only record a scene in two dimensions, light field cameras can capture all of the light traveling in every direction through a scene in four dimensions. A light field picture taken with a Lytro camera can be manipulated after the fact in ways not possible with conventional cameras, like focusing a picture after it’s been taken.

The two main features that are evident so far are “focus-later” and “3D” capture, what are some others?

Sky is the limit with this type of technology.  Video capabilities are planned for a future version, but we don’t want to give too much away regarding our roadmap. But as far as the 3D, using the full light field, Lytro cameras will allow you to easily switch between 2D and 3D views or shift the perspective of the scene.

Who has been more interested in it so far, general consumers or pro users?

We’ve had a great response for those looking to reserve a camera at lytro.com – we’ve seen interest from camera enthusiasts, professionals and people who want to stretch their creative potential.

Who did you have in mind while developing the technology?

We were very focused on people who want to capture the important moments of their lives in a multi-dimensional, creative way.

Is there a learning curve?

People are so used to waiting for an auto-focus motor on conventional cameras that there will be a bit of “re-learning” to do when shooting a light field camera with an instant shutter.

For the professionals, what does it offer?

Professional photographers are very much on top of the latest trends in technology and we believe many of them will be interested in using a Lytro as part of their camera kit. We’re excited to see the creativity they bring to light field photography..

Can you give us the tech details (res, pix, etc..)?

We are not providing specific details about the camera at this time.

Does the cameras capture video?

Not at this time.

Is there a plan to implement it in the future?

It is definitely something that is in our roadmap but right now we are focused exclusively on still camera and bringing the first light field camera for everyone.

Any closing thoughts, news?

We are keeping people informed of developments through Twitter (@lytro) and Facebook.com/lytro. We will definitely keep you updated as we share more details on the Lytro camera.

Below are some ‘living pictures’, click on any part of it to focus:

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