The Story Behind the Lytro Camera

When I first heard of the Lytro camera, I flipped out. I wanted one so bad because, well, it’s so different. I remember thinking, “Wow, now there is something that is truly outside of the box.” I was so impressed by the capabilities that I had to know more. Thankfully, Kira Wampler who heads up Marketing at Lytro as a VP was able to fill me in on how this incredible camera came into being.

This is how the idea for the Lytro camera was born: when using his DSLR to take photos of a friend’s five-year-old daughter, Lytro founder Ren Ng quickly became aware of the weak points of today’s digital cameras – a shutter that’s too slow to capture a moment and a lens that focuses on the wrong point in a scene. Annoyed with his camera, Ren did what many innovators do – took what he was learning in an academic environment and began to apply it to a consumer market. He focused his research at Stanford University on miniaturizing light field photography technology into something that would no longer require 100 computers in a room tethered to a supercomputer but rather a camera that could fit in a pocket and easily allows everyday consumers to benefit from light field technology.

For the Lytro camera’s design, form follows function. The unique, compact design is driven by its 8x optical zoom lens, which features a constant f/2 aperture. The Lytro’s anodized aluminum body is lightweight yet sturdy. We also believe cameras today are too complicated with too many buttons and dials, so we created the Lytro camera with a simple two button interface and an intuitive touchscreen.

In addition to founder Ren Ng’s personal passion for photography, he saw that light field technology had the potential to be a really beneficial tool to consumers. He saw Lytro as real opportunity to make it easy for everyday consumers to capture these special moments in their lives without having to worry about focus, low light, or any of the other issues that plague the everyday photographer.

The biggest challenge in creating the camera was miniaturizing the light field technology. The existing light field research consisted of a hundred or more cameras tethered to a supercomputer, and we needed to shrink it down into a single micro-lens array that fits inside a single Lytro camera. With software, the team miniaturized the supercomputer and created a light field engine that processes the light field data into living pictures. It wasn’t easy, but there was an incredible team that helped to create what is now the Lytro camera.

At Lytro, we have weekly Dehydration Seminars on Thursdays in the office, it’s a great and fun way for our growing team to take a break and have a beer in the office.

Lytro’s legacy will be significant. We truly believe that light field is the future of photography. Lytro has an ambitious roadmap and we plan to continually push innovations in the form of regular upgrades to the current Lytro camera and new products over time. As the first company to bring the light field to consumers, we plan to drive exploration of its use in a variety of devices. The potential application of light field photography is endless – in science, medicine, manufacturing, and many more industries – and we are excited to see the ultimate capabilities of this technology unfold.