Light Field Cameras by Lytro

Via Lytro:

How does a light field camera capture the light rays?

Recording light fields requires an innovative, entirely new kind of sensor called a light field sensor. The light field sensor captures the color, intensity and vector direction of the rays of light. This directional information is completely lost with traditional camera sensors, which simply add up all the light rays and record them as a single amount of light.

The premise is simple: instead of capturing red, green and blue color values and compositing them into a static image like traditional CCD or CMOS image sensors, this new sensor records other and more useful properties of the light hitting it that allow for a more accurate reconstruction of the scene after processing.  I’m not just talking about better white balance or being able to retrieve information “lost” in the highlights or shadows — you can actually refocus the image while post-processing it.  Amazing

Although I’m not a huge fan of the way they’re trying to market it, the science behind the idea is sound and could revolutionize not just photography but digital imaging in general.  Whereas CCD and CMOS sensors are effectively trying to replicate the way that images are stored onto film, these new Light Field Sensors are innately digital and show a huge leap forward in terms of the thought process behind digital imaging.

In particular, I’m excited about the applications to the medical imaging field — what happens when we replace the typical CCDs with these Light Field Sensors?  We’ll be able to capture the entire scene as it is, not as it’s seen through the ‘eyes’ of a sensor.  I, for one, am excited.

Get nerdy and read the founder’s dissertatation here.