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Lytro Looks to Refocus as Smartphone Apps Find Ways to Mimic Its Signature Trick

There's more that can be done by capturing richer visual data, says the company.

Ina Fried

When the Lytro camera debuted more than two years ago, it introduced a whole new type of photography that captured the entire field of light hitting an image sensor, rather than just the points of light themselves.

For most people, though, what it mainly brought was one key feature — the ability to refocus a picture after it had been taken.

Fast forward, though, and that particular effect is now present on a range of new smartphones, including the new HTC One, the LG G Pro 2 and various members of Nokia’s Lumia family. Google also has it in a camera app that is now downloadable for Android phones running 4.4+ KitKat.

These smartphones don’t actually pack Lytro’s light-field technology. Instead they use various other methods — computational photography tricks of their own — to simulate the approach. One of the ways is to simply take a burst of shots, each one with a different point in focus. That’s how Nokia does things, for example, with the Lumia.

For Lytro, though, the arrival of such apps underscores a critical need to prove it is more than a one-trick pony.

“If the company was all about refocusing, the smartphone thing would be a big deal and a concern,” CEO Jason Rosenthal told Re/code. “We believe powerfully and passionately about capturing richer data. Nobody else is on that path.”

The company is in need of a second act, anyway. Its lone hardware product is now more than two years old, although it has gotten a few nifty new features over that time via software. Late last year, Lytro raised an additional $40 million in funding to help make sure its dream gets more time to come to fruition.

Lytro has long talked about other benefits of its technology, including the ability to eventually take pictures with wide zooms and fast speeds without needing the kind of ultra-high-end lenses that are both bulky and costly.

“The way light-field photography changes imaging is by creating richer data, [which has a] wide swath of benefits,” said Lytro founder Ren Ng.

This article originally appeared on

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