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Photography Startup Light Takes on DSLR With the Point-And-Shoot L16 Camera

Due out next summer, the camera combines images taken from an array of cheap camera modules typically found in smartphones.


Interest in point-and-shoot cameras has been on the decline for years, with most consumers just deciding to use their smartphones instead. Those who want something better have generally gone for the high end, opting for a professional-quality model with interchangeable lenses.

But what if a point-and-shoot camera could produce images rivaling one of those bulky, pricey DSLR cameras?

 Rear view of the L16
Rear view of the L16

That’s the idea behind Light, a photography startup that has developed a unique way of creating images of up to 52 megapixels by combining shots from an array of inexpensive camera modules similar to the ones typically found in smartphones. Its first camera, the L16, combines 16 such modules using a variety of focal lengths, with 10 of the cameras firing off on any given shot. It also shoots 4K video.

“We repurpose and leverage the billions of dollars invested in these little smartphone cameras,” CEO Dave Grannan said in an interview. “The economics and quality have become very compelling in these.”

Light is debuting the L16 on Wednesday at the Code/Mobile conference at The Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Calif. Grannan is showing the device onstage, while conference attendees will be able to have their picture taken in one of Re/code’s signature red chairs using a prototype of the device.

The company will take preorders, with a limited number of units available for $1,299, until Nov. 6. After that the price jumps to $1,699, with the first L16 devices not expected to ship until late next summer.

As for the device itself, it will run Android and have Wi-Fi, meaning people will be able to share their images straight from the camera. It packs a five-inch touchscreen into a case that is larger than a smartphone. Thing about the size of a Nexus 6, but twice as thick. There are 16 unique lenses — five with the equivalent of a 35mm focal length, five at 70mm and six at 150 mm. That allows the camera to have high-quality zoom.

Light had previously talked about its approach but had not announced any plans to build a camera of its own. Instead, it had been touting the technology for use in smartphones. Light announced earlier this year that Foxconn has licensed its technology to build a similar array of cameras into a future smartphone, also due out next year.

Clearly, Light faces big challenges trying to break into the camera business. Another startup, Lytro, began with a point-and-shoot model that offered photographs that could be refocused after they were shot, among other tricks using light-field capture. It followed up with a more professional model, the Illum, but has struggled to expand beyond niche status.

And, of course, the L16 doesn’t come cheap. For its price tag, one could get an SLR and even a couple of lenses, albeit not the top-of-the-line models.

Grannan, though, is emphatic that Light’s approach will win out.

“This is how cameras will be made in the future,” he said, pointing to a Light prototype model. He then pointed to an SLR and a pile of lenses costing thousands of dollars. “This is just not going to exist tomorrow.”

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