The first batch of Lytro cameras has shipped, and the people who get excited about these types of things are calling it unlike any digital camera we've seen before. But different isn't always good. Considering we already gave up our old-school digital cameras for our smartphone's lenses, this thing will have to be very different and very good to win us over at $399.
Here's what good, bad, and just plain different about the Lytro:
Looks: Different in a bad way. Rather than go for the familiar rectangular camera shape, Lytro went for a longer, telescope-like shape instead. The look is just kind of annoying, both in theory and practice. Imagine pulling that out in public? It looks like some Urban Outfitters, trying-very-hard-to-look-hip design and, frankly, it would be embarrassing. And, sadly, the device compromises utility for its not-too-great design. The 4.41 inch long, 8 ounce heavy rectangular prism is hard to use, according to The Verge's David Pierce. "It is a little awkward to hold and you never really get used to the way you're supposed to use the camera," he explains in a video review. The display screen is only a puny 128 x 128 pixels, which makes looking at and editing photos hard, especially for the fat fingered.
Works: Different in a good way. The camera uses different technology than other cameras. From the Lytro website: "Unlike a conventional camera that captures a single plane of light, the Lytro camera captures the entire light field, which is all the light traveling in every direction in every point in space." For a photographer, that means focusing post-photograph, which speeds up the photo-taking process, explains Robert Scoble, on Google+, after shooting 1,000 images." The camera is fun and lets you see in a new way. Shooting with it was fast, and because I didn't need to focus I was able to shoot a lot more images without worrying."
Photographs: Different in bad and good ways. The photos can turn out cool looking. "For a particular type of shot, it does a better job of capturing a photo than anything I’ve ever used," explains Pierce. Like, this very close up shot Scoble took of a flower. "If you’ve got a close-up subject and a far-away background, and lighting is good, the effect is really remarkable," adds Pierce. But, in any other scenario, the result is lacking, as these photos AllThingsD's Ina Fried took at the Barcelona Mobile Conference demonstrate.
Overall: Different in a gimmicky way. "I want to get excited about Lytro but it feels gimmicky. Click on the foreground! Click on the background! Whee!," tweeted The Atlantic's Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg. From the look, to the workability, to the results, this $400 device is niche -- at least for now. The technology behind it, however, "is a game changer,” Richard Koci Hernandez, a photographer and assistant professor of new media at the University of California at Berkeley, told The Atlantic's Rob Walker a few months ago. "In some sense, you’re losing that control," he continued, referring to the focal point of a photograph. “I’ve already been thinking about the crazy things you could do with this," he continues.