Though it sports the same light-field technology, Lytro’s second camera bears little resemblance to its first effort, which debuted more than two years ago.
Whereas the first model was aimed at consumers and looked a bit like a square kaleidoscope, the forthcoming Lytro Illum (pronounced ill-loom) has both the appearance and price tag of a professional’s SLR camera.
In moving up, Lytro is hoping to target the kind of creative professionals and high-end consumers that typically spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on cameras and lenses. Among the features of the Illum is an 8x zoom lens that can shoot at fast f2.0 speeds throughout its range — a feature that typically shows up only on professional lenses costing thousands of dollars. That combined with a 1/4000 of a second top shutter speed means the new Lytro camera could have particular appeal to sports photographers.
“We’ve really redone the hardware and the software from the ground up,” CEO Jason Rosenthal said in an interview. Like the first model, the Illum captures shots that can be displayed in 3D and focused after the fact.
The camera is slated to cost $1,599 and ship in July, though those who preorder through Lytro.com can save $100. The company plans to sell the camera online and also hopes to get the Illum in some camera stores and other retailers.
Because the camera captures rays of light and not just pixels, it’s hard to compare the quality to a standard digital camera, but Lytro says it has four times the resolution of the first Lytro camera, and still images taken from it will look good at least up to 8×10 size.
Forgoing the mainstream point-and-shoot camera market could help Lytro less directly compete with smartphones. The company has never said how many Lytro cameras it sold, but many recently announced smartphones have support for a feature that mimics the refocus ability that was among the prime selling points of the first Lytro camera.
On the inside, though, the Lytro Illum takes some cues from that same smartphone industry. The device packs a high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and runs Android at its core — though don’t expect access to run Android apps. The camera does use Android and its built-in Wi-Fi support for direct sharing to Facebook, Twitter and other sites.
Unlike the tiny screen on the back of the original Lytro camera, the Illum has a four-inch touchscreen that makes it easier to control the device as well as to see the resulting pictures.
Shifting markets could well help Lytro sidestep the declining point-and-shoot market, but even in the premium market, Lytro will have to prove itself against mainstay Canons and Nikons as well as increasingly popular mirrorless cameras that offer many of the benefits of SLR cameras, such as replaceable lenses, with less weight and cost than those models.
Late last year, Lytro raised an additional $40 million to help fund a new generation of hardware.
Rosenthal said that Lytro remains convinced that light field remains the future of photography, but says it has learned the world may need a little more convincing. Having the technology in a high-end device should help.
“When people can use something to get most iconic images, the whole rest of the world follows,” he said.