Lytro’s Pro Movie Camera Lets Filmmakers Refocus After Shooting
After a pair of misfires on the consumer front, Lytro’s light-field camera technology may have reached its full potential. The first-generation Lytro was too expensive and limited, and the even pricier Lytro Illum was hampered by bugs and disappointing image quality. Now, the Lytro camera everyone wanted in the first place is nearly here.
The new Lytro Cinema camera will be able to do the coolest trick in video history—allowing filmmakers to refocus within a scene after it’s captured. That’s because Lytro’s special sensors don’t record photons the same way traditional cameras do. They’re able to discern the direction in which light rays are traveling. Computational analysis of that data lets viewers adjust some image properties—focus points and depth of field—as if they were capturing the images live with a camera.
But it gets waaay more awesome than that. The camera lets you adjust practically everything after the fact, including some things that are simply impossible with any other camera. For example, you can tweak the frame rates and shutter speeds in post, changing those values within the same continuous shot for dramatic effect. And say goodbye to the green screen, because the camera understands the three-dimensional depth of all objects in a scene.
That means it’s easier to extract objects from any background without having to use a green screen. According to Lytro, the camera’s sensor boasts 755 “RAW megapixels” for capturing content, although the camera’s output isn’t that ridiculously high-res. That’s simply the number of photosites needed to capture light-field content; it will render movies for 4K and 2K playback with frame rates of up to 300fps.
The sensor is a custom light field format sensor that’s about a foot and a half wide. (Yup.) It’s a brand-new sensor designed for this camera, but the camera’s microlens technology is based upon the same tech used in previous Lytro cameras.
Here’s something even more bananas: This camera basically makes holograms. “You now actually have the directionality of the pixel itself,” says Jon Karafin, Head of Light Field Video at Lytro. “It becomes a truly holographic image. You have angular information, and you effectively have a completely virtualized camera. You have the (subject’s) color, the directional properties, and the exact placement in space.”
For Movie Magicians
There’s one big catch: This camera isn’t for us normal folks, even if it does look like a gigantic version of Lytro’s original device. A professional rig made for film and television production, the Lytro Cinema camera looks most at home atop a wheeled tripod in a studio or on a movie set. And one with a big budget, at that.
In the best case scenario, it could change the way movies are shot—especially productions that use a lot of CG effects. 18 months in development, the camera creates 3D models of everything it captures. That’s impressive in itself, but thanks to the amount of light-field data it captures, users can also change camera angles and simulate tracking shots with a single, static camera.
According to Lytro, the main draw of the camera is to ease production in projects that involve both live-action and computer-generated components. While filming, the camera essentially creates digital, holographic representations of the real-world objects in a scene. This makes it easier to blend real-world objects and computer-generated models in post production. It’s traditionally a labor-intensive and expensive process, especially if anything is slightly off in the live-action portion of the shoot.
With the new camera, Lytro says it’s easier for effects artists to keep the same effects for live and CG elements of a scene without extra post-production work.
“If you ever have to reshoot, it becomes cost-prohibitive,” says Karafin. “When blending, the live plates don’t have as much creative control as what you’d have in the virtual world. That’s where we see an exciting potential for light-field cinematography.”
The Lytro Cinema camera is just the hardware component of a bigger system. To ease the process for visual effects teams, Lytro plans to release plug-ins for standard tools in the visual effects industry. And because one minute of 3D volumetric light-field footage translates to a whopping mountain of data, the system will include a server array for storage.
Even if you can afford it, you can’t get it just yet. Lytro says the new camera systems will be available for production teams to rent in late 2016, and subscription prices will start at $125,000. Don’t worry too much—that’s money you can save by not hiring a focus puller. (Sorry, focus pullers.)