16 digital cameras in one: the magic of software

The Lytro camera. It records it all and let you choose after the shooting what you want to keep. Credit: Lytro

The L16 digital camera, 16 as the number of lenses it uses. Credit: Light.co

I am a passionate photographer (which does not mean I am good at it...). A friend (she once was the true love of mine), few days ago mentioned a magic camera that was supposed to come to the market soon, with 16 lenses. She told me that with such a camera it would be possibile to make photos with all content "in-focus". 
I first thought about Lytro, that is providing this continuos in-focus capability. The camera collects information on all beams of light and allows you to focus on the digital image, after the photo has been taken.

It turns out, as I discovered on the web, that another company is doing a similar thing with a completely different approach.

Say hello to L16, 16 as the number of lenses that it has.

The idea is that the more pixels you have the better the resolution but ... not necessarily the quality. The problem is that as you cram more and more pixels onto the sensors they get smaller and smaller and you have more issues with noise (both random noise and electronic noise). DSRL have bigger sensors and can do better with noise than point and shoot cameras, but they are also bulkier, since the bigger sensor requires a bigger, heavier lens.

The people from Light, who invented this new camera, decided to solve the problem by having several small sensors, like a point and shoot camera, and combining them all via software. They came up, watch the clip, with a light (hence the name, I guess) digital camera, slightly larger than a point and shoot but about the same thickness, with 16 lenses.

When you take a photo a software selects 10 out of the 16 lenses and sets each of them in such a way to get the most information out of the light beams, recording the equivalent of a 52Mpixels sensors (that is the double of what my Nikon 600 can get).

Interestingly, with the appropriate setting the camera can get several focus planes (buy having each of the 10 lens focussing on a specific plane) so that, if you want, all the objects are in-focus. On the other hand, if you are into portraits you can set the camera to create some nice bokek as background.  Also, each lens can be set with a different shooting time (or aperture) resulting in different exposures that can be combined in an HDR!

Best of all, the rendering software works before taking the picture so you can actually see on the camera screen the effects of the setting you are choosing on the final picture.

It is magic, and it is the magic of software.  I can't wait to see it on the shelf early next year and give it a try...

Author - Roberto Saracco

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