Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Techy Tuesday - Light Field Camera Hits the Movie Biz

Back in 2011, a company called Lytro stunned the photography world by releasing the fist Light Field Camera.  The most amazing feature of this new camera was that the user could re-focus the image after the picture was taken.  I was fairly sure I'd written a piece on this camera, but can only find mention of it in passing, in a piece from 2012Yesterday, they introduced a 775 Megapixel cinematic version for the movie industry, and it's pretty fantastic.
The company’s light field solution is a truly beautiful technology that may eventually be in every camera we snap a shot or video with. The tech essentially uses data on all of the available light in a photo to separate objects by depth and store them in a three-dimensional grid. In the future this technology will allow the simple creation of VR-ready navigable 3D spaces, but right now it’s enabling filmmakers the ability to achieve a level of detail and flexibility in gathering shots and making post-production edits that wasn’t previously possible.
"Wait, did you say 775 Megapixel?"  Yes, I sure did.  The camera processes a mind-boggling amount of data: the 755 RAW megapixel 40K resolution (not compressed; not jpeg or MPEG), 300 FPS camera takes in as much as 400 Gigabytes per second of data, 24 Terabytes per minute.  Thank God for multi-Terabyte drives, right?  Even with that, I'm not sure what sort of hardware you get with a throughput of 400 gigabytes per second.  I designed a receiver about 13 year ago that was pumping out a mere 1.2 GB/s and that was hard to record with what we could find.  What this overwhelming amount of data allows, though, is even more mind-blowing.
What that chunk of visual knowledge gives filmmakers is the freedom to make a number of creative decisions in post-production that would otherwise be impossible after they had pressed “record.”

Things like changing the depth of field, focus position, shutter speed or dynamic range can now take place after the fact thanks to the truly [enormous] dynamic data being captured. Lytro believes that this tech is going to make the merger of CGI images and real-world footage even more seamless, and I believe it too.  [Note added the word in square brackets  - SiG]
Check out this video from their release announcement:

Lytro Cinema from Lytro on Vimeo.

My skeptical streak (a mile wide) says this is a product announcement and that means the product probably doesn't exist in its final form; it may not exist in any form.  The video didn't seem exceptional quality, so it's quite possibly from a much simpler system and edited with today's more conventional tools to get across what the system is capable of.  The system is probably ferociously expensive (they quote rental packages starting at $125k for utilizing the Cinema hardware/software suite), but so is getting the entire cast and filming crew of a major CGI film on set (think Star Wars or the Avengers).  If something doesn't work as intended during filming, the Lytro field camera allows the director or special effects wizards, to change the focus, depth of field, apparent shutter speed and other things.  The director might see something he didn't envision the first time and improve the movie during processing. 


  1. I thought the ordinary (still picture) camera from lytro was amazing...this thing is even more incredible! But think of the *storage* requirements! At least 1,440 *terabytes* for just an *hour* of filming! Ouch. Still really cool though.

  2. Fiber optic output to a LARGE RAID array.....

  3. The secondary issue is data transfer rates, and storage write rates, in field use. 400 gps is stupid simple in the air conditioned computer room, but under field filming conditions it may offer some challenges.

    1. Imagine trying to film "on location" on Tunisia for a star wars film, for example. The heat, the dust, the *heat*... (lol)

  4. I had a hard time believing the original press releases for the still camera, and a harder time understanding it. Then they finally shipped.

    I can't imagine the challenges involved in shooting with something this big and with that data rate. It looks bigger than an IMAX camera. It doesn't look bigger than TWO IMAX cameras (like for IMAX 3d) but it's still huge.

    I'm sure it will get smaller, and the storage will be solved, and some things will be made with it, probably high end car commercials at first. Who knows, it might solve so many other problems it's worth it.


  5. Heck, I have to admit I don't understand the physics of how that thing works. "Any technology sufficiently advanced..."?