12/20/2012 - There’s been a lot of chitter chatter about the mobile app Instagram: Is it ruining photography? The argument, as far as I can tell, goes like this: If just anybody can snap a picture and make it look awesome with a filter applied on a cell phone, then we’ve taken something away from the craft of photography. If it’s not difficult, after all, then where’s the challenge? Where’s the art?
I would argue that while Instagram and similar apps make taking one type of picture — vintagey, somewhat abstract pictures — easier, they don’t exactly lend themselves to large landscapes or capturing crisp images of fast-moving subjects. For that, you still need at least a good camera and some skill. And if you want one of those arty shots with some parts blurry based on how far from the camera they are, well, you’ll need serious chops, right?
There’s this camera called the Lytro. Its big claim to fame is that you can change the depth of field after the photograph is taken. Depth of field refers to how “deep” in the picture the point of sharp focus is. In a photo with both very close objects and very far objects, like a close-up of someone’s face in front of a mountain range, only part of the picture will be in focus.
Lytro, however, uses a magic woo-woo technology called “light field” imaging to measure the direction that light is coming into its sensor. That allows it to record everything in focus. Computer software lets you change the depth of field later, back in your swank photographic lab. Or your laptop on your couch, whatever.
The camera itself sports an 8X optical zoom lens with an aperture of f/2. That gives it quick shutter speeds, so your fight against motion blur is made just as easy as the one against focus blur. A shutter button takes automatic shots, while more complex variations are controlled on a tiny 1.52-inch touchscreen: You can change the ISO between 80 and 3200 and alter the shutter speed between 1/250 second and 8 seconds.
Of course it’s not cheap. The version with 8GB built-in memory is $399 at lytro.com; with 16GB, it’s $499. The software also requires either Mac OS X 10.6.6 or the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 or 8.
Now, it’s actually been several months since this camera came out, so it was only a matter of time before someone figured out how to replicate the changing focus feature. Turns out all you need is a digital SLR camera that can shoot video and access to the Website dof.chaoscollective.org. They have you upload a video you’ve taken while slowly changing the focus of your camera from near to far (or far to near). It outputs a file that you can share in a browser and has a 20 x 20 grid of focusable areas.
Lytro has already introduced a new feature that might be a little harder to replicate: perspective shift. By dragging the photo around in the software, you can subtly change the angle of view that you’re taking on your subjects. This might just expose something hiding just behind the edge of a close subject, or hide something that mars the composition of your shot.
Either way, photography is ruined.
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