There have literally been hundreds of tweets and emails sent to me about the Lytro technology. Light field camera technology isn’t new. This particular incarnation was developed at Stanford, but I’ve seen other incarnations. That said, it is interesting and it is attracting a great deal of attention. Not just attention – but concern. In fact, this latest announcement from Lytro has caused a great deal of concern in the photo community because the people who think of photography as art are worried. They are worried that the science will make them fungible. In my opinion, that won’t happen any time soon.
Plenoptic imaging will have a place in the future of photography, there’s no doubt about that. It’s initial value is primarily in forensics and entertainment. Law enforcement will use this technology to identify suspects in out of focus photos. The military will use the technology to improve data gathered from airborne spy cameras. Other similar uses will make funding this stuff realistic. But the notion that we’re all going to Walmart to buy a light field camera for our family vacation photos – well that isn’t going to happen any time soon. In my opinion it is just not realistic.
The big reason is the fact that the Lytro camera will require a computer and software to operate. Grandma and Grandpa can be taught how to use an iPhone camera and how to hit the share button on a mobile device pretty easily. But they won’t be sitting down to learn the operation of a stand-alone computer software program that is needed to process plenoptic photography.
I believe that there is and will always be a place for such technology in photography. I am in fact, excited about it. But nothing will replace the photographer’s vision – their eye – their emotion – their heart. In my opinion, it will be at least a decade before technology of this nature will be widely adopted to the point it REPLACES traditional film OR digital photography. Even then, REPLACES is a strong word. It might subplant – subvert or otherwise impact traditional photo methods.
Whether I am right or wrong about the adoption curve, remember that no computer can make a nervous portrait subject feel at ease, or calm an excited groom. No computer can duplicate the beauty of Cartier-Bresson’s vision.
On the other side of the coin, all that matters to me personally is the picture. I don’t care if you use an old film camera, a 3D camera, a digital camera or light field camera to make your images. If I like the picture – I like the picture and to me, nothing is cheating. I realize this isn’t a view shared by all. In fact, I know the purists will scream. That is their right. But why not at least wait until we know what there is to scream about? It’s early days yet and there’s not much likelihood this tech will trickle down to the Walmart anytime soon.