This phone sized camera has 16 built in lenses and 52MP snaps!

8 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Light stuffs 16 cameras into one small device to challenge DSLRs.

That’s the premise behind the L16, a new fits-in-your-pocket multi-aperture camera that its maker—a well-funded Silicon Valley startup called Light—thinks is going to blow away DSLRs with expensive lenses…not to mention smartphones.

Light launched its L16 camera today, which packs a bunch of small cameras into one device to (supposedly) shoot photos of DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) quality. Light unveiled the L16 today, offering it for pre-order at $1,299 but saying it plans on charging $1,699 when the camera ships in late summer of next year. The L16, Light promises, will offer great optical zoom, high-resolution, substantial low-light capabilities, and very fine after-the-fact depth-of-field controls, all without the need for add-on lenses or a multi-thousand-dollar body. It’s called the Light L16, and it may not look the part of photographic tool, but it hopes to accomplish the impossible: professional quality in an (almost) pocket-sized device. Before we get to the technology—which has only just been unveiled and won’t ship until the second half of 2016 anyway—it’s helpful to identify problem areas that today’s smartphone cameras just can’t lick: low light, zoom and depth of field.

The L16 works by firing the multiple cameras at multiple focal lengths simultaneously, then computationally fuses the images together to create a single high quality image up to 52 megapixels, the company says. But when you notice the 16 different circles (17 if you count the IR sensor) on its face, the L16 becomes an almost threatening piece of technology to look at. On one hand, you have the committed photographer who doesn’t mind lugging a heavy DSLR around, while on the other, you have the people who rely on their smartphone cameras, millions of which are terrific in some situations, but ultimately have very limited capabilities.

According to Light cofounder and CEO Dave Grannan, the L16 replicates the functionality of a full-frame DSLR with three prime lenses, and a telephoto that zooms from 35 mm to 150 mm. Thanks to the need to put better-quality cameras in smartphones, the process of miniaturizing camera modules and molding high-quality plastic lenses has brought things to a place where — with a little computational photography — you can make something like the L16. A limited quantity will be available for pre-order through November 6 at a special price of $1,299. “Until the L16 camera, this required expert knowledge, heavy equipment and high prices,” said Light CEO and cofounder, Dave Grannan, in a statement. “Light’s vision is to enable anyone to take amazing pictures, and to change consumers’ mindset that quality must come at high cost, a big size and with a steep learning curve.”

And the combination of larger sensor and larger lens means shots can have a shallow depth of field: the portrait effect you see when a person’s face is in focus while the background is pleasantly blurry. When Light’s co-founder and CTO, Rajiv Laroia, came by with his team to show us the invention, however, it seemed like a product that should exist—even if it’s just a transition between today’s chunky DSLR and mirrorless cameras and the mystery imaging systems of the future.

To make it all fit, the bigger 70mm and 150mm modules utilize what’s known as “folded optics,” where a mirror faces out and the optics and sensors actually lie perpendicular to the direction that you’re shooting. The L16 combines 16 lens-and-sensor modules of varying focal lengths ranging from 35mm wide-angle to 150mm telephoto—plus an infrared-laser range finder for good measure. The people behind Light are claiming that in addition to resolution, the camera performs amazingly in low light, and produces detail that is even sharper than pro DSLRs. I was able to take a look at some of their sample photos, and while it’s impossible to draw any conclusions from a limited set of pre-picked photos, my first impressions were that image quality was indeed terrific.

First, by using a collection of sensors, it will gather more light than a phone’s single tiny sensor—maybe even more light than a DSLR’s much larger sensor. Second, because each image will be composed of multiple overlapping images, it will be able to provide precise detail of even a small section of the overall shot.

In addition, the L16’s exposure time and ISO settings are equivalent to that found on high-end DSLRs, Grannan says, while offering a depth-of-field perspective equivalent to f/1.2 that matches that of very fast, high-quality lenses. The Light team showed me some sample photos taken with a prototype unit, and while they weren’t as punchy as ones of the same scenes shot by a Canon 5D Mark III, there was just as much if not more detail in the L16’s images. Still, Grannan argues that the L16 is small enough to fit into users’ everyday lifestyle, and that a lot of people will choose the camera given the quality of photos it shoots.

Great photos “are just not going to happen with cell-phone cameras,” Grannan says, and people’s desire to shoot terrific pictures is a “pretty powerful motivator….Yes, this is a different device, but it replaces the kit of gear (of DSLRs and multiple lenses) for someone that wants really great photos.” Almost no one outside Light has seen the L16, but one independent analyst who’s been briefed about it shared his impressions about what the company has created. “Overall, I am impressed by Light’s innovative approach to photography, and the science behind the L16’s computational imaging is clearly targeted toward solving a real-world problem for many consumers,” Gap Intelligence analyst Scott Peterson told Fast Company by email. “It is this appeal of ‘quality without hassle’ that the company is banking on to drive adoption of its technology, adding weight to the launch of the L16, as not only a first product from Light, but also as one of the consumer market’s first glimpses at something beyond the traditional imaging industry’s recent offerings.” Peterson lauded the L16’s “staggering 52-megapixel image output” as establishing a new threshold for consumer cameras. Both the preorder cost and the retail price hover in that same dangerous place that Lytro’s Illum — another wild and experimental camera — found itself last year: pros who can afford it would probably rather commit that money to improving their existing setup, but it’s also too pricey for the simply curious. But he worries that the L16’s cost, especially its full retail $1,699 price, “may be its biggest challenge” to capturing significant market share. “While the L16’s ‘DSLR-killer’ features such as depth-of-field control and its robust 35-150mm equivalent zoom range will undoubtedly resonate well with many,” Peterson says, “consumer understanding regarding the benefits of Light’s technology will be the hurtle to overcome, making Light’s efforts to recruit brand advocacy/awareness critical in its early hour.” Even as Light is preparing to release the L16 next year, it has also reached a licensing deal with Foxconn—which is making the camera—that allows the Chinese manufacturing giant to build a scaled-down version of Light’s technology into smartphones.

However, I still have my doubts, and since I was only able to handle a non-working prototype of Light L16, we’ll just have to wait until it comes to market to really have an idea for how it all works. Light doesn’t have any control over who those partners are, and won’t necessarily have advance notice about such partnerships, but one of Foxconn’s major smartphone partners is Apple. As such, the L16 features onboard Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functionality that enables instant sharing on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks.

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