The Lytro appears to be the future of camera technology. Its claim to fame is sucking in not just one piece of light per pixel, but all sorts of pieces of light flying in from all variety of directions. So rather than one perspective, you capture several unique perspectives (or layers) for each pixel of your photo.
But while the Lytro allows crazy digital stunts, like refocusing an image after it’s taken, or creating a 3-D perspective of a photo captured through a single lens, its industrial design has been modeled more after a dSLR than a smartphone camera. So editing and sharing takes place on a laptop, long after an image was taken, rather than in real time.
Today, Lytro is releasing an iPhone app that will enable sharing right off the camera. Photos are sent via Wi-Fi (activated on Lytros through a firmware update) to your iPhone as thumbnails. And from there, you can view them, edit them, and upload them to Lytro’s new, Instagram-esque service (along with Facebook and Twitter).
So why are we interested? Quite simply, editing a Lytro image on your phone feels like the way we’ll all be editing images in the future. All you need to do is tap any part of a photo, and it will appear in focus--it’s an interaction we’re all used to while snapping shots, but we’ve never experienced after a shot’s been taken. From there, you can also create and share animated GIFs that shift focus around your shot or pan it in a circle to create a 3-D scenic effect.
The other killer feature is one that no one will notice: When you edit a photo on your iPhone, you’ll only manipulate a small-scale preview image. The full, final image is actually uploaded to the cloud with all of the “light field” metadata that enables refocusing and other stunts. So Lytro’s servers process the image, which saves your phone battery life--but better still, as Lytro rolls out new updates, your old photos could be processed in entirely new ways. The source information is safe and sound. They’re just adding the filter of your choice.
In this sense, Lytro’s cloud editing is quite similar to that which recently arrived on Google+, which allows you to toggle cloud-based filters at will without destroying your original photos. It’s noncommittal media editing. And it means that, even though many of us are in love with the nostalgic Instagram aesthetics of today, modern photo services will allow us to change those silly aesthetics tomorrow. (And then change them back the next day.)