One thing we loved about Lytro from the beginning is that the camera should get better over time — the company has always claimed it's collecting more data than it's using, and over the last six months has been rolling out software updates that add more features to your camera, and even to your existing images. The company announced two new features today, as it gears up for the holiday season: perspective shift and filters.
When we saw perspective shift for the first time (a feature we had a hunch was coming to Lytro's cameras), it almost felt impossible. Instead of shifting focus from one spot to another, you can actually move the image around a bit. (Try dragging around this image for an idea of how it works). Not only does the image move, but it's as if you're looking at the same scene from a slightly different angle — reflections on glass change, you see new angles and distances that give the photo a remarkably immersive and three-dimensional feel. There's only so much movement — imagine leaning your head slightly right or left, rather than moving to a completely new spot — but the effect is still pretty remarkable.
The other new addition is less technically impressive, but still a lot of fun. There are nine new filters for Lytro cameras, from Crayon (which de-saturates all of the image except where you want to focus) to Carnival (which imagines whatever's in focus is being seen through a curved funhouse mirror). They're called "Living Filters," because even when you apply a filter you can still change the focus or perspective, and the filter complies.
One possibly unintended consequence of the new features, which will be available on December 4th as a free software update, is that it's going to be a lot easier to take great Lytro pictures. Previously, depth was the name of the game — photos only looked really good when there were compelling subjects at various distances. Flatter, less composed images look far better with the perspective shift, and everything looks better with filters — just ask Instagram.
Today's announcement is another step for the company in turning the $399 Lytro into a mainstream product: the camera is already in stores around the country, and offers more manual control to users. We're still holding out for higher resolutions and better image quality, but this device does get more compelling all the time.