Lytro's first camera came out more than two years ago, a kaleidoscope of a device that was a lot of fun to shoot with but not particularly impressive. It let you focus and refocus a shot after you took it, a remarkable party trick that's since been copied and re-branded by every smartphone manufacturer on the planet. But for all the cool things it could do — and it learned to do more over time, with software updates — the Lytro didn't take very good pictures.
That changes today. Lytro is announcing the Illum (which ships in July), a new high-end camera that's designed to help professional photographers see the potential of light-field photography. The $1,599 Illum produces photos that are more than four times the size of the previous shots from its 1-inch sensor, collecting far more data before stitching together a photo. Its shutter goes as fast as 1/4000th of a second, plenty fast for action or sports shooting. It has a Snapdragon 800 processor, Qualcomm's latest tablet-level chip with plenty of power to spare. There's a 4-inch touchscreen on the back, and an incredible zoom lens that goes from 30-250mm at f/2.0 throughout, and can focus on things close enough to be touching the glass. The camera has a hot shoe for accessories and flashes, and supports Photoshop and other image editing software. It's a far more powerful, far more capable camera — and the photos I've seen so far look fantastic.
Of course, the Illum's entire raison d'etre is the microlens array, Lytro's innovative way of capturing a complete, 3D "light field" version of a scene instead of just quickly snapping a 2D photograph. It's what lets you refocus a picture after the fact, or convert it to 3D, or subtly shift the perspective of the shot without ever having moved the camera. The new model comes with a real-time mapping tool called the Lytro Button, which shows you exactly how to frame a shot to maximize the depth effect.
For the exclusive inside story of Lytro and how it plans to change the course of photography forever, be sure to read our in-depth feature. The Illum is the first realization of that future, one company's idea of what our next camera might look like. It's a sight to behold.