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Lytro releases major camera and desktop software updates

The company's push into virtual reality begins

In February we learned that Lytro — the company with the futuristic camera that lets you refocus pictures after you take them — was cutting jobs and using a $50 million investment to shift its attention toward virtual reality. Today, the company has released a set of software updates that are pushing its flagship camera in that direction.

With the new software, images taken by Lytro's Illum camera and processed with its desktop program can be made compatible with Google Cardboard, Samsung's Gear VR, or other stereo image viewers. There's still no video capability, but Lytro says users will be able to create "3D animations."

Lytro fixed a lot of problems with the Illum

The software also includes some big updates to the Illum's basic functionality. Lytro has revamped the camera's entire UI and menu system, added focus aids to help with the buggy tap-to-focus feature, and increased the speed of the autofocus. To improve the stability of the camera's software, Lytro reduced the camera's buffer — the max number of images you can take in a row before the camera has to take a break — from 10 images to eight. It's a necessary sacrifice considering how continuous shooting often crashed the camera's original software.

I enjoyed shooting with the Illum last year despite all the bugs, but editing and managing all the camera's "Living Pictures" was an endless chore. Lytro promises a much better experience this time around, with faster processing and importing. You can also now edit the Illum's photos layer by layer in Photoshop, and when you're done, any changes made will automatically show up in the Lytro Desktop app.

Lytro released the $1,300 Illum just under a year ago, and while I found it to be a polished piece of hardware, the idea of light-field photography is still niche and pretty experimental. Photographers who bought one out of curiosity will now likely have less of a struggle while they try figure out where and how to creatively use the Illum. Whether the updates are enough to entice new customers remains to be seen.