Lytro iPhone impossible at the moment, stop asking

Jan 25, 2012

This week there's been quite a bit of talk across the airwaves on how and when light field technology (via Lytro) would be integrated into smartphones - I'm here to tell you why its absolutely absurd to think that it'll be here any time soon. When Steve Jobs met with Lytro CEO Ren Ng, they spoke about what Ng would like Lytro to do with Apple. Though it's been suggested by many, including me, that this meant light field technology could possible in mobile devices such as the iPhone and the iPad, that's simply not true with the current set of rules in both physics and technology.

What the folks at Lytro are doing is taking the light field studies done over the past 15 years and packing it it into the smallest package they could manage. What this results in is a 4.41-inch long rectangle whose other dimensions are 1.61-inchs by 1.61-inches. Inside this box of magic comes a collection of lenses, each of which are required to create the environment in which the entire field of light can be captured all at once.

Inside the first 3/5ths of the device are the lenses, staring with an 8x optical zoom and a f/2 aperture lens, this aperture being constant across the zoom range allowing you to capture everything at once. The bits and pieces in this section of the current Lytro Light Field Camera must be spaced apart at such a length that integration into a smartphone would be impossible. Impossible, that is, unless you'd like a really, really thick phone in your hands. Between the lens section and the back of the device, you've got your light field sensor, this being a micro-lens array "specially adhered" to a standard sensor allowing for the capture of 11 million light rays at once.

Then comes the other big bit, nearly a third of the device being taken up by the Light Field Engine version 1.0. This engine is what replaces what was the original supercomputer used 15 years ago in the first recorded light field tests, this the piece of the device that allows the ability to refocus any image on the fly to be integrated in the picture file itself. It's certainly much smaller than supercomputers of old, but it's also no small cookie - certainly thicker on its own than you'll want your smartphone to be.

So we'll have to wait on this one, folks, wait until they can shrink the whole equation down again to a level where it'll fit into your pocket the short way. Right now you'll just have to buy yourself a Lytro camera separate and have fun that way. Oh well!

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