The Lytro Cinema could give movie-making its next golden age

Light field camera specialist Lytro promised a cinematographic revolution and they weren't kidding, with the new Lytro Cinema potentially representing as much of a technology shift as the move from analog to digital. The new camera – which, like Lytro's clever but poorly selling consumer cameras, captures not only light but the angle that the light hits the sensor, allowing for a wider range of post-processing options – promises to kill off the traditional green screen for special effects, among other things.

Lytro's light field technology is complex, but it basically boils down to recording more of the core data about each scene. Whereas a traditional camera only stores information about the light hitting each part of its sensor, a Lytro sensor also captures details about the path angle that light took in the process.

That means factors previously considered fixed, like which part of the frame is in focus, can instead be modified. Indeed, the whole frame can be tilted to get a slightly different perspective.

Now, Lytro is counting on those sort of abilities being put to more creative use by film-makers and the special effects experts that support them. Lytro Cinema offers post-production control over focus, perspective, aperture, and shutter angle, as well as being able to do green screen shots – where the actors stand in front of a single-color backdrop that's later replaced with a different background – without actually demanding the green screen itself.

Lytro calls it Depth Screen, and it's possible because the camera captures every scene it records as a 3D environment, understanding where the subjects are and where they're separate from the background.

The Lytro Cinema camera itself records at a hefty 755 RAW megapixels and up to 300 fps, with up to 16 stops of dynamic range. It stores both on the cloud and to an on-set server, and Lytro has plug-ins so that the footage is compatible with most of the commonly-used software apps.

As for output, it can spit out content for IMAX, RealD, Dolby Vision, ACES, and HFR, including in stereoscopic for 3D viewing.

Lytro says it expects to have the first Lytro Cinema cameras ready for use by Q3 2016, though they'll only be offered on a subscription basis – rather than for outright sale – and to "exclusive partners", at least initially. No word on how much those subscriptions might cost.

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