Lytro’s back with a new next-gen camera to drool over, but probably not to buy

Remember Lytro? The camera firm made waves a little over two years ago when it debuted its handheld "light-field" camera, which took in so much data that users were able to refocus their pictures after taking them to make sure they had captured the perfect shot.

The Lytro photos were made for the Web -- and for the age of interactive media -- in a way that went beyond the smartphone camera, letting viewers dynamically change whether the foreground, background or middle ground was the focus of the picture.

They were -- in fact, still are -- sleek, fun little gadgets. But their price tag of $200 to $250 turned out to be a bit too high for wide consumer adoption, given what they offered. In an age when digital photography is undeniably the medium of choice, the world still didn't seem quite ready to embrace interactive photography.

Lytro, however, was undeterred. The firm decided to double down on its effort to spark an interactive photography revolution by taking its design from this:


To this:


Lytro announced Tuesday that it's next-generation camera, the Illum, is now available for pre-order for -- are you ready? --  $1,600. (Well, $1,599.)

As you might imagine, given the price, the firm appears to be shifting its target audience for the new model to professional photographers, who might be more excited about the possibilities of new technology than typical snap-happy gadget lovers.

"Built to harness the full power of light, the professional-grade Lytro Illum will give photographers a new medium capable of capturing visual experiences in their purest form," the company's release said. "The camera paves the way for an immersive brand of storytelling in which images can be brought to life" rather than simply as fixed images.

The camera has an 8X optical zoom lens and a macro capability that lets photographers get really close to their subjects, something that makes sense given the applications that Lytro's technology has for pictures with a lot of depth. It uses both traditional and touch-screen controls, and has a pop-out touchscreen on the back. In terms of software, the camera's unique images are sharable to social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+, and work with software such as Adobe's Photoshop and Apple's Aperture.

While it might be an appealing investment for photographers as we view more and more pictures on computer and tablet screens, the second-generation Lytro probably won't be at the top of the list for many casual photographers when it makes its expected debut in July.

But that doesn't mean the rest of us can't look at it, longingly.


Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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Hayley Tsukayama | April 22