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Lytro light field camera: Snap, then focus

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Have you ever snapped a picture only to find later that you accidentally focused on, say, the podium instead of the diploma-getting graduate? Or on the soccer net instead of the kicker? We may have largely passed the days of wasted film, but it’s still easy to miss a good shot by taking a bad one.

Lytro, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup, has just released a camera that could fix some of your photo woes. Using something called “light field” technology, the gadget will let you focus your pictures long after you’ve released the shutter. Head to the company’s Web site and you’ll see the technology in action: users can alter a picture’s focus from the foreground to the background and back again with just a click.

The company calls them “living pictures,” and the technology is based off founder Ren Ng’s PhD dissertation from Stanford. I’m no computer scientist, but based on the description of the science behind the cameras, the gadgets are able to take living pictures because they capture light from all angles in every point in space without shutter delay. Collecting all that data makes for a much more flexible image, and is also allowing the company to work on capturing images in 3D.

Lytro’s built in a 1.61-inch display onto its small, 4.41-inch gadgets, and users can view their pictures on that small screen or on supported computers, smartphones and tablets. The cameras also come with free storage on Lytro.com and can be shared to Facebook or Twitter.

The cameras are pricey. Right now you can get a gray or electric blue 8GB model for $399 or a red 16GB for $499. According to the company’s release, an 8GB camera will hold around 350 images and a 16GB camera will hold 450.

Lytro’s cameras only work with Macs at the moment, though interested parties can sign up to be notified when a Windows version of the camera’s software is ready. The company will miss the holiday season and start shipping units at the beginning of next year.

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