Camera of the year: The Lytro

lytro camera technology of 2012 best tech

Anybody who has ever used a camera – whether it’s an analog SLR of yore or the one built into your phone – knows that the most important part to taking a photo is making sure the shot is in focus. But what if there were a magical camera that eliminated the need for focusing? All you have to worry about is composing your shot, and you can change the focus point anywhere on the picture after it has been taken, readjusting the depth of field at home. This implausible-sounding device actually exists and it’s called Lytro, our pick for the best new camera technology of 2012.

Calling a first-generation, unproven product a “best of” anything is highly risky. In the world of tech we see many promising new ideas that only end up crashing and burning, either because consumers never accepted them or they just plain sucked when used. We pitted the Lytro camera against another “first” for the title, Android-based cameras like Samsung’s Galaxy. But putting a mobile phone OS into a camera is only a natural evolution; existing camera user interfaces are pretty lousy, so it’s a no-brainer to incorporate an intuitive UI more than 70 percent of smart phone users are familiar with (depending on which market analysis you subscribe to). The Lytro, however, can truly be called innovative.

In an industry that, year-after-year, continues to tout higher megapixels and longer zooms as advancements, there hasn’t been as much excitement in cameras since perhaps the introduction of mirrorless technology. Lytro’s light-field camera has a feature that’s not only groundbreaking and convenient, but goes against everything we have learned in photography school. Before you wag your finger at us, we are well aware of the many drawbacks: The camera itself is not convenient to use, in particular the small display and zoom, and picture quality is average. There were times when the refocusing didn’t work with some images we took, but when it did, it was truly compelling. 

The Lytro is expensive, but first-generation products are never cheap. Headed by a Stanford light-field photography researcher with funding from Silicon Valley VCs, Lytro surely has plenty more up its sleeves, and we’re excited to see where the company goes next. (If you can’t afford a Lytro right now, there’s a hack that lets you manipulate Lytro-like depth of field using a DSLR; traditional camera companies should pay attention.) The established camera manufacturers are adding evolutionary features like Wi-Fi, GPS, and 3D, but it’s enriching products like Lytro’s that will resonate with users. As analyst Christopher Chute of IDC told us, it’s start-ups like Lytro that can offer unique value to the customer, not major companies that only seek to satisfy shareholders.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robots that eat landmines and clean your floors

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!

The best mirrorless cameras pack all the power of a DSLR, minus the bulk

Mirrorless cameras have quickly become the preferred interchangeable lens camera for many photographers, both beginners and professionals. Today's models offer great performance and loads of features -- here are our favorites.

Which smartphone has the best camera? We found the sharpest shooters

They say that the best camera is always the one you have with you and that makes your smartphone camera very important indeed. Join us for a closer look at the best camera phones available right now.

Earn more likes on your photos with the best cameras for Instagram

Looking to snap better Instagrams? Instagram doesn't demand high-resolution files, but upgrading your camera can deliver better bokeh and low-light quality. Here our the best cameras for Instagram.

Light on price but rich on features, these are the best cameras for students

Need pro-level features on a budget? The best cameras for students mix advanced features with a more palatable price point. From $2K entry level full frame cameras to $600 budget picks, here are five of the best cameras for students.

Capture life in every direction with the best 360 cameras

While 360 cameras are still a new technology, that doesn't mean there's not a few that are worth a look. Whether you want to shoot from the middle or just need a simple, affordable option, here are the best 360 cameras on the market.

These point-and-shoot cameras make your smartphone pics look like cave paintings

If your smartphone camera isn't giving you the results you want, maybe it's time to step up your game. The latest and greatest point-and-shoot cameras offer large sensors, tough bodies, and long lenses -- something no phone can touch.

These are the best action cameras money can buy, from GoPro to Garmin and more

Action cameras are great tools for capturing videos of your everyday activities, whether it's a birthday party or the steepest slope you've ever descended on your snowboard. These are the best money can buy.

Starting your very own vlog? Here are the best cameras to buy

Any camera that shoots video can be used to vlog, but a few models stand out from the crowd thanks to superior image quality, ergonomics, and usability. When it comes to putting your life on YouTube, here are the best cameras for the job.

Wet or dry, these rugged waterproof cameras capture your every adventure

Rugged cameras are designed to withstand nature's elements. These waterproof, dustproof, and shockproof shooters can go wherever you take them, making them the perfect travel companions.

Free your digital memories, and frame them, with the best photo printers

Printed photos are experiencing a revival at the moment, but you don’t need to go to a special lab. Here’s our favorite options for making quality prints, from pocket-sized printers to wide-format photo printers capable of spitting out…

When you're ready to shoot seriously, these are the best DSLRs you can buy

For many photographers the DSLR is the go-to camera. With large selection of lenses, great low-light performance, and battery endurance, these DSLRs deliver terrific image quality for stills and videos.

Selfie-taking millennials told to stop trampling about in Dutch tulip fields

Enthusiastic selfie snappers have been causing damage to fields of tulips in the Netherlands, with local growers complaining of travelers trampling over the flowers in search of the best shot.

Luminar Accent A.I. can now recognize faces for more natural instant edits

Want to edit faster? Skylum Luminar's latest update enhances the Accent A.I. to use machine learning for instant enhancements. The tool now recognizes faces for more natural skin tones along with other enhancements.