Creating the light field camera that refocuses later and giant virtual reality cameras with six degrees of freedom apparently wasn’t enough to keep Lytro shooting. On Tuesday, March 27, Lytro shared in a blog post that the company will be winding down and ceasing both production and professional services.
Lytro is most known for creating the light field camera that, using specialized software, could adjust the focal point after the image was shot by capturing light field data in one file. The niche wasn’t enough for Lytro to keep going, however, and in 2015 the company shifted from its line of consumer cameras and the pro-oriented Illum into production-level virtual reality cameras. Lytro’s 95-lens virtual reality Immerge, however, was so big and expensive that the camera was rented out to production teams, rather than commercially available for sale.
After rumors last week that Google would be buying the company, Lytro made no mention of an acquisition in the announcement, only alluding to new opportunities “for the Lytro team as we go our separate ways.” According to The Verge, however, an unnamed source says that some of the employees and the company’s assets are moving over to Google, but not as a full acquisition. Google hasn’t yet made a statement to confirm or refute that source.
Lytro’s light field consumer cameras may not have stuck around for very long, but the tech did create ripples in the photography industry. Panasonic developed a shoot-now-focus-later mode that uses a short 4K video to record the entire focus range, instead of light field technology. Canon’s Dual Pixel RAW allows for microfocus fine-tuning to a lesser extent but uses phase detection autofocus rather than a video file or light field.
While the company may be closing down, Lytro suggests that light field technology will live on. “At Lytro, we believe that Light Field will continue to shape the course of virtual and augmented reality, and we’re incredibly proud of the role we’ve been able to play in pushing the boundaries of what’s possible,” the statement reads. “We’ve uncovered challenges we never dreamed of and made breakthroughs at a seemingly impossible pace. We’ve had some spectacular successes, and built entire systems that no one thought possible.”
Lytro may have brought several innovations to the industry, but a focus on one niche area and advancements ahead of the time may be to blame for the company’s demise. The original Lytro was Digital Trends’ camera of the year in 2012 though “not a replacement for a traditional camera.” The later $1,500 Illum was described as “one too many light years ahead” with a steep learning curve.
The company’s virtual reality camera appears to be similarly ahead of the times. When launching the Immerge 2.0, the company said the camera was ready to shoot in 10K — but had to actually wait until VR headsets had that capability.