Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lytro Illum Light Field Camera Review–Take 2–Separating Fact from Fiction

Lytro Illum Light Field Digital Camera
Lytro Illum Light Field Digital Camera

No you aren’t experiencing déjà vu, I’ve re-released this article with some new content instead of doing the typical part II. If you are just joining me then there’s no reason to read the previous article as it just points to here now.

Intro

I’ve been very interested in Lytro’s light field cameras since I first read about them a few years back. Once I saw the NFC championship game shot with the Illum I reached out to the company and my B&H rep and got a couple models sent out to me.

In this review I share my findings on both the camera as well as the software required to process its images. I found myself really loving and hating various things about this camera along the way, so if you’ve been interested in this camera I think you’ll find this review very helpful.

Why Take 2?

In my first attempt to review this product I did so blind without any feedback or influence of any third party. I did get some tips from my friend Stephen Eastwood while at WPPI, but my goal was to try to get an unbiased and untainted opinion of this product. The problem with doing this is that this product assumes you’ve invested a lot of time doing your research on light field technology and that you’ve watched these excellent videos on their web site:

Sadly, that’s a geek way to release a product because in the 25 years I’ve been delivering technology products to customers I’ve learned that when you assume you make an ass of u and me. As a result, I messed up and failed to review and use this product to its maximum intent – as a device that generates 3D images. 

Make no mistake, this camera is NOT a DSLR or mirrorless replacement. As a 2D camera it is not as good as a typical modern day cell phone, but when used properly it can deliver a video or interactive image (via the Lytro viewer) that creates a cool 3D image. This is why Lytro emphasizes the term “living pictures” in their advertising because it’s more than just a static 2D image. With this in mind, read on and learn..

Understanding how to view images in the Lytro viewer

A video is worth a thousand words to explain how to make the most out of viewing a living image from a Lytro Illum camera:

When click on the image and you spin your mouse around in circles you are playing with the perspective shift which gives the illusion of a 3D image without the need of 3D glasses. You can however export real 3D images and video for later viewing on your 3D playback device, but I like this quick and dirty way of doing it. Here’s one you can play around with:

or CLICK HERE to visit a gallery which contains much better content than what I made. You can also see the users stream of images that have been recently flagged as cool by the Lytro team. These are just ordinary users content that has been marked as public and flagged for your enjoyment.

The photos of successes and failures can be found here. Anything that doesn’t refocus or have the 3D effect is basically a failure on my part, so live and learn.

One of my Favorite Photographers, Stephen Eastwood also has a gallery here with some images for your enjoyment like this:

Unfortunately the online viewer doesn’t show the EXIF for the images and it only allows minimal captions.

Using the Lytro Illum’s Depth Assist Features

The original Lytro 8GB was pretty bad because you had a tiny screen with no ability to see the depth and refocusable regions when you were out shooting. The Illum is the significantly better because you have the ability to see to control the refocusable regions in the foreground (blue) and background (orange) in real time. Here’s a short video I did that shows it in action:

I asked a support engineer at Lytro for his feedback on the video and he gave me the following notes about the video:

  • Correction: at about 2:10, you move the foreground subject to the plane of the background subject and say that if both are in orange the image would be out of focus. This is incorrect. They will be in focus, but will just both be at the same depth level. Now, if you move them both into the gray area, then they will indeed be outside of refocusable range.
  • The orange and blue area that I point to on the right side of the LCD in the video is called the Depth Histogram, whereas when I press the Lytro button the blue and orange that show up is called the Depth Overlay.
  • Refocusable range - Subjects anywhere within the orange/blue range
  • Non-refocusable range - Subjects outside of the orange/blue range (in either of the gray areas)
  • The LCD screen articulates [Ron: While true, the reality is that outdoors in bright light the articulation doesn’t help you. I intentionally had reflection in the video just to demonstrate point that it is a highly reflective LCD with no electronic viewfinder]

When everything is all blue or all orange that means that everything is at the same depth level. For the most interesting photos, you want objects in both the orange and blue as I demonstrate in the video.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to re-shoot the video due to time constraints surrounding the return of this camera.

Here’s the living picture created during the video above:

For reference, this is what the refocusable regions looked like in Lytro Desktop:


Lytro Illum Depth Map with Refocus Region

Blue objects are close and orange objects are far

and here’s what the actual depth map looked like for this photo:


Lytro Illum Depth Map

Dark objects are close and light objects are far

When you have this camera in your hands and discover there’s no aperture and there’s no traditional concept of focusing then it can be rather stressful. However, if you take the time to read the manual and watch the videos, you’ll understand that you just have to learn how to think a little differently. Instead of paying attention to a single focus point you end up paying attention to the Depth Histogram as previously discussed and shown here:


Depth Histogram and Depth Overlay

Hopefully this gives you a better idea of how to use this camera because there’s a common misconception that you can “just focus after the fact”. In fact, as you see in the video there’s work that must be done in-camera to give you the opportunity to do that in post processing, so in many ways this camera is much more challenging than a traditional camera where focus only needs to be set on one dimension. As a result, this isn’t a point and shoot camera for amateurs, but rather a bleeding edge technical device for patient photographers who are willing to invest additional time at capture time to meet all of the requirements to make an interesting living picture.

Not Recommended for 2D Images

This is NOT a landscape camera or a DSLR replacement! Here’s some great examples which for reference sake illustrate the out of camera 2D quality of the images (click for full-size) as well as show the range of zoom on the built-in 30 – 250mm fixed f/2 aperture (non interchangeable) lens:


Zoomed Out  to 30mm - Exported In-Camera JPEG - No Edits

As you can see from these two images they go both wide and far, so the zoom range is very handy. Sadly the image quality as a simple 2D camera is unimpressive as the images feel soft and the color is only mediocre (before RAW processing).


Zoomed In to 250mm - Exported In-Camera JPEG - No Edits

While more post-processing in Lytro Desktop is possible, it feels like it was taken with a cheap lens and old camera (or a mediocre cell phone). By comparison, an iPhone 6+ native image is 3264 x 2448 pixels at roughly 1.75MB.

To get a proper file out of these these big 50MB Lytro RAW light field images it is best to export as TIFF. This gives you a roughly 15MB image in the ProPhoto RGB color space, yet really isn’t going to be print worthy.

It should be noted that you can get 100MB XRaw images that contain calibration data, but that generally is only needed when you know you’ll be giving a photo to someone else who doesn’t have your camera calibration data. You’ll have this when you setup your system so you DO NOT need this huge file format as it contains the EXACT same light field data as the smaller RAW files.

Benefits of a Light Field Camera

Lytro.com list the following benefits of a light field camera:

Unlike a conventional digital camera, the LYTRO ILLUM captures the light field, which includes the direction of light.

Capturing this fundamentally new data gives consumers unprecedented capabilities, including the ability to focus, change the perspective, change the aperture, and view in 3D - all after a picture is taken.

This was the concept that captured my imagination from day 1 as I had seen this technology demonstrated by researches at other companies, but never did I imagine it would be an affordable and shippable product so quickly.

From the first moment I got this camera, I was eager to do a flower shot where I could have fun with various focal points and apertures after capture time. I finally got my chance in Palm Desert, California earlier this week. Here’s an unedited shot straight out of the camera:

The nice rubber grip and view through the LCD immediately inspire confidence in its quality, but I’ve been very disappointed when I’ve viewed the images on my NEC PA322UHD 4k display. I quickly discovered that it’s best to view the images on a WUXGA or 1080p resolution display like a PA242W as the images look a lot better when smaller.

Living with the Lytro Illum

For the purpose of this discussion, here’s a quick overview of the rear LCD of this camera:


Touchscreen layout in Capture Mode

Here’s what each section is called:

  1. Image View Area
  2. Depth Assist Bar
  3. Menu Bar
  4. Information Bar

It should also be noted that there’s a kind of undiscoverable feature called Spot Depth Feedback that allows you to check the distance from the camera to the object at the center of the live view. I forgot to cover this in my video, but if you are considering or own the Illum you might find this article handy.

Say good bye to Aperture Priority

When you think about the fact this is capturing a light field, it makes sense, but there is no concept of setting aperture on this camera. It’s got a fixed f/2 lens and all images are shot at f/2. While this might make you panic at first, the reality is that because this is a light field camera aperture can be set from f/1 – f/16 after the fact.

With this reality, it means you are primarily concerned with your ISO and shutter speed because the focus point “in theory” can be set later. As a result this camera has a Program Mode, ISO priority mode, Shutter priority mode and Manual mode where you have manual control over ISO & Shutter Speed (which is very similar to a DSLR Shutter priority when Auto ISO is off). These are set via the Menu Bar (#3 in the graphic above).

In good light, like I had in California, you’ll need to be at the minimum ISO 80 and I often found myself at the maximum 1/4000 sec shutter speed. Coming from Seattle, I don’t find myself using shutter speeds that fast, but I quickly discovered that in bright sun there is value in having a camera that can do 1/8000 sec (like my Canon’s). With a lens that will only do f/2 at capture time, some shots just get blown out due to the constant f/2 lens aperture. Other shots, like the one below are uninteresting because you can pretty much only set them to f/16 in post processing as there’s little variation possible in such bright light:

My net takeaway is that it would have been better for this camera to just have one mode that allowed you to set the ISO to a fixed value or Auto and an option to do the same for the shutter speed. Instead you have to fumble between modes if you care, but often times this is a camera where P doesn’t mean a sarcastic “pro mode” – it is actually a valid mode quite often. It’s also in bad need of a much faster maximum shutter speed – like 1/8000! However, Lytro has tried to address this by including a 4 stop ND filter in the box, but it comes in an unlabeled black box that feels empty and is under another bigger box so I didn’t find it until my friend Stephen Eastwood told me about it.

Body design 1.0 is painfully obvious

Lytro Illum Side view with LCD extended
Lytro Illum Side view with LCD extended

It is very obvious that the designers were given the max budget to make a piece of hardware that looked cool, but sadly that means no budget must have been left for usability testing. The net result leads to some frustration at first and later in the field. Some of my big complaints while using this camera were:

  1. LCD difficult to see in bright light – Since there is no EVF you’ll need a Hoodman Loupe if you plan to use this camera outdoors as the screen is difficult to see in bright light. As a result you find yourself thinking you’ve got the shot when doing a playback but you get it on your computer and realize it’s a total focus fail.
  2. No LCD screen zoom – With a rear touchscreen that gives you a Live View experience, you’d think you’d be able to pinch to zoom the capture and playback images. Sadly this isn’t the case – for either! In fact, there’s not even a button or knob that I could find that allowed me to zoom in to see if I got the shot. As a result, there were lots of frustrating surprises when I got back to Seattle from California.
  3. Bad Hood Design – With a cheap plastic pin that is sure to break off eventually and a hole that is easy to miss, I found myself cursing the hood on every shooting. While it is possible to get it to lock, it’s easy to miss the hole and end up with images later where the hood has rotated. I eventually got the hang of it, but was a very cheapo feeling design.
  4. LCD Menu scrolling isn’t obvious – Until you figure out how the scrolling of the menu works, it feels like you’ve lost half your buttons and you don’t know why. The lack of a visual indicator made it very frustrating and difficult to understand at first. I eventually “got it” but never liked it.
  5. Information bar randomly disappears – Sometimes for reasons I haven’t yet discovered, the information bar at the bottom would just randomly disappear. I eventually discovered I could swipe it back up to make it reappear, but I definitely felt like I was using the Windows 8 Metro Design Language. Whether your love or curse that UI design, you’ll find the same love/hate with the Lytro touch screen UI design.

I wasn’t a big fan of the hard to open side door and bottom battery loading design, but they worked and I got used to them. Overall I liked the camera body as it was kind a fun and different, but its design does feel a lot like the Windows Phone of cameras.

Click here to see a complete layout of the camera and all of its buttons.

Lytro Desktop Software

image

I had a lot of challenges with the Lytro Desktop Software, but after a significant amount of time with the excellent support staff I got things sorted. The biggest issue was a bad video driver that wasn’t getting updated when I ran the update software (my issue) and problems related to having my Lytro library on a network drive (ONLY use local hard drives).

It was clear that Lytro primarily focuses on the Mac version, so Windows users beware. However, I didn’t hit any major problems that were unique to the Windows version, so don’t sweat it if you don’t have a Mac.

My biggest lesson learned is that when you are importing images you shouldn’t watch the computer. The download experience – even with 16GB 95/mbps SD cards took an unusually long time to download and process (about 30 seconds per photo) on a i7 system with 16GB RAM and SSD hard drives. As a result, I learned to click Import before going to bed or when I’d be away from the computer for a while as it’s VERY bad if you lose your connection during the download process. Sadly I forgot to turn off Windows Update, so I got burned by that and ended up with a lot of stuff I needed to delete from my library.

Performance and quirky bugs aside, the reality that you can’t do all the things you are used to doing in Photoshop with your images makes it tough to get high quality results. You basically have the abilities of a RAW editor like Adobe Camera Raw but without the cool features Lightroom offers for masking (adjustment brush, spot/heal, etc…). Keep this in mind as it means you have to get things right in camera.

You don’t have to own the camera to see how this software works, so click here to get the software for FREE and click here to get some sample images to play with.

To make the most of your test drive of the software, please be sure to READ THIS.

My Test Shots

When viewing these photos it is best to go full screen, click your mouse around the image to play with refocusing. To see the 3D effect you need to HOLD YOUR MOUSE BUTTON DOWN and then DRAG IN CIRCLES as shown in the video earlier. You can also do the same thing if you go visit the galleries here and here directly. Images in the later gallery that don’t have a 3D effect are my failure as a light field camera operator, so if you don’t see a clear foreground and background object then don’t bother clicking it as it is mostly a static photo.

NOTE: The advanced viewer works better but the resolution of the standard viewer is better.

NOTE: These will crash your iOS devices so view them on a computer, or get the mobile apps here.


Flowers in the field shots are a great way to get started learning how to use this camera


In my attempt to show the bokeh of this camera, I stumbled upon a solid 3D effect. Perhaps this is why Lytro support encouraged me to take my first photos on the carpet of a nearby subject.


The frustrating design of the hood becomes obvious in this shot where a 3D wiggle result in seeing more hood. There’s no fixing this outside of cropping.


Because it is hard to see the screen in the bright outdoors and because you can't zoom, sometimes you think you are fine and end up with a shot that is blurry because critical parts are outside the refocusable range. In traditional photography this is like getting bitten by a minimum focus distance issue when manually focusing.


Ugly photo, but a good example of having depth that creates a living photo.


I thought I had a great shot in camera, but depth map errors (which can be fixed in complex post-processing) are one of the big reasons why I say this is a camera for advanced photographers. The net result is floating flowers!


Having all the light field data in orange is bad, but the more important part is that you have data in the refocusable range. The fact that I have that makes this photo work as a living image


This is a tough camera with kids because you already have a lot to do to get the shot, paying attention to the depth histogram data just makes it even harder


I was lucky enough to find an unexpected hot air balloon, but it was both ugly and hard to find a foreground subject so I would have been better off shooting my photos of it with a different camera. Sadly this was the only camera I had!

Conclusion

The bottom line is that this is a bleeding edge product for advanced photographers who are also geeks. The camera and software both lack the fit and finish you are accustomed to with traditional cameras that have had years to mature. It is a fun product that offers an exciting challenge that some might adds to the creative process, but simple point and shoot or spray and pray photographers will be extremely frustrated by the complexity of this product.

To be clear, you WILL NOT be successful with this product if you don’t take the time to watch these videos. If you haven’t been successful with a light field camera before, it won’t happen without education so be sure to check these out.

At the end of the day I think this is a fun camera to play with, but I have no need for doing 3D / Living Photo work so it isn’t for me. I consider this to be a good choice for a hobbyist with discretionary income, but be sure to bring your regular camera out with you when you shoot as this is NOT a replacement for your normal 2D work. In fact, I wish I would have taken redundant pictures of everything I took with this camera in California as the exported photos from the Illum were unacceptable. Those photo opportunities are now lost so I learned a hard lesson about this product.

If you’ve tried the original Lytro 8GB and were disappointed, don’t let that experience taint you. This camera is NOTHING like that abomination. This is a proper camera that captures light fields and I think it is going to be awesome one day, but for now it is a product for early adopters and people with the extra cash to spare to enjoy being on the bleeding edge.

Where to order

Click here to learn more or order it on the B&H web site.

Rent from LensRentals.com 

Click here to rent one from LensRentals.com and use my blog discount to save on this or other rentals.

Guest Opinion from Stephen Eastwood


Stephen Eastwood

Many of you may know Stephen from his work as a Canon Explorer of Light, but he’s always been a state of the art photographer so he’s been using the Lytro Illum for a while. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind including some of his own thoughts about the Illum so you could get another opinion:

I got one with no instructions, and no idea what to do with it, not that I am one to read instructions anyway, but here I had one.

The first day out I played with buttons and dials, and learned to use the Lytro button, but could not for the life of me figure out how to focus the image. I had just tapped on the screen and luckily it responded. Who knew it was touch activated?!!

Since then Lytro has added the more logical features such as allowing the focus ring to also rack focus in playback, which is much appreciated to anyone with fingers too big to touch tiny areas on screen. They have also updated many features making this camera a wonderful tool. With that said, even with all the little improvements, it still has a learning curve.

I still think this is a camera that you can learn from in an hour depending on your previous level of tech knowledge, but what takes some time is learning to think and compose differently. I have been shooting stills for over 15 years professionally, and shooting video off and on for about 10 years. It’s not like either, and yet has aspects of both which need to be considered.

First you need to compose and plan for depth in an image. It sounds simple, but I’ve spent 15 years limiting my depth of field in shots through the use of aperture, focal length and composition. Now I need to show depth to get the most from this new technology. I need to think differently and plan for layers to that depth, but I also need to think in terms of a storyline. I want to use the camera to tell a story, using the animate feature I can make a short animation, moving and revealing, rack focusing ones attention here or there, and let a scene unfold as if I were directing a short scene. That all needs to be planned for while you are in the composition mode of shooting, you want to know what your animation is going to say and shoot a shot that allows just that.

So what have I learned? Well certain aspects of the final product work best when you take advantage of what it can do, the perspective shift that gives you the 3D image and sense of motion is best scene and experienced when you have a near object and a far object. The closer the near object is the more effective this is. This means that shooting a landscape with nothing in the foreground won’t be nearly as impressive as shooting that same shot with something up close and with something that you can rack focus from and get a feeling or sense of looking around to see what is behind it. That is the exact effect that makes the 3D images pop off a screen and creates an immersive visual. Also, I learned that having several layers of depth, several points of interest at varying distances gives the viewer more of a story, more of a reveal. If you are allowing people to be interactive rather than just watch a pre-established animation it will be much more interesting.

I do have a tip that I think everyone should know before they begin to shoot with the Illum. The logic of how cameras and optics usually work dictates that if you have something in the foreground and something way in the background in the refocusable area of the Lytro image, so everything in between should be as well. Well that's not the case, and it’s clearly visible on camera that there is a small spot in the center of the depth histogram that is neither blue (near refocusable objects) nor in the reds (far refocusable objects) - it is a gray bar dead center of that range. It’s an area that is not fully refocusable, and you need to be aware of this and not put a direct point of focus or object of interest in that area. Fortunately the Lytro button will show a great representational histogram of this and you can simply adjust to limit what is in that “dead zone” and move it fore or aft. Armed with this info and an imagination you should be on your way to creating living pictures!

So what’s so good about living pictures? Why do you want them?

I'll be the first to tell you this is not a replacement for your current camera system – it’s an additional tool that allows you to create unique products in a way never before possible. It can differentiate you and what you offer from the competition and help you to stand out to clients and add some new service and product they were not aware was an option.

This is not a high MP camera that produces the now typical 20+ mp file for print, rather I see it as a capable camera that offers a new product. In this day of digital most of what I shoot never gets printed, I do commercial shoots where 120 shots are taken, 2 are ever printed in ads - the rest are strictly digital content for the web. With the Illum, I shoot something for the web or digital billboards that stands out from a still.

I can now shoot an image that has perspective, has movement, holds interest of the viewer as things refocus, or as you take a quasi-look-a-round it makes a unique product that is perfect for getting viewers to linger on a webpage longer, stare at a digital billboard for a few seconds rather than just glance and pass by. It creates a unique product that allows you to create something that catches the attention of viewers, and it does so with the ease of a still camera yet produces as effect that can appear to have been taken with video and a slider move.

I warn you, this is not a simple point and shoot process. It is one that takes vision, and one that produces much more than a P&S experience when done right. However, I feel it is worth the reward.

As for the company that makes it, Lytro may be one of the most responsive to changes and improvements I have ever known. I say that coming from years of experience with cameras that could be improved in this or that area easily, but rather than offer a firmware update, it becomes a feature of the next model to entice you to upgrade. Lytro seems to listen and is working to improve the camera user experience by adding updates and features as they become possible. Their attitude is something so uncommon it seems to go against the very nature of corporate policy. It not only applies to the camera, but the software too. They are adding new features and capabilities often, so when you have an issue the tech support team actually takes the time to help you figure it out and get the most from your images.

I encourage you to try one out! If you learn to think a little differently, the results you see when viewing your images through 3D glasses will get your creative energy going. By your second shoot you will already be thinking of what you could have done to maximize the potential of this piece of gear. You will quickly start creating situations and settings to fully take advantage of the whole process for some amazing living images!

- Stephen Eastwood

Thanks Stephen!

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

REVIEW: Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens–One of the Best Lenses Ever (PART I of II)

Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens
Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens

Prior to this review if someone asked me what the best lens Canon has ever made was, I’d have to say either the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM or the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM.  However, this review has convinced me that the “best lens ever” discussion requires this lens to be in the discussion as it is simply amazing. We are talking Zeiss Otus good!

By now you’ve probably read other reviews that gush over this lens, so you’ve probably come here to get my real world take on it. This is where I usually get flamed for bringing all the love back to reality, but not this time. This lens is freakin awesome!!!!!

Case in point – below is a screen shot of a 100% crop of my first photo with this lens and one that I had never intended to put on the blog:

Click for full-size unedited original
Viewing this actual image like this on a UHD (4K) display shows every fiber of detail in the pollen and sharp edges of the pedals. You literally can’t see that detail this lens resolves on a display that isn’t 4k or greater

My jaw literally hit the floor, so I showed it to my wife. She isn’t a geek so she is typically not impressed, but she literally put her hand over her mouth and said OH MY GOD! This was like showing proper 4k images for the first time to someone who has never even seen 1080p – it was that jaw dropping!

Even this super boring image taken on a windy day was so amazing when I zoomed in, I thought I had a macro lens on my camera:

Copyright Ron Martinsen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Canon 1D X 1/400 sec at f/8, ISO 200 at 22mm

Click for the unedited full-size original

When I zoom in to the flower on the right the detail is incredible:

Copyright Ron Martinsen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

when I move down to the leaf, I’m just blown away at the detail:

Copyright Ron Martinsen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

I became so obsessed with this lens that I found myself doing so many shots an a 11-24mm has no business being used for, but I couldn’t help myself – this lens is amazing!

Flare Control

This lens is going to be the new reference lens for what can be done to keep flare under control. Despite its HUGE bulging front element, I was shocked at what an incredible job it did at keeping the flare out of control. In fact, it almost made it too hard to get flare when you really want it!

Here’s a few unedited real world examples exactly as they came out of the camera:


Flare was extremely well contained despite this intentional direct into the sun shot


Even the slightest body adjustment could make most of the flare vanish, so you really had to work at getting serious flare


I kept trying to go to f/4 at 11mm and trip this lens up to show off bad flare, but it handled it extremely well

So if you are coming from any other lens where flare has been an issue, you’ll love how well this lens keeps it under control. Even when present plenty of contrast remains in the areas away from the source of the flare as shown above.

Real World Images

As my readers have come to expect, here’s my 100% unedited real world images with all their flaws and incredible detail. These are all straight out of the camera JPEG’s taken from a Canon 1D X with no cropping, rotating, etc - nothing. 

All images are copyright ® Ron Martinsen – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. You may click to view the in-camera originals, but you must delete them when you are done reviewing them. You may not edit, print, copy, upload or otherwise use or modify these images without written consent – yes, even the ugly ones!


f/5.6 @ 24mm is definitely the happy place for this lens - the sharpness is just insane


If you love texture, this lens is a dream lens as it is always capturing amazing texture


Even when you spread out to 11mm, the sharp image quality remains


If you can manage to get the lens on the same plane as the subject, the distortion is minimal. Here's 19mm which could be better if had used a tripod. The gallery has other exaggerated examples to demonstrate off axis distortion.


I'm not really into flower photography, but if you are then you'll enjoy this lens!


f/8 at 18mm of this tree yielded great detail


This lens is so sharp you'll constantly seek out anything you can find with lots of detail in it


The detail in the vein of the leaves and their edges was one of my may “wow” moments!


Sadly this bee wasn't around long enough for me to set my shutter speed fast enough to get a sharp shot, but I was amazed at the detail captured in the wing despite the shutter being too slow to freeze the motion


Another one of the many f/5.6 @ 22mm shots where I just get blown away by the color and sharpness of what this lens offers straight out of the camera


Even at f/5.6 the bokeh is excellent. I would normally shoot something like this at f/4, but I stayed at f/5.6 just to show off the maximum sharpness.


The old saying is that f/8 is great, well that's certainly true with this lens!


Just click and look at this shot at 100% - if you don't already own a Canon camera you'll want one now


Forget the image subject, if you have a 4k display then be sure to check out the detail of that plane flying on the left - can you imagine what's possible with this lens on a 5Ds R?!!!!


This isn't a portrait lens, but hold it head on to your subject and it will blow you away with sharp detail. Be sure to zoom in on the eye lashes!


No matter what you shoot, if you can afford this lens you will NOT be disappointed


Yeah, I lost all sense of photography and became a detail seeking junkie with this lens. Warning:This will happen to you too!


Check out the detail in the stem of this flower and the texture of the leaves


As the sun began to set, I finally hit the perfect angle to get some nice but controlled flare - notice how the contrast isn't lost in the rest of the image


Ok, I know this is a super ugly photo but I seriously was looking at this one thinking - I didn't know those leaves had that much texture when I was standing next to them!


Yes, I was shooting freakin tree bark by the end of the day! I was just having too much fun seeing what this lens can do!


I thought I had to go to medium format to get this kind of detail on tree branches like this! The DSLR is definitely not dead with this lens!


Real estate photographers will definitely appreciate the detail this lens offers


If you don't mind cropping to get the best angle on your subject, the distortion can be quite minimal (and easily correctable)


I've never bothered to take a twilight shot with a wide angle, but this one makes me wish I had the 5Ds R to do shots like this in Arizona!

You must view the images above at full size then zoom to 100% to fully appreciate them. Prints are simply incredible from pretty much any image you take with this lens.

Click here for a complete gallery of sample images.

Conclusion

I’ll have more in the 2nd part of my review, but just take my word – if you can afford this lens then pre-order now. I’m seriously looking at selling lenses, cameras and more so that I can keep this lens as it is good that even my wife has told me I should buy it. That’s never happened before, so I’m taking advantage of this opportunity to get what really is one of Canon’s finest lenses ever.

Yes, it’s better than the Nikon 14-24mm. Yes, it destroys the 8-15mm and 16-35mm (all variants). Yes, it is heavy, but like the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II – some things are worth the weight.

Believe the hype and what the pros at WPPI have said about it – this is really a game changer lens that will make you look at your other lenses and wonder why they can’t all be this good!

Where to order

Click here to learn more or order on the B&H web site. You might want to consider placing an order for a 5Ds R while you are at it as this lens definitely knows what to do with 50.6 megapixels! 

Oh, and consider getting a NEC PA Series UHD 4k display while you are at it – you’ll need a high resolution display to truly appreciate the images it creates.

Can’t afford it? Rent it from LensRentals.com at discount

This lens is a huge investment, so I realize many people won’t be able to justify the cost. The cool thing is that as of the time this was written, LensRentals.com was offering a 4 day rental for only $99!!! It’s even less with my blog reader discount!

Click here to learn about my latest discount offer from lensrentals.com, and click here to find it on their web site.

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Disclosure

If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

REVIEW: Lytro 8GB Light Field Digital Camera

Lytro 8GB Light Field Digital Camera
Lytro 8GB Light Field Digital Camera (Electric Blue)

Ever since I first heard of Lytro, I’ve been wanting to get my hands on this camera. I couldn’t imagine how something so cool could be packed into such a tiny package at such an affordable price. However, 5 minutes with this camera quickly reminded me of a saying my parents always told me – “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”.

Fortunately I’ve had a chance to review the Lytro Illum, which is a proper camera. However, this thing is the most disappointing product I’ve had in my hands since the Bower SFD926C Digital Flash!

Hands On Experience

Lytro 8GB Light Field Digital Camera (Graphite)
Lytro 8GB Light Field Digital Camera (Graphite)

At first things seemed very promising as the shape is really cool and the rear touch screen seemed pretty neat. My wife loved the form factor and the promise of after the fact focusing made her very interested in testing it out. However, after seeing the images on the computer she quickly quipped that her iPhone takes better photos than that – I agree!

The screen is so tiny and low resolution that it is darn near useless outdoors, and even indoors you need to have perfect vision to see the low res rear screen. Once you do, you are treated to a very tricky user interface, but you eventually get used to it because there’s almost no features that you can control. Simply put, this is a point and shoot that offers very little manual control. If it took great photos that could be refocused after the fact, that’d be great, but a majority of the photos I tested after the fact couldn’t be refocused. In fact, of all the photos I took, only the few ugly ones below were refocusable.

The one positive thing I can say is that it was so easy to use that my 5 year old and 13 year old could easily point and shoot with it – sadly they failed to get more than one photo that was refocusable.

Sample Images

The quality of all the images I took with this camera sucked – big time – but these sucked the least:

Yes, I agree they suck too, but you should have seen the ones I didn't show you - ugh! Now before you blame the photographer, check out my Lytro Illum review. This camera was so bad that I just wasn’t inspired to do much else with it.

Conclusion

While the form factor is very cool, in the history of every product I’ve ever reviewed on this blog, this has to be in the top 2 or 3 of the worst products ever tested. There is no mention of it on the Lytro website anymore, so I suspect they agree that it isn’t worth mentioning either.

There is one good thing to come out of reviewing this product - I can now judge the trustworthiness of other websites and sources by their opinion of this camera. In my opinion, anyone that says it was good is a person I won’t be trusting for an honest opinion in the future. Don’t believe me, try it for yourself but be sure to keep the box in good shape so you can return it.

Where to order

Don’t! I can’t in good faith even put a link for you to order as I would not recommend this product to anyone. Instead, if you are interested in this technology check out the real light field camera – the Lytro Illum.

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Disclosure

If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Learn where my Lytro Illum Review has moved -

 

THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN RE-WRITTEN AND NOW LIVES AT http://www.ronmartblog.com/2015/03/lytro-illum-light-field-camera.html

 

Lytro Illum Light Field Digital Camera
Lytro Illum Light Field Digital Camera

 

March 26, 2015 Update: I made a mistake

Prior to reviewing the Lytro I had incorrect assumptions about its purpose and what it could do due to a lot of bad information I had previously read or heard. My assumption was that it was primarily a camera where you could shoot first and set the focus and aperture later. Videos like this one by Lytro helped to reaffirm that after the fact refocusing was the primary purpose. While that is certainly a feature, the primary purpose is for generating 3D images that Lytro likes to call “Living Pictures”.

When I review a product I first begin by trying to experience a product the way a typical user would do – with all the preconceptions that go along with it. This meant that I began by opening the box, reading the manual (which didn’t say much) and exploring the camera by checking out all of its features.

I’ve been developing software for over twenty years and much of the work I’ve done has been user interface related. This work has taught me that despite our best efforts, people don’t read our documentation unless we did something wrong. As a result, I’ve always challenged myself and my team to design products which are as foolproof as possible.

The reality is that for every choice you make you’ll find it is completely intuitive and awesome for 50% of the people you test it with, and the other 50% will not find it intuitive at all. As a result, the challenge becomes building something that offers options that as many people as possible will understand while not being too dumbed down for the advanced user and not being too intimidating to the beginner. It is these compromises which make or break a product, and for hardware products it is even harder as the cost of goods and packaging make even more compromises necessary to deliver a good value.

The Original Lytro was an example of a product that made too many compromises to keep the cost low and dumb down the product in order to introduce the world to light field camera technology.  It was an example of too many tradeoffs that resulted in a product that I really think is a big reason why there are misconceptions about what this camera is designed do.

Fast forward to now with the introduction of the Illum, and you have a product that should probably have been the first Lytro light field camera because it offers the tools needed to build a proper 3D image – which is really what this product is about. Sadly the ability to refocus and choose the aperture after the fact caused misinformation about its purpose and I fell victim to that hype.

I’ve re-written this article to help spread that word about what this product is and isn’t, so I encourage you to CLICK HERE to read what I should have written the first time.

To be clear, this is an action I am taking on my own with no pressure or request from anyone. I pride myself on writing reviews that are honest and trustworthy, but I made a mistake I think others are likely to make based on the current misinformation about this product.

The new article can be found at http://www.ronmartblog.com/2015/03/lytro-illum-light-field-camera.html.

Where to order

Click here to learn more or order it on the B&H web site.

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Disclosure

If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Big Price Drops from Canon and new Coupon Codes

Click here to see the newsletter with all of the deals this week. Here’s an example of just a few, but more are included in the newsletter…

Canon 5D Mark III Instant Rebate & 2% Reward


$300 off plus free extras (1 option includes a printer & case)

See my review of this product

This offer expires on March 28, 2015

Canon 7D Closeout Sale


Save up to $850


This offer expires on While supplies last

Athentech Perfectly Clear Special Offer

Athentech Perfectly Clear Special Offer
Save 10% off Athentech Perfectly Clear with Coupon Code: RONMART

Where to order

Click here to see the newsletter with rest of the deals this week

Disclosure

If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.