Ever since I started working in cinematic Virtual Reality I have fantasized about the time when cameras will evolve from optics based mechanical contraptions to sensor based computational machines. Instead of projecting light into a flat image using lenses, computational photography collects data from the environment and uses it to reconstruct the scene after the fact. I find this subject matter fascinating. In fact, I almost attended Frédo Durand’s Computational Photography class at MIT, but I got too busy fooling around with symbolic programming and pattern recognition instead. I was not surprised to find out that Frédo is an advisor for the upcoming Light L16 digital camera. It looks insane and I definitely want one.
Before we had a Light 16 we had Lytro, a company famous for their shoot-first, focus-later consumer level funny looking cameras. To my knowledge this was the first time ever a data driven photography device has ever hit the consumer market. I didn’t get one, and I didn’t get their next generation DSLR model, but I always believed the Lytro guys were up to something interesting. It made total sense to me when they announced a few months ago they had begun development of a light field camera for Virtual Reality, and I even thought they might actually be the ones to pull that off.
Later I learned Wevr had been selected as a development partner to try the first working prototypes of Lytro’s VR capture system, called Immerge, and I might get to play with it before the end of this year. It will be a great relief after a couple of years dealing with custom rigs made with GoPro cameras and the limitations and difficulties inherited from having to stitch a bunch of deformed images at the very beginning of the postproduction pipeline. And since capturing light fields delivers data instead of pictures, you can move inside the scene almost like you were actually there, instead of being limited to just look around it.
Lytro CEO Jason Rosenthal sums it up in a recent press release: “To get true live-action presence in VR, existing systems were never going to get you there. To really do this, you need to re-think it from the ground up.” I can’t agree more.