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Shoot First, Set Focus Later: Lytro’s New ‘Illum’ Camera Debuts

Lytro impressed the tech world in 2012 with an ambitious camera that let the user adjust the focus (among other things) after a photo was taken. Two years later, the company is announcing a more powerful, more ergonomic and more expensive follow-up to the original.

What the camera does is difficult to describe in words, and how it does it is even more so. But essentially you take a picture more or less as normal, and instead of simply capturing a still image, Lytro minutely analyzes the light entering the camera and produces an interactive scene from it — you can change the focus from near to far, adjust the perspective, and make other tweaks. (An example is embedded at this interview with Lytro.)

An example of how a Lytro picture can have its focus shifted from the background (lady in cab) to the foreground (flowers). Lytro / YouTube

The "Illum" camera improves on the first Lytro in just about every way. The sensor is four times bigger, the lens an amazing piece of hardware, and the device itself certainly looks easier to use than the square, prism-like original. There's also new software for editing and sharing your shots.

But while these changes may be welcome, they may not get to the heart of why Lytro was not a big hit. Getting people to even understand what the camera does isn't easy, and then dealing with all-new software, explaining to family how to adjust the focus — it's a bit much for the average photographer.

The average photographer probably isn't ready to spend $1,500 on a strange new device, either. And although SLR lenses of the Illum's quality cost as much as the camera itself, pros might balk too — at the limited resolution (around 4-5 megapixels visible at any given time in the picture) and the utter unfamiliarity of composing for multiple focal points.

It's an ambitious camera, and just as risky as the first. We'll follow up with impressions once we get our hands on the device. You can read more or pre-order at Lytro's website.