Nidelva river through Trondheim Norway

Nidelva river through Trondheim Norway
by Saaru Lindestokke                

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Should I buy a lytro (light field) camera or a dslr one? I know that the light field based cameras are new. Do professional photographers use it? Or will they?

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

In a decade, light-field cameras and computational photography are going to be the mainstream. As computer power gets faster, smaller, lighter, and more power-efficient, the advantages will exceed optics — maybe not completely in a decade, and probably not in every case in a hundred years, but there will be a crossing point.

But the current technology on the market — the Lytro — is essentially a toy camera serving as a tech preview. You'd buy it in order to tell your grandkids that you had the first camera of that type. It doesn't really do anything useful right now: the images it makes are postage-stamp sized, and the nifty tricks the camera offers only work when you upload the images to the company's special web site. You can't really do anything yourself.

They've promised an SDK but as of Spring 2012 that has not yet materialized. If you're a hacker (in the original sense), you might find that interesting and productive when available. But even then, it'll be more about playing with the technology than getting real photographic results.

That doesn't mean a DSLR is necessarily the only option for good results. You may also be interested in a small-sensor compact camera, or a large-sensor "mirrorless" camera, with or without interchangeable lenses.

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It really depends on what kind of photography you want to do, but I would personally avoid a light field camera at present because it is such new technology. Remember the first range of camcorders that came out - they were shoulder mounted behemoths with ancillary battery packs. Now you get full HD widescreen camcorders that fit in the palm of your hand. So, I suspect, will it be with light field cameras - give it 5 years and they will be half the price and twice as good.

The image quality with current light field cameras is nowhere near as good as a DSLR, and you have none of the flexibility afforded by interchangeable lenses or control of all the other photographic variables like shutter speed etc.

There may come a time when light field technology replaces traditional cameras, but I think it will be little more than a sideshow for some years to come. Personally, I think it has more of a use in, say, mobile phone photography than any serious application.

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Buy a DSLR or similar.

The only reason to buy a light field camera instead of an SLR is if the LFC's special abilities suit your needs very very precisely indeed and if you value this ability very highly above all else. In almost every case, what the LFC can do for you can be emulated well enough functionally by many DSLR's.

Overall the current LFCs are a very poor alternative to almost any DSLR except in their one specialist niche.

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If you purchase a DSLR you are able to emulate the features of the Lytro camera to an extent by following this guide: Camera Hack: DOF-Changeable Photos with a DSLR :

The gist is that we created a similar effect using a basic digital SLR camera and shooting video (getting depth-of-field information by capturing it over time instead of over space as Lytro does)

The main downside of this is that the camera will not be able to take moving shots.

Hope that helps!

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