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Photography is a world primarily dominated by Canon, Nikon and, to a lesser extent, Sony for decades. Photographers are loyal to their brands like dogs to their master. Who hasn’t gotten into an argument with someone that shoots with a brand other than yours? Breaking into this ultra-competitive world is a tough move with photographers so entrenched in their own brands. However, forward-thinking Lytro just might be on the verge of changing photography as we know it with their newest creation – the Illum. While they won’t be making users dump their top end DSLRs just yet, Lytro’s offering is one of the coolest cameras on the market.

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The Illum is cutting edge – so much so that it looks like it might be straight from a sci-fi movie. It’s big and heavy, but still stylish. It stands out from the drab DSLR bodies we have all been accustomed to. Lytro has been pioneering the field of light field photography, which is a new way of capturing images. The science has been around for almost a century, but only recent technological advances have made it feasible to use. Unlike typical cameras, which only freeze an image at an exact moment in time and space, Lytro’s Illum takes into account the direction that light is traveling in a scene and makes a three dimensional rendering of the capture. What does this mean, exactly? For one, you can focus your image after the fact. No more lining up autofocus points. Just set up your composition, shoot and focus later. Your shutter will never be half pressed again. If you can’t decide on how to focus your image, just export it in 3D and see your photo beyond the depths of anything you’ve shot before.

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The Illum comes with a massive 30-250 mm lens that can shoot its entire range at f/2 which offers the photographer almost unparalleled versatility. The lens does bulk up the camera to the point that single-handed use is almost out of the question. The Illum’s shutter can pop as fast as 1/4000th allowing users to freeze action moments without significant motion blur. One of my favorite features of this camera and lens is the ability to focus on objects that are within millimeters of the lens itself. This brings macro photography into an entirely new world.

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The Illum comes with a hefty price of $1,300 (about the same as Canon’s 6D body) and is a fun toy for higher end photographers to get a glimpse at what the future of digital photography could end up being like. As awesome as this camera is, there are some noteworthy downfalls. The Illum is not fast, there is no burst mode per se, and every image takes a decent amount of time to process – mainly because it captures so much data with each shot (Lytro’s RAW images will all be around 50mb). It also requires photographers to rethink how they compose a scene. For some, this is a fun challenge, but others will simply not want to adapt to the subtle differences that a light field camera forces one into. There’s no viewfinder, but the Illum does come with a beautiful 4-inch touch display. Finally – and this may be the Illum’s biggest downfall – the lens has no built in image stabilization, making it nearly impossible to shoot at a long focal length without a sturdy tripod or the most stable hands on the planet.

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Regardless, the Illum offers us a glimpse of the future. Whether or not it delivers on that future is up for debate.

Featured image: Cuved

Article images: Lytro

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