LIGHT FIELD PHOTOGRAPHY (Future of Photography?)

You should’ve probably heard of photography which is quite popular and creative field. It exists in many forms and types but on the technical level they are similar. Light Field Photography differs from conventional photography technically in many ways. Let’s learn what it is and how it works.

Let’s dive into some history. Light Field capture was first proposed in 1908 by Nobel Laureate physicist Gabriel Lippmann. He used to call this new technique as “integral photography“. He used an array of lenses to capture images of an object from multiple different perspectives in a single exposure on one sheet of film. But back then, the equipments were not as advanced as they are today and they also lacked the ability to convert a 3D space picture to a conventional 2D image with refocusing abilities.(we’ll talk about it later)

How does a Light Field Camera work?

The camera which is used in light field photography is known as ‘Plenoptic‘ camera. This type of camera consists an array of microlenses between the image sensor and the main lens.

Light Field camera’s internal structure. Source:- MIT Technology review

But how does it work? In which way it is different from a conventional camera. Well, to answer this you have to understand how a normal camera works. Conventional(normal) cameras consists of a main lens and an image sensor(2D) behind the main lens and captures only the intensity of light coming from the space in front of the camera in a single exposure. That means it only captures the rays of light irrespective of their direction and depth, thus creating a 2D image. After the photo has been taken, you can’t change the focal length and change or shift the focus to a different object other than which is already focused.

And that’s where a Plenoptic camera comes into action. It captures not only the intensity of light hitting the image sensor but it also captures the amount of light coming to the sensor through each ray of light(from different directions). This job is done by an array of microlenses placed in front of the image sensor.

A diagram explaining the fundamentals of light field photography published in a research paper by Stanford University.

Each microlens forms a tiny sharp image of the lens aperture, measuring the directional distribution of light at that microlens. This is represented in the image above.

With the help of a specialized software this data is converted to a 2D conventional image which can be refocused.

You can never see the raw image from the sensor. It needs a lot of processing before it can be viewed and that’s why these cameras cost so much.

An image which can be refocused published in this research paper by Stanford University.

What are the Drawbacks?

Commercial photographers don’t find light field camera useful till now because the refocusing capability of light field photography comes at the cost of image resolution. The image resolution which we get from a plenoptic camera is much less as compared to a conventional 2D camera. It significantly reduces the horizontal and vertical resolution. Also this technology is not economic because it demands a much higher cost. Yeah no doubt it has refocusing capabilities but in photography image resolution plays a much important role. A camera manufacturer company named Lytro was shutdown due to failure of it’s light field cameras which demanded a much higher cost at a lower resolution.

What’s the future of this technology?

Light Field Technique to capture photos is itself a quite interesting and useful technique but it demands a lot of development and research. What about implementing this tech in smartphones? As far as I know this tech will not be implemented in smartphones unless AI comes into action. The hardware required for this technology requires a lot of space and that is the major limitation of smartphones. The smartphone manufacturers have to miniaturize the hardware(if possible) in order to do so. If this technology cannot be implemented on hardware front, well who knows that AI(Artificial Intelligence) could do that. In the world of technology there are unlimited possibilities. One day we might see it implemented in our smartphones making them even more ‘smarter‘ than before.

Now that does not mean that this technology has no potential. It’s a wonderful technology that can bring a revolution in the world of tech as well as photography. Many companies are already developing light field cameras but as of now they are not very common among photographers. They are only for industrial use. This technology has many applications in medical field also. Let’s see how far can we go into developing this amazing tech.

That’s all for now. See you soon in the next blog, till then WASH YOUR HANDS.

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