I ran across this blog post discussing a new kind of camera technology that will prove interesting, if not a bit gimmicky… Light-field cameras, or “Plenoptic” Cameras. Lytro makes a consumer targeted product, while Raytrix produces a professional-minded product.
I have some reservations about all of this, because some people will be expecting things to remain, largely, like they already are. They will expect to be able to print, share, edit, and save these images in much the same way we do any digital photo. None of this is true. Sure, if your only focus is to post all your worldly photos on Facebook, it will work wonderfully. Who really wants to do that with everything they shoot? Exactly. Nobody but teenagers who have yet to learn that some things don’t need to be shared.
The Raytrix cameras boast the ability to make 3D images without multiple lenses (like the recent 3D cell-phone cameras) and no need to refocus during shooting video. This is true, but what use is a 3D video if it will be at such a low resolution that any modern 3D-TV will make it look downright laughable. For $3,500, I had better be able to at least get full HD resolution (1920 x 1080) and a proper aspect ratio. You can get the resolution with their more expensive models, but even they are limited to 7.25 megapixels.
As near as I can tell (these companies seem to be purposely avoiding the discussion of image size, and the post-shot process) you will not really be able to do much in the way of advanced editing. The advantages are big though, they are the first true point and shoot cameras; with no worry about shutter speeds, focusing, or other time-consuming tasks.
So, in short, it is a technology that needs to be watched. It will eventually evolve into something that can give us what we expect out of all cameras today, with the advantage of not having to worry about the focusing issues. Until that happens, it’s just not practical for anyone who is more serious about their photography/video projects.
One side-effect of this technology is that exposure time (shutter speed) becomes less of an issue as well, with so much light being gathered. This is reflected in the design of the Lytro device with the lack of advanced options for shooting. You cannot choose to keep the sensor active longer (for gathering the light required to take astrology photos for instance, or night-time photos.) I am afraid that may eventually lead to exposure timing becoming an option in only the most premium (expensive) models.