I'm not exactly an early adopter of technology, but when I heard about the Lytro Light Field Camera, my curiosity was aroused. This camera allows online viewers anywhere to manipulate the focus of a digital photograph after it's taken.
The idea behind a Light Field camera is simple: It captures a deeper sample of data, not just the light waves you focus on. The first ones, like the first computers, were huge and clunky. Recently, though, a sleek consumer model was developed by Stanford doctoral student (and Lytro founder) Ren Ng. The Lytro is shaped like a fat stick of butter, weighs mere ounces and is a great (if geeky) conversation starter.
The Lytro has a bit of a learning curve and a ways to go in picture clarity and exposure control. I took one to the high deserts of the Southwest, and on a canyoneering expedition outside of Zion National Park in Utah. My outing (with the "Red Hot" 16GB model, $499) was rife with both delight and frustration. Results were mixed but always interesting.
See for yourself. And remember that these are interactive (or, as Lytro calls them, "living") pictures. Clicking your mouse on different parts of each image will change the focus, sometimes subtly, often dramatically (double-clicking magnifies the image; double-click again to restore its original size). You'll quickly see the pros and cons of this new technology.
Colorful Navajo formations in Utah's Coyote Buttes/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness were once ancient sand dunes. (Jeff Greenwald)
A subtle but pretty difference when you click your mouse on the oak tree in the foreground, or on the cliffs of Zion National Park. (Jeff Greenwald)
Dry desert flowers against a background of high desert in the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness on the Utah/Arizona border. (Jeff Greenwald)
A dry branch in a wash along the unmarked trail to The Wave, in Utah's Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness. (Jeff Greenwald)
Prickly pear cactus in the Coyote Buttes-Vermillion Cliffs area of southern Utah. (Jeff Greenwald)
A thick chain hand-hold guides the way to Hidden Canyon, off the Hidden Pools Trail in Zion National Park, Utah. (Jeff Greenwald)
Even if you're not that interested in our canyoneering guide's ear, this is a good example of an interactive Lytro photo. (Jeff Greenwald)