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Ren Ng PP PhotoAustralian Ren Ng,31, studied engineering at Stanford University and obtained a Ph.D for his thesis “Digital Light Field Photography” submitted to the university in 2006. His seminal thesis was awarded the ACM World’s Best Doctoral Dissertation in Computer Science and Engineering by the Association of Computation Machinery (ACM). This thesis also received the Arthur Samuel Award for Best PhD Dissertation (Stanford University, Computer Science department).

Light field is not a new discipline. Light field has actually researched in hallowed academic circles for over a hundred years. Researcher Arun Gershun coined the terminology in 1936 in a paper which defined light field as “radiance[, and] as a function of position and direction in regions of space free of occluders. In free space, the light field is a 4D function – scalar or vector depending on the exact definition employed.”  In 1996, Professors Marc Levoy and Pat Hanrahan introduced light field to computer graphics.[2] Dr Ng’s research has led him to successfully miniaturize micro-lenses and fit them inside a typical handheld camera. This development is paving the way for commercialization of a light field camera.

How did Ren get into thinking about light field photography when he was studying engineering?Stanford-Multi-Camera-Array One day, he was asked to photography a friend’s vivacious 5 year old daughter. The near impossibility of capturing a fleeting smile from a very active girl made him ponder if there were a camera which would allow him to shoot first, focus later. This was the spark of genius that led to the development of the Lytro camera. At that time he was pursuing his graduate studies. At Stanford, light field technology was a massive device comprised of an array of 100 digital cameras linked to super computers. This apparatus filling a room just wouldn’t do. Wouldn’t be practical.

ren-ng Mamiya LF camera_LaregeSpurred by the genius of an idea, Ren began to study optics and worked with electrical and mechanical engineering professors. Ren worked with Pat Hanrahan, Mark Horowitz and Marc Levoy. Through in-depth  study and research, Ren successfully created micro-lenses small enough to be inserted in a Mamya 645 medium format digital camera, creating his first prototype. These micro-lenses break an image into individual light rays to be recorded on digital camera chip.[3]

Ren likened light field technology to the retina. Within human field of vision, images of various subjects and scenes float on the retina and can be brought into focus on demand. This is the principle behind the shoot first, focus later technology. This is how the Lytro camera revolution began.[4]

Lytro-logoLytro company started solo with Ren. His endeavour has grown to a core team of over 45 engineers, putting together a competitively priced camera for consumers. The company has raised $50 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Grelock Partners, NEA and K9 Ventures, and other venture capitalists.[8]

Lytro hopes its camera would enable people never miss a moment. Now you can snap once and focus later to get the perfect picture.

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Lytro camera capabilities will include:

  • Shoot now, focus later. People will no longer be disappointed by a picture that turns out focused on the wrong subject, such as the wall instead of a child’s smile. Lytro pictures can be flawlessly focused to one’s liking — days, weeks, even years after they’re taken.
  • Unparalleled speed: Since the camera doesn’t focus before a photo is taken, people will no longer miss important moments due to the conventional delay of the lens autofocusing as you press the shutter button.
  • Living pictures. Lytro creates interactive, living pictures that will engage and delight those who experience them online via social media networks, mobile phones, blogs, etc. Viewers can immerse themselves in a living picture to discover and focus in on new details by simply clicking on different parts of a picture. No software download is required.
  • Low-light sensitivity. By using all of the available light in a scene, light field cameras can capture better pictures in remarkably low light environments without use of a flash.
  • Immersive 3D. Using the full light field, Lytro cameras provide an immersive 3D picture that goes beyond the conventional stereo 3D by, for example, controlling the perspective view of a scene.” [1]Endquote

Boy-o-boy, I can’t wait. This Lytro camera is transformational. Ren is brilliant.

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Advertisement Clip: Lytro: The Start of a Picture Revolution

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RELATED POSTS:
1. Lytro Light Field Camera: Camera of the Future?

2. More About Light Field Camera.
3. Adobe Light Field Lens Cluster, circa February 2008

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References
1. Lytro Redefines Photography with Light Field Cameras
2. Light fields and Computational Photography
3. The Making of Lytro
4. Ren Ng Shares His Photographic Vision: Shoot Now, Focus Later
5. Lytro Widely Annouces Its Technology
6. Lytro: About _ Ren Ng Bio
7. Lytro Light Field Camera Turns Light Into Living Pictures
8. …Lytro’s US$50 Million is Bigger and Worth Every Penny.

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