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Bēhance

HFS #2: The Lytro Camera

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  • What is that? Despite the fact that almost an entire side of that red prism above is a lens, it is not inherently evident that the device is indeed a camera. I stumbled upon this cool little gadget when my beloved Cannon SureShot broke tragically in a beach accident and I was searching for its replacement. Scarred by the apparently frailty of my SureShot and reminiscent of it's fun features (color swap, color accent, etc.), I was looking for something robust and tiny enough to act as my documenter for any adventure, but also intelligent enough to capture the exact feeling that I desired in any image. 

    It was practically fate when I found the Lytro - in a nutshell, it's a tiny digital camera that allows the user to take instantaneous pictures and focus the image later on his or her computer. That's right that means no dealing with modes or settings - in fact the only three controls are a power button, a shutter button, a zoom slider, and a touch screen. Plus a small USB port to upload your pics to your favorite computer (as the Lytro is now compatible with both Mac and Windows). And for adventurers everywhere, there is no need to worry about shutter lag (users report about 1.3 seconds between shots on average)  because it is capturing multiple focal points at once. For my purposes, this is exactly the simplicity that a travel camera should have. 

    However, there is something that really irks me about the ergonomics of the Lytro camera. I love how small it is, but the telescope-like shape of it is rather awkward for usability purposes. Given the dimensions of the camera (1.61 in x 1.61 in x 4.41 in) and it's mere 7.51 oz. weight, I debated if this was simply an unfamiliarity issue on my end - in which case perhaps the shape made perfect sense for the unique capabilities of this device. So since I didn't have $400 to shell out for something I wasn't sure about, I prototyped the experience using a case of staples, brandishing it around my house like I was a CSI investigator looking for hidden crime scene clues. 

  • I came to the conclusion that while a C-grip hold does well on a telescope, something about it feels plane wrong when what your holding must be a good 10 in. from your face. After thinking about it for a bit, I realized that this flaw was due not to the anatomy of the human hand - in fact, the shape works quite nicely for that purpose - but rather, to the anatomy of the neck. In other words, holding the little rectangular box and clicking on an imaginary shutter botton felt just fine in my hand, but once I took into account that I would realistically have to hold it such that I could view the tiny nano-iPod sized touch screen on the end of the camera in order to frame my image, my neck would always try to retract to account for the odd angle. I see that Lytro was probably trying to make a product that could be easily functioned with one hand, but the tradeoff here was that this made it difficult for the user to actually frame their desired picture without contorting their upper body.

    I also think that this may be a product of trying to make most of the UI based around a very tiny touchscreen. This is essentially the reason that one must hold the camera at that awkward length away from their face when zoning in on their pictorial prey. However, the implementation of a touchscreen does not seem to have much purpose other than to appear caught up with the average modern technological interface. In fact, many reviewers go on to argue that it is simply too small and "grainy" resolution to meet their LCD touchscreen standards and let them properly view what they are shooting. Nevertheless, there is something to be said for the functionality of the touchscreen UI. It turns on light speed (okay, maybe more like 1 second) with a tap of the power button to show the image currently in view. A swipe up brings the user to a display of battery life and memory usage, and a swipe to the right displays previously captured images. Currently there is no "all in focus" feature, only an "everyday mode" (which automatically chooses an initial focal point) and a "creative mode" (which allows the user to choose an initial focal point). Note that It is rumored there will soon be an "all in focus feature", though.
  • WOW! Look at how easy the Lytro makes it to get two really different and uniquely cool pieces from just one image!
  • Once I had that "Aha!" moment of why exactly the ergonomics bothered me, I thought long and hard about how I would redesign the Lytro camera. I wanted to keep all the things about it like it's simplicity of controls, small size and weight, ergonomic fit for the hand, and of course it's amazing capability to capture all of the light and direction of that light within each capture (i.e. what let's you refocus later on the computer). But I wanted to revamp it with a different shape to accomodate the ergonomics of the neck and how the fit in the hand would interact with the rest of the upper body, as well as adding a couple other features that I think would maximize it's technological breakthroughs. 

    In terms of ergonomics and shape, I think that first we must evaluate the need for a touchscreen UI. Impulsively I wanted to completely nix it and optimize the picture-taking-moment functionality. I thought that reverting to the "old fashioned" notion of a camera that you would actually place at your eye and look through a lens was the end-all solution. Not only does it eliminate the issues I found with angling one's head to view the screen effectively, but it also solved the problem of the LCD image being too small to give user's a feel for the previewed image. Since the eye works in such a way that minimizing the view of one's lens automatically allows one to view things within their given range with more clarity. (You can try this at home! Just make a fist with a small opening and look through it with one eye while the other is closed. Try to focus on a far away object - you'll see that your fist-lens actually helps clarify the image!) 

    More thinking led me to a reluctant acceptance that we couldn't just get rid of a UI interface, not this day in age at least. Realistically most people today are quite use to touchscreen interaction and would probably get too confused or overwhelmed by too many manual controls (we'll leave that to the shutter and power buttons). Thus my solution was to add in the manual lens for use when actually taking a picture, but to have a touchscreen UI just below it that could be "locked" and "unlocked" to avoid accidental pressing of controls by an unaware nose or cheek. Additionally, I would like the UI to provide a left swipe that would allow the user to switch to a digital view of the previewed image so that the user could choose between that and the manual lens on their own accord. Lastly, I would like to add a down swipe that would allow for a self timer - I just really love that feature in my cameras in general. 

    Below are some diagrams of my proposed redesign of the Lytro camera. 
  • My Lytro camera redesign!
  • Granted, I do not know enough about the inner workings of the Lytro camera to state with full confidence that my proposals are all feasible, but based on what is currently out there on the camera market I have a hunch it's pretty doable. And although I have stated my qualms with the design of the camera, I do admit that I am absolutely blown away by it's technological advancements. Since I have found some sources that state the Lytro may have some new features in the near future (WiFi capabilities and an "all in focus" mode in particular, but I'm hoping for some color swap/color accent type of modes and a self timer, too), I may just wait out my desire for a new travel camera until the I find the perfect one - but I have to say, I am super tempted by the Lytro!