Lytro welcomes potential competitors

Jason Gilbert
Yahoo! News
'Focus Later' Camera Snaps New Features
The Lytro camera lets you create living pictures that you can endlessly refocus, shift perspective and create 3D images after shooting them. (Feb. 6)

by Jason Gilbert | @YahooTech

When the Lytro was introduced in 2011, technology journalists were stunned.

The light field camera -- which allows the viewer to refocus any part of the image after the fact -- is one-of-a-kind gadget, with no real competition or precedent in the marketplace. If you want a camera that you can focus after snapping a shot, you have no choice but to shell out the $400 for a Lytro: No other product can do what it does.

Lately, however, there have been many rumors that Lytro's unique position as the only post-hoc refocusing camera for sale is about to be challenged. Olympus, for example, is supposedly working on a camera that would allow you to focus anywhere after your photo is taken, as is Toshiba; the next Nokia Lumia smartphones will also allegedly ship with light field technology.

If Lytro -- who just pushed out an app for iPhone, and enabled Wifi connectivity in its device -- is worried about these larger companies with better name recognition, stealing their core business, however, they sure aren't showing it. Josh Anon, a Product Manager at Lytro, welcomes his rumored competitors, in fact.

"If you're the only one at a party," Anon said at a recent meeting with Yahoo News here in New York City, "then it's not really a party."

"By having this dedicated hardware, we've got a great advantage. If someone else ships [a light field camera] that's great for us, because [a buyer will say] I wanna do it better, and the way you do it better is by buying a Lytro camera."

I was a bit surprised by his assuredness that competition could only lead to more, and not less, sales for the photography upstart that currently has a monopoly within its (small) industry. So I followed up with Eric Cheng, the Director of Photography at Lytro and probably the most accomplished Lytrographer on the planet. He agreed with his colleague Anon:

"Lytro welcomes additional players to the light field photography category," Cheng wrote. "As the first to bring light field to consumers, we believe this is just the beginning of Camera 3.0 and that more players will only speed support for light field technology."

So, there you have it. Nokia, Olympus, Toshiba, Apple, Samsung, whoever: Take your best shot at Lytro. If you try to make your own light field camera, it will only shift the focus right back to them.