A recent article in the New York Times reveals that Lytro, a Mountain View, CA startup, plans to release a lightfield camera into the point-and-shoot consumer market later this year, allowing professional and amateur photographers to "take shots first and focus later."
With $50 million in venture funding, the company is led by Ren Ng, a Stanford University Ph.D. who wrote his thesis on the subject of lightfield cameras. His work and that of others are described in the March 2008 Vision Systems Design article Sharply Focused.
Several research organizations and machine vision camera manufacturers have developed lightfield cameras, including Stanford, MIT, Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs, Raytrix, and Point Grey Research. Like traditional cameras, lightfield cameras gather light using a single lens. However, by placing an array of lens elements at the image plane, the structure of light impinging on different sub-regions of the lens aperture can be captured.
By capturing data from these multiple sub-regions, software-based image-processing techniques can be used to select image data from any sub-region within the aperture. In this way, images can be recreated that represent views of the object from different positions, recreating a stereo effect. Better still, if the scene depth is calculated from the raw image, each pixel can be refocused individually to give an image that is in focus everywhere.
An interactive photo from the Lytro website gives an idea of the potenial uses of lightfield cameras (hint: click on an area of the image to focus). And there will be a Facebook app.