Spotlight, where we tell stories about Light

L16 Update (February 2017)

We’re going to keep this update short and sweet ;)

The L16 is out in the wild. Cameras from our EVT1 builds have been circling the globe for the past two months, taking incredible photos along the way. You’ll see some of the photography we’re most proud of on our social media accounts in the coming weeks. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram to catch the latest.

Paris, captured by Bradley Lautenbach Paris, captured by Bradley Lautenbach
Yosemite, captured by Kelly Van Arsdale Yosemite, captured by Kelly Van Arsdale

Our internal beta testing has already led to several major improvements in device performance and image quality. External beta testing is scheduled to begin in the next few weeks. If you applied to participate in our beta testing program, keep an eye on your email inbox.

In mid-March we’ll begin the DVT1 build of L16s. Devices from this batch of cameras will be submitted for certification by the various standards bodies and government agencies (FCC, etc). Once those certifications are granted, we will move quickly into the PVT1 build which will immediately transition into mass production.

Once the DVT1 build is underway and yielding positive results, we will be able to share a more detailed schedule for mass production. Our hope is to start sharing more granular shipping estimates around that time as well.

In the meantime, check out our CEO, Dave, talking to Quartz about the imminent revolution in computational photography.

  1. EVT/DVT/PVT defined in this blog post

Light's camera technology explained

Our cofounders, Dave and Rajiv, have sat for several interviews recently to dive deeper into Light's camera technology. Highlights below, but we encourage you to read the articles in their entirety.

Ina Fried, who interviewed the team for re/code, wrote:

From a small space in Palo Alto, Calif., startup Light is looking to turn the camera industry on its head
...

Light tries to emulate digitally what a big zoom lens does through expensive glass lenses. It aggregates the data from the different cameras to create both optical zoom and high-resolution images. Light has applied for a bunch of patents to cover aspects of its approach, including creating zoom using images from the multiple fixed-focal-length lenses.

David Etchells, writing for Imaging Resource, said during the interview, "So it sounds like so far you're kind of describing the perfect camera..." He went on:

Bottom line, there's always a lot of distance between a concept and the ultimate products, with a lot of pitfalls along the way, but the concepts here all seem very sound, and eminently achievable with current technology. And the Light team has an incredible pedigree of very successful tech startups that brought revolutionary technology to market. I don't think I quite agree with Rajiv that there won't be any full-frame DSLRs in 10 years time, but it seems clear that Light's technology could revolutionize smartphone photography, and further squeeze traditional cameras in the process.

Over at Extreme Tech, David Cardinal summed up our conversation, asking whether Light is building a superphone or a supercamera:

Light is clearly targeting the high-end smartphone market with its product strategy. It has announced that manufacturing giant Foxconn will be using its camera module in some of its high-end smartphones. The team makes a compelling case that smartphone companies are running out of ways to differentiate on the high-end, so adding $60-$80 to the cost of a phone (which means about $150-$200 to the price) is entirely plausible. Qualcomm Executive Chairman Paul Jacobs is a board member and investor, so the company clearly has some supporters in the right places in the industry supply chain to help make adoption of its camera in smartphones a reality.

As a photographer, though, I’m actually looking to see if non-phone vendors start to get interested. The point-and-shoot market continues to tank, and the DSLR and mirrorless markets certainly aren’t doing all that well. But they still represent over 100 million cameras sold every year. What if someone built a camera that sold for $400 and could replace a $2,000 DSLR and $1,000 lens, but fit in your pocket? It could have real camera controls (something smartphones don’t), jack for a remote mic, a nice flash, and an Electronic Viewfinder. Light even has a slightly-larger prototype that can zoom to 150mm, enough for most photography needs. Recreating the depth-of-field effects and bokeh that come with larger sensors will be a challenge, but Light claims to have ways to address that as well. In other words, it could be an amazing camera for serious photographers, not just a feature on a high-end phone. Either way, I’m looking forward to getting a Light-enabled device to shoot with when they start shipping modules in 2016.

reveal roundup

On Friday, we revealed the Light camera technology to the MIT Technology Review. Rachel Metz wrote:

Most digital cameras are limited by a key aspect of their design: they have one lens and one image sensor. Light hits the lens and is directed at the sensor to produce a picture. A photography startup called Light is not making most digital cameras, though.

Rather than hewing to this one-to-one ratio, Light aims to put a bunch of small lenses, each paired with its own image sensor, into smartphones and other gadgets. They’ll fire simultaneously when you take a photo, and software will automatically combine the images. This way, Light believes, it can fit the quality and zoom of a bulky, expensive DSLR camera into much smaller, cheaper packages—even phones.

That story triggered a wave of follow-up pieces, and we've enjoyed receiving email from so many of you who are so interested in what we're working on. While we don't have much more to say for the time being, we thought we'd pull together some of the other material written in the past few days.

Over at Extreme Tech, David Cardinal wrote:

With Apple’s acquisition of array-camera startup Linx in the news this week, Palo Alto startup Light has quietly started leaking out information about its much-more-ambitious efforts in the same area.

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As a practical application, imagine having several small cameras on the back of your phone, each with different focal lengths or focus settings, and then having the GPU on the phone assemble the best possible image of whatever you were looking at in whatever way you wanted.

AJ Dellinger did a Q&A with Light cofounders Dave Grannan and Rajiv Laroia on the implications of the Light technology for smartphone users. Writing for The Daily Dot:

Grannan also thinks the additional power of the Light camera will eliminate the need for photo editors that populate most people’s phones. “Posting photos to social media has been a garbage-in-garbage-out process. If we can drastically improve the material going in by providing great imagery, the need for filters goes away and the overall experience is improved.”

...

Light wants to push photography to a point where people will want to see the high-res versions of images instead of a lower quality one caked in virtual makeup.

“Light cameras will put an end to the ‘good enough’ photos being produced by most smartphones today,” Laroia said. “We don’t think people should trust their memories to ‘good enough.’”

Dave Etchells over at Imaging Resource:

Smartphones have pretty much devoured the point & shoot camera market, but their somewhat wide-angle lenses and inability to zoom has left room in the market for pocket cameras. Looking upmarket, smartphones' (usually) itty-bitty sensors haven't been any kind of a challenge to higher-end cameras when it comes to image quality.

Image quality and zoom might not be such big stumbling blocks in the near future, though, thanks to technology from startup company called Light, who have only just now beginning to talk about their technology publicly.

Light's approach is built around two key concepts: Make up for the small size of smartphone sensors simply by having more of them, and substitute an array of different focal length "prime" lenses for the digicam's zoom. Shots from multiple camera modules are stitched together into a higher resolution image via fancy software, bringing not only significantly better image quality, but also some capabilities reminiscent of Lytro's "light field photography."

...

It seems that Light isn't focused (no pun intended :-) solely on smartphones though; they referred to the 16-module array shown above as something that might be used in a self-driving car or a home security camera. Still, Light has the words "reimagine photography" emblazoned on their home page, so it seems that photography is a big part of their plans.

And at Peta Pixel, Michael Zhang wrote:

And get this: Light has reportedly signed a licensing and investment deal with Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer that plays a huge role in Apple’s manufacturing.

So things are getting interesting in this space. In just one week, we’ve learned that Apple and one of its main manufacturers have both jumped into the world of multi-lens-and-sensor camera modules for smartphones. It looks like they believe this to be the future of smartphone photography.

We're grateful for all the attention and excited to share more soon. In the meantime, you can sign up for email updates at the top of this page (or here) and stay tuned to this site for updates!

first look at Light's camera technology

light phone

Rachel Metz of the MIT Technology Review dropped by the office last week, and penned a piece about our camera technology. She wrote:

Light is taking advantage of radical declines in the cost, weight, and size of optics that have happened as smartphones took over the cell phone market and, for many people, became their go-to camera. Unlike costly camera lenses that are made of glass, most smartphone camera lenses are made of plastic that’s stamped from molds. It is a much cheaper process, but the quality of images may not be as good. And you rarely see optical zoom squished onto a smartphone camera. Instead such devices use digital zoom—narrowing their field of focus without increasing the resolution.

I got an inkling of what Light is up to in its Palo Alto, California, office, where an open-face metal box roughly the size of a rearview mirror sat on a conference table. It contained an array of 16 camera modules with focal lengths of 35, 70, and 150 millimeters, and tiny cables sticking up in the air like tadpole tails. The modules are operational, I was told, and were meant to show the kind of array the startup envisions being used in self-driving cars or home security cameras.

David Brady, of Duke, said:

“There’s no question what they’re doing is the future of cameras.”

Check out the rest of the piece here!