I had the opportunity to handle and shoot a bit with the new Light L16 camera at an event in New York last week while I was in town for PhotoPlus. The event seemed to be put on for Light L16 pre-order customers and some industry and press members. While there, I was able to walk around with a Light L16 to try it out.
My first impression was that it was a little bigger than I expected. It’s probably not fair but I imagined something close to a large cell phone; however, the L16 is definitely bulkier in length and girth. That said, I still was able to carry it in my back pocket – although that’s probably not something I would recommend if you are shelling out $2,000 for one of these on pre-order.
I’ve watched Light from afar over the past couple of years. I haven’t followed along with every bit of the news and announcements that have happened since it was originally shown as a pre-order campaign. At the time, I thought the camera was going to be the next big thing and would shake the camera industry once again. After using it for an hour or so, I’m less sure of that.
To be clear, I’m thoroughly impressed with the technology inside the Light L16 camera. I just don’t know if the market needs (or even wants) this camera.
The camera is easy enough to operate. You don’t feel the wild computational image capture happening as you frame your shots and press the shutter button. Mostly, it feels like you are shooting with a large phone. Image review is similar as well – tap, swipe and zooming all work seamlessly with the touchscreen.
There are some mild editing abilities on the camera; however, nothing allows you to take advantage of the incredible computational imaging power available in the L16’s photos. To get the most out of the camera, you have to connect it to a computer (there’s no memory card slot) and download the images from the built-in L16 storage.
Once you’ve got the images on the computer, you can then use Light’s Lumen desktop application to make a number of rather amazing adjustments. Light’s specs identify the adjustments as:
- Process photos
- Adjust depth of field
- Edit depth
- Adjust focal plane (coming soon)
I had limitied opportunity to observe and use this software. However, it appeared to operate mostly the way we are accustomed to editing photos in other applications. It had basic image adjustment controls but what sets it apart is the ability to customize the depth of field.
This is possible thanks to the 16 camera and lens modules on the Light L16. Every image shot with the L16 uses at least 10 of its cameras to shoot a single 52MP photo. Using the data from those images, the Lumen software allows you to manipulate the photos to give the look of shooting with a 35mm lens at f/1.4 or f/16. Soon, you’ll be able to adjust the focal plane as well – similar to what we’ve seen from the Lytro cameras that never really took off.
The problem with the Light L16 is that is astounding technology but you need a computer to get the most out of it.
When I first tried out the L16, I reviewed the first image I shot in-camera and dug around the menus so I could manipulate the depth of field. This is, after all, the key attaction of this camera. After asking a Light staff member for some guidance, I was met with disappointment that I couldn’t really do anything with these photos.
And there’s the rub.
The people that are reading the this blog are likely willing to dive into L16 and take on the learning curve of a new software application. However, Light doesn’t want to jump into the DSLR marketplace and fight amongst Canon, Nikon and Sony in a bloodbath premium market. Light wants to take on Apple and Samsung for the attention of the masses. The L16 simply can’t be that camera because the user friction is too great.
While the 52MP image quality may be stunning (or not), the comparative quality of iPhone and flagship Android cameras are “good enough” for most of the market. Moreover, the computational imaging capability in devices like the iPhone 8+, the Huawei Mate 9 and like are, again, good enough for the consumer market.
I’m afraid if the Light L16 can’t deliver the ultimate imaging from inside the camera it is all but dead on arrival. If you can’t deliver your bokelicious images from the L16 to Instagram, then it leaves much to be desired as an option for the masses.
I left the Light event scratching my head a bit. Maybe Light gets there and gives us all the camera that the L16 hopes to be. Maybe it takes a generation or two. Or, maybe Light’s not really interested in making a piece of hardware that it sells to millions of consumers. Perhaps Light is more likely to take this tech as far as it can before the company is acquired by Apple, Samsung or some other tech giant. An acquisition may make the most sense as a company goal. If Apple, Samsung, Sony or whoever can shrink the tech down to a phone-sized package, they could get the next leg up on the competition.
Unfortunately, I think the dream that Light is dreaming is a little to big for the small company to achieve in today’s camera market. And I hope I’m wrong.