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The New Lytro Paperweight for Windows, or the Tale of a Disappointed Windows User

I've written about Lytro before, the revolutionary company seeking to commercialize the light field camera that allows you to focus after the fact. But for some odd reason they are supporting only OS X users initially, promising only that Windows software will be available "sometime in 2012." Being a Windows user who pre-ordered a Lytro, I'm disappointed.

When I initially pre-ordered, the company was up front about the lack of Windows software. The word at the time was that they were working on it. Back then, the camera wasn't shipping at all yet, so this was of only passing concern. The thing was cool, I was a photographer as well as a bit of a geek, and I pre-ordered.

But as time went on, there was still no Windows software. Five months after pre-ordering I received an email that the camera was shipping. At last came the day that UPS delivered the new camera.

The long-awaited Lytro unboxing
The long-awaited Lytro unboxing

I emailed the company asking for clarification as to when Windows software was planned to be available. The answer got was the same was what is currently listed on their website: Lytro Desktop for Windows software will be available "sometime in 2012" and will support their currently shipping models. As you undoubtedly already know, there are quite a few months left in 2012.

With mixed feelings, I opened the UPS box. Lytro seems to have taken a page from the Apple playbook in more ways that supporting only Mac OS X rather than Windows. The product packaging is simple and elegant, with clearly more thought put into its creation than whether it would be utilitarian. Removing the lid reveals the camera in all its glory, sitting on a pedestal.

The camera itself is as sleek in design as the packaging. By now you've probably seen pictures. The camera itself is an inch and a half square extruded tube roughly four and a half inches long. The lens is on one end, and the LCD screen occupies the entirety of the opposite end. Around the barrel are a small number of controls evident only by the way they detract from the uniform exterior. Once side has a cover hiding a mini-USB port used both for charging and for those lucky soles who have a Macintosh to download images. This side also has the power button which is as hard to notice as it is to avoid pressing accidentally when you hold the camera. The button does not require one to hold it down for any length of time. Even a quick press will activate it. The opposite side has the shutter release button which oddly also turns the camera on when pressed, as well as a zoom control that you would never existed unless you read the brief instruction sheet that accompanies the camera.

Accessories include a square lens cap that is held on magnetically a wrist strap that can be attached via a small hole near the USB port, the aforementioned USB cable, and a cleaning cloth. There is no carrying case, a definite omission given how easy the device is to turn on accidentally as well as how insubstantially the magnetic lens cap affixes. The LCD display has no cover either and could easily be scratched.

The new Lytro paperweight for Windows (there are a lot of months left in 2012)
The new Lytro paperweight for Windows (there are a lot of months left in 2012)

Neither the built-in memory nor the battery is user accessible. The Lytro is a sealed box.

Shooting with the Lytro takes a bit of getting used to since it's so unlike any other camera in both form and function. I'd liken using it more to shooting with a cell phone camera than any "serious" camera I've ever used. In addition to the exterior controls mentioned previously, the LCD screen is touch sensitive and does facilitate focusing as well as the limited menu system provided. If you get a Lytro, you'll have to read the instruction sheet in less you prefer simply tapping and swiping your finger on the display in various ways to see what happens.

Given the limited resolution of the Lytro, it seems appropriate to compose images targeted to the strengths of the system. Images that could be made with another camera are almost certainly better made with another camera. So I found myself looking for situations where there were extremes of depth of field with one or more interesting objects close to the camera, and one or more far away. With any other camera, such shots are all but impossible, but this is the Lytro stock in trade. Interestingly, since I normally don't even consider such compositions, I found this to be another aspect of the camera that took getting used to.

Regrettably, with no Windows Desktop software available perhaps for months yet, I could do little with what I shot other than delete it. For the majority of computer users who use Windows, Lytro simply isn't a viable camera. While I can press the shutter release, I can't really take pictures so long as they are held prisoner in the camera. Plugging the camera into my laptop installed device drivers as usual, but the camera appears as nothing more than a CD drive. Undoubtedly this would be how OS X users could install the Lytro Desktop software since the camera came with no CD or other means of software delivery. On Windows, the 25 MB virtual CD contained but a single text file thanking me for my purchase and informing me "Unfortunately, we do not have a Windows version of our desktop application at this time. Please check out http://support.lytro.com for the latest info on Windows support." And I come full circle. There's still no Windows software.

I really want to like the Lytro. After all, I preordered one. They just insist on making it hard for me to like them. It seems to me that not only did Lytro marketing miss out on the potentially important Christmas selling season by announcing last fall but not shipping until spring, they have severely dampened the Lytro buzz among Windows users by missing the product launch so severely with the Windows Desktop software.

Well, after having it for several weeks, I still didn't know what to do with it. Upon far too much consideration, I requested an RMA and return instructions from Lytro. I still think the camera is cool, but I simply can't use it without software.

At this point, my first attempt at liking Lytro with my hard earned money way is on its way back to Lytro. My entire Lytro odyssey lasted around six months from product announcement to product return. No telling what the future holds for Lytro or my interest in it. The company has a 30-day return policy so it was time to say goodbye to my expensive paperweight. Did I mention I'm disappointed?

Update 7/24/2012 - Lytro Desktop for Windows is finally available. Took them a while, but hopefully better late than never for those who stuck it out. My Lytro was returned now three months ago and I'll have to think twice before I re-order. The company is a start-up, but their customer service did not make a good first impression on me. If you're a Windows Lytro user, let me know what your experiences are.


Date posted: April 22, 2012 (updated July 24, 2012)

 

Copyright © 2012 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Lytro: Very Cool, and not Like Any Camera You've Ever Used Before
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