Lytro’s ‘living pictures’ are now dead on the web

So long and thanks for all the broken embeds

Lytro’s once futuristic “living pictures,” which photographers and viewers alike were able to refocus to their heart’s content after they were taken, are now almost totally dead. The company recently pulled hosting support for pictures.lytro.com, which is where all photos with Lytro cameras had to be shared in order to allow users to play with the refocusing and 3D depth features. This move has subsequently killed all the Lytro photos embedded across the internet (including in our 2014 review of the Illum, Lytro’s second — and last — consumer camera).

Living pictures will still work in Lytro’s desktop app, but in order to share photos taken with the company’s cameras going forward, users will have to export them as .mov, .gif, or static JPGs.

“More than two years ago, Lytro began focusing on Light Field video solutions for the cinema and virtual reality industries and discontinued the manufacturing and distribution of Lytro cameras for photography,” the company wrote on a support page of its website. “As a part of our plan to further focus on these new efforts, the ability to publish from Lytro Desktop and Lytro Mobile to pictures.lytro.com will be discontinued.”

Lytro’s cameras worked thanks to something called light field photography, where individual rays of light are captured along with data that describes where they came from in 3D space. This allowed Lytro to build software (on the desktop, on the web, and on the cameras themselves) that used all this information in novel ways, like changing the focus point of an image.

Unfortunately, the company’s consumer cameras were never very good. The original — a lipstick tube of a camera — was more or less just a proof of concept. And while the Illum occasionally wowed, the process of shooting (and especially editing) living pictures was too much of a chore to ever justify its $1,500 price tag.

Lytro started its shift away from consumer cameras not long after the Illum was released. And the company seems to have found success in translating its light field tech to the worlds of professional cinema and virtual reality, where issues like size and speed sometimes matter less, especially if the tradeoff is heaps and heaps of volumetric data.

But another reason Lytro’s consumer efforts failed was also the same reason it felt like it would succeed. The core idea Lytro first explored — being able to correctly focus a photo that you screwed up — was so powerful that it proliferated into some smartphone and traditional digital cameras. They’re often locked to a specific shooting mode (like Selective Focus on Samsung’s phones, for example), but the fact remains that these companies found ways to mimic Lytro’s fancy, expensive, and slow light field capture process with just software, and deliver it in a product that’s already in your pocket.