Lytro light-field camera nears reality at last

Against all expectations, the 'living pictures' snapper Lytro - a camera that allows you to adjust focus after the event using a novel new image format - turns out to be real, and is available to order from the company right now.

Lytro first caught our eye when the company released a Flash demo of the technology: a series of photographs which could be adjusted for focus at the click of a mouse.

Aside from eating up most of a morning just clicking around, the demo raised a few questions about the technology which seemed too good to be true. When we interviewed Lytro veep Kira Wampler, we got a few answers about the 'light field' technology - but nothing to convince us the camera would ever be a commercial reality.

Thankfully for photo-buffs, we were wrong: the company has opened pre-ordering for its first-generation light-field camera.

Before you get too excited, there are a few caveats. Firstly, you'll need an Apple machine running Mac OS X 10.6 or higher: Windows won't be supported until some time next year, while Linux is left out of the party altogether.

Buyers are also limited to just a single camera, and it won't ship until "early 2012," the company has confirmed. Finally, the device is only available in the US - so it'll be a while before we're able to get our paws on one over on this side of the pond.

The Lytro camera is an odd-looking beast, appearing more like a boxy torch than a camera. Two versions will be available at launch, the company has confirmed: a 16GB model capable of storing 750 pictures and coloured red; and a cheaper 8GB model that can store 350 pictures in grey or blue.

That also gives us another piece of information: the size of each 'light-field' image prior to processing. At 750 pictures per 16GB of storage, that's around 20-22MB per image - not bad for a picture that can be refocused after the event.

Lytro's pre-ordering system is open now, with the 16GB model priced at $499 and the 8GB at $399.