How Light Revolutionised Smartphone Photography

Genuine revolution is a rare occurrence in the US’ Silicon Valley. Yet a small Palo Alto-based startup is out to revolutionalise smartphone photography. Light is taking advantage of the increase in processing power and low cost of lenses to change how we think of photography.

Enter Computational Photography

It isn’t just the number of lenses, but how they are used. Conventional photography needs large sensors and lenses to capture the most light. The Light-made devices uses computational photography, a method of constructing photos algorithmically from data. Multiple small image-sensors take photos with different exposures, which are stitched together using software.

Multiple lenses for smartphone photography are already popular. Samsung, Apple, Nokia and other manufacturers use 2-3 lenses for their cameras. Light has used upto 16 lenses. The lenses have different focal lengths – 28mm, 70mm and 150 mm – depending on the zoom levels in the shot.

Together with Light’s proprietary algorithm, the L-16 hopes to offer the same degree of control over a shot as professional cameras. All this without having lenses protrude from the back. Light’s cameras use a ‘folded lens’, where mirrors in the camera’s body collect light at 45 degree angles. The mirrors adjust to determine the amount of light that each lens can capture.

Zoom and shutter speed are adjustable when shooting, while depth of field, focus and exposure can be changed later. The other aspect is that Light’s software allows other applications to be built over it. Once the file is made open source, third party developers could code AR/VR functionalities.

For instance, interior decorators could use just the image of a room to figure out dimensions, placement of objects and the colour of the walls. In e-commerce, Amazon could recommend kitchen appliances and other fitments by scanning the photo that you uploaded. Telemedicine could also benefit from this; doctors would be able to know the exact size of a wound or swelling.

While Light’s technology is promising, the devices are far from perfect. Slow performance is reported while shooting quickly. The desktop software – through which much of the editing is possible – takes upto 30 minutes to render a single image. Light has attempted to address some of those issues with software updates.

Light solved a lot of engineering problems by getting this far. When their L-16 was launched in 2015, it kick-started the smartphone photography revolution. The company is attempting to push the envelope again with its nine-lens phone prototype this year. The future is Light.

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