I’m sure some of you have seen the latest announcement by Lytro: they’re coming up with version 2 of their “light field” camera (well, version 10.0 if you believe the PR hacks).
There’s going to be the usual battle, flinging names like “gadget” and “game-changer” around (it gets serious when someone says “paradigm-shift”).
I don’t really have an opinion for now. It looks interesting from a physics perspective. This light-field thing sure is fun, and I kind of like the images they have on their website.
My problem is from an artistic perspective. I don’t see how we’re going to view these images, how we are going to visualize them, to consume them.
In film, the contract between the artist and the spectator is that you devote a period of time to a narrative, and the artist controls the pace.
In photography, the contract is similar, but the spectator controls the pace of viewing. It’s up to the photographer to guide the eye through composition, light etc … but he can only do so indirectly.
All examples I’ve seen of Lytro-graphs (whatever the accepted term is, I like this one) break that contract. Either they are not much more than animated GIFs, where the focus-change or pseudo 3D movement grates against the path of my eye in the picture, or I need to interact to “animate” the picture, which disrupts my relation to the image.
To me, this is the greatest obstacle to these images becoming “game-changers” in the near future: I simply don’t think there’s a market for them.

Of course, that kind of statement can become claim chowder very quickly, and I’d happily be proven wrong. But for now, I really don’t see how.

Marketing is not a four letter word

I was pointed to a recent interview in DPReview of a senior FujiFilm manager.
I’ve written elsewhere about similarities between Apple and Fuji in their thoughtfulness of design.
The DPReview interview, by contrast, highlights a major difference in approach: Apple is notoriously tight-lipped about its design pipeline; Fuji, by comparison, has been very open, giving public access to some of its senior staff, bringing photographers to Japan to participate in their Kaizen process and, if the amount and precision of rumors leading up to the X-E2 and X-T1 are any indication, by orchestrating a very efficient viral marketing campaign.

I wasn’t paying attention in the 90’s, when Steve Jobs resurrected Apple, but I’d wager it was never similarly open: it seems too much of a cultural transformation to where it is now – the external secrecy it cherishes can only work with a healthy dose of internal paranoia. This in itself is good news to me: it means there is more than one path to thoughtful products. Hopefully it means that Apple and Fuji are not one-of-a-kind wonders but heralds of a trend.

A good example of Fuji’s openness, in the DPReview talk, is Iida-san’s discussion of continuing internal dissensions over providing firmware updates to discontinued models such as the X-E1 and X100. I can’t imagine that this was not a carefully thought out marketing point, just like the casual mention of film-era engineers guiding the Image Processing teams. And, because we’ve been conditioned to reject marketing, equating it to crass, vulgar, lowest-common-denominator advertising, there is some backlash to Fuji’s growing presence 1 in social media and in photography circles 2.
But I’m reminded here, as in design, that marketing can be a thoughtful process. Fuji is trying to sell us its cameras and to ensure its long term survival. It is doing so not by showing us half-naked women taking impossible pictures, but by engaging us in a conversation about where they want to go.
I actually quite enjoy being treated like an adult.

  1. trolling some of the better known photographers like Zack Arias and David Hobby for their vocal support of Fuji seems to be the flavor of the month. 
  2. I haven’t read anyone mention “cult” yet, but give it a few months.