Light’s L16 camera has been one of the more fascinating stories in a year that gave us the rise of 360 imaging and comebacks from a host of long-forgotten brands.
The Light L16 consists of 16 multi-aperture computational cameras in a body about the size of a smartphone. The L16 was announced in 2015 as a development project, and new prototypes have been unveiled over the preceding years until now.
The L16 boasts 16 individual 13-megapixel sensors which together can produce up to 52-megapixel images.
It also offers 5x optical zoom, and as you zoom in or out the L16 chooses the best combination of its 28mm, 70mm and 150mm camera modules to use for the job, promising no degradation in quality when you shoot close up, for instance. And its price tag is a relatively modest $1,699.
Light wrapped up its beta testing of the L16 earlier this spring, and in the summer gave samples out to a host of professional photographer to use and feed back on.
Mitch Aunger, professional photographer and videographer and editor of planetMitch and planet5D, has been close to Light for some time and was one of the first to use the L16. In this interview he shares some of his insights on shooting with the Light L16, what it’s like to use and where it is improving.
What’s the biggest challenge about using a multi-focus camera?
From the user perspective, I’m not sure there is a ‘challenge’ – I mean it is basically like any other camera, you point, compose, focus, shoot. You don’t have to think about the fact that there are 16 lens/sensor modules.
You look at the LCD and compose and shoot like any other camera or smartphone. In many ways, if you’re thinking about the different modules, then you’re over thinking it.
In what ways do you have to think differently about composition?
Actually, none. What you see is what you mostly get. If you’re really thinking hard about things, and you have learned about the Light L16’s variable resolution (https://support.light.co/l16-photography/explained-variable-resolution) then you’re actually usually picking 35mm and 70mm to get the largest resolutions, but otherwise, in terms of composition, you shoot what you see.
Also, you may think about the overlapping of the mirrors and that variable resolution article and realize that there’s some blur that applies to the edges because at 28mm, the 70mm modules aren’t fully overlapping on the edges.
Typically, unless I really really want the 28mm wide, I shoot at 35mm to compensate for that. But realistically at typical web resolutions (where the vast majority of people see my images these days), nobody will even notice, so 28mm is fine.
And even if I don’t get the highest resolution, just about every focal length has better quality than my smartphone so I’m good to go. But then again, your smartphone doesn’t do 28-150mm!
How do you feel the L16 compares to a traditional stills camera – or is it a new medium entirely?
I’ve had quite a few discussions about this… I think that any new paradigm shifting camera has a big learning curve, others think it is all the same as earlier cameras.
Of course, they’re wrong LOL! The thing about the Light L16 is that you do have to learn what works and what doesn’t – or maybe what you can do differently than a traditional DSLR for example.
Think back to the first time you started shooting with your smartphone. Sure, you compose, point, shoot, but I suspect your first several weeks of using it, your results were very different than they were with your DSLR. Most of the pics you got in your first round with the smartphone were basic snapshots.
Then, if you really started working with it, you learned everything was wide angle. You probably had 50mm or 100mm or some other longer lenses on your camera (or even point and shoot cameras have zooms), but the smartphones didn’t to begin. If you did try to zoom, you quickly learned that their digital zooms were horrible.
So you changed the way you shot with a phone. Heck, there are times where I would be out with my phone and think (with my DSLR mind) that something would look great, but then I pull up my phone with its wide angle and think, “nobody will see what I see with my 50mm eyes” and put the phone away. Right?
At least with the Light L16 when i’m out walking or whatever, I know I have true OPTICAL zoom from 28mm to 150mm. That’s something my phone can NOT do! And that alone makes it a real joy to shoot.
How do you envisage the images being viewed – eg touch sensitive viewing platform?
It is very much like shooting on a smartphone. There’s not a whole lot of difference. But at the same time, it is very different than shooting with most DSLRs because the base operating system is Android and you’re not stuck with those archaic menus!
What type of photographer do you feel would be best suited to this camera?
Right now, because the software isn’t really fully functional yet and there’s a slight shutter lag, I wouldn’t be doing most professional portrait sessions or weddings or sports with the Light L16. Hopefully in a year or so, that will be different. But for now, just about anything else works.
At this point, think of the Light L16 like the iPhone 1 – it is very, very early in its life. DSLRs are mature and have been around a long time. The Light L16 is just months old and like the first iPhone, it works, but it isn’t as user friendly as the current iPhone for example. Heck, the iPhone is 10 years old now.
So while Light is marketing this as a DSLR replacement and in many ways it is, it is just in its infancy and photographers need to think of it that way.
Direct pixel peeping comparisons will often lean in the direction of another camera winning. But again, that other camera camera manufacturer has a decade (or many more in most cases) under their belts.
Are there any video options on the Light L16?
Today, no. But 4K video from 1 sensor module is coming in the near future. So you’ll be able to do 4K video at 28mm, 70mm, or 150mm.
How hard is it to process the file out into a flat image?
In the camera you can press an on screen button to ‘develop’ the image and get a 13mp image out of it. They’ll be tuning that in software to make it a bit more vibrant like current smartphone images for example.
And I’ll note that is one of the Light L16’s huge advantages… they can (and regularly will) update the camera firmware so that additional functionality and improvements come to the camera. DSLR and Mirrorless manufacturers would rather sell you a new camera!
On the desktop, there is one additional step that is added to the workflow to get images out of the camera and into a tool like lightRoom for example. And that’s Light’s tool called Lumen (see light.co/lumen).
It has the ability to do a conversion directly to jpg or dng, as well as rudimentary adjustments to exposure, white balance, etc. Plus, it can change the focal length of the shot! You natively get shots that are mostly everything in focus at f15.2 out of the camera, but you can change the image down to as low as f2! And no, that doesn’t impact the exposure like it would shooting on a traditional camera.
Plus, they just added the ability to re-focus the image! This will be huge in cases where the autofocus missed or if you change your mind and want something else to be in focus. There’s a ton of future tech in this thing! And if you’re thinking Lytro did that, Lytro images were 4mp – the Light L16 spits out 52mp images that you can re-focus!
This extra process does slow things down and so news photographers likely won’t be using an L16, but if you have time to move the images and convert them, it isn’t bad.
What’s the battery life like and how does it charge?
I haven’t fully tested the battery, but they project 400 shots on one charge. It is not removable so you’ll have to recharge with the USB3 cord.
How does the L16 perform in low light?
One word: Improving. Today, it isn’t the best low light camera on the market. I don’t know if it will be. But it is fair and they believe they can get about 2 more stops of low light shooting out of it. Again, that will come in a firmware update down the line.
In fact, that’s one example of how they’re able to push improvements down to the camera (that other cameras can’t do!)… when I first tested a night shot, there was so much noise, it wasn’t usable (tho I’m talking about an image on my porch with 1 60 watt bulb).
And a few weeks later, I took the same shot with a newer version of the firmware and I wouldn’t have any problem sharing that image. And they think they can make it even better fairly soon.
What were your impressions of the image quality?
I have shown images shot side by side (in daylight) with my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and the Light L16 and most people cannot tell the difference. Even at 100% (tho it can depend on the image).
There are times where things like fine hair or grass for example may not be as resolved as my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, but for the vast majority of the viewing public who isn’t a pixel peeping detail photograper, the images look as good as a DSLR or the newer smartphones.
What surprised you most about your experience using the L16?
The best surprise is the ability to carry it on my walks and get great images AND to have zoom from 28mm to 150mm. For a guy who loves his DSLR and kinda hates the images from his iPhone, that was the biggest joy.
The second thing that is a joy is the team at Light and how eager they are to make improvements and to listen to the photo nerds. Today it isn’t as fully capable as we’d like, but the folks at Light have some amazing plans and ideas as to where this will go… and I don’t have to buy a new camera to get those changes! Plus I get to help them make the camera better.
And third (though I know you only asked for one LOL), the new ability to totally change what is in focus is a killer feature. Imagine how many times you’ve grabbed your camera and missed focus on a great shot. Now imagine having the ability to fix it in post! Game changing!