But let's delve deeper into the intricacies of what makes this thing tick. The design is a jarring blend of metal and rubber, and the overall effect is nothing short of striking. For starters, we have an anodized aluminum barrel, which houses the f/2.0 8x optical zoom lens. That, in turn, is fused to a rubberized cube where the sensor, various electrics and touchscreen all reside. It's worth noting that the rubber portion is where you'll spend all your time, as that's where all of the spartan controls live. Things like a shutter button and capacitive-touch zoom slider up top, followed by a power button and a micro-USB door directly opposite on its bottom.
Completing the tour, let's turn our attention to the 1.46-inch touchscreen adorning the back side. Despite its premium glass construction and responsive performance, Lytro doesn't quite make up for the poor quality of the display itself. Some of that disappointment stems from its unimpressive 128 x 128 resolution, sure, but more worrisome is its tendency to wash out as soon as you turn it ever-so slightly off-angle.
That's a problem because pulling off those cool depth-of-field shots means more often than not you'll be contorting the hardware at odd angles. We also took issue with its performance in bright light -- get used to creating shade with your hand cupped to the unit as you try to frame shots out in the wild.
Having a poor display on a piece of photographic kit would normally be a bummer, if not a deal-breaker. Ultimately, though, it'll hit you that the camera workflow you've been practicing for your entire life doesn't necessarily apply here. Soon enough, you'll stop worrying about focus, and realize Lytro liberates you to dwell on composition and exposure, the latter of which you can tweak by tapping the screen. Okay, not everyone will be comfortable adopting the "shoot first ask questions later" mantra, but that's how we generally used it outdoors -- a habit made sweeter with the help of some fast shutter releases. Naturally, your mileage will vary depending on your technique (human skills still do count for something here), but as we'll explain, we were more than happy with the results, so long as we had adequate lighting at the ready.
Lytro's thrown caution to the wind and started anew, adopting the same simplistic approach on the interior as on its exterior.
If we're honest, the current user state of camera interfaces is pretty abysmal. Years upon years of crud, including leftovers from directional-driven UX, does not a happy Engadget reviewer make. Thankfully, Lytro's thrown caution to the wind and started anew, adopting the same simplistic approach on the interior as on its exterior. For starters, taking photos is as simple as waking the unit (either by pressing its power or shutter button) and pressing the shutter to take a picture. To zoom, slide your finger along the capacitive zoom bar up top. Swiping up on the touchscreen reveals that dock you see above, with three tappable icons, which enable "creative mode" (more on that in a bit) and show remaining storage and respective battery capacities. That gesture also reveals a Settings icon (the cog in the upper right corner), which is where you'll find the About, Delete All and Factory Reset menus.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's talk a little bit more about creative mode, the only alternative shooting setting this camera offers. Tuned for finer control, in this mode the camera is less worried about maximizing a shot's future refocus potential -- essentially a fancy way of saying it'll now let you take much closer macro shots with a shallower and flatter depth of field, which means less of that Lytro-refocusing magic applies later. Getting started, you'll know it's active thanks to an onscreen blue border. Creative mode gives you access to the full range of the camera's optical zoom (8x versus "Every day" mode's 3.5x) in addition to enabling tap-to-focus (instead of the default mode's more restrictive tap for exposure).
Once you've actually taken a shot, viewing your creations is as simple as swiping to the left. From there you can continuously swipe left back in time, or right to return to the viewfinder. Thankfully, if you've perused through a lot of photos, you don't have to endlessly swipe to get back into capture mode -- one press of the shutter button and you're ready to start capturing again. Sliding across the zoom bar while viewing those creations reveals a 3 x 3 grid view, similar to how most digital cameras manage photos these days. And if you swipe upward while viewing a single photo, the same dock appears as before, except this time you've got a delete button occupying the leftmost spot where creative mode lived.
Image quality, performance and battery life
Ultimately, it's of no consequence how beautiful the hardware or onboard software is if a camera fails at its one purpose: taking pictures. With Lytro things are a little complicated in this department, insofar as the camera excels in certain situations, while putting on a mediocre performance in others. Before we walk you through the results, it's worth setting the expectation that you won't be getting any poster-sized prints here. Shots from the Lytro camera have 1080 x 1080 resolution -- good enough, the company says, for 5 x 7 prints.