Light Field Cinema Capture Coming

The following article is from the March 2016 edition of the SMPTE  Newswatch email newsletter:
By Michael Goldman

Conceptually, the notion of capturing what has come to be known as “light field” imagery dates back to Leonardo da Vinci in the 16th century. Back then, da Vinci detailed theories about an “imaging device capturing every optical aspect [of] a scene.” In one manuscript, he talked about “radiant pyramids” being visible in images. Today, optical experts say by “radiant pyramids,” da Vinci meant “light rays,” and explain that da Vinci was describing what we now refer to as “light fields.”

In simple terms, the concept of a light field means that one captures the direction traveled by every ray of light present in a specific volume from a series of separate points in space. Experts say that when this information is captured by filmmakers or photographers, it provides the opportunity to computationally process light field data into various formats with an understanding of the volumetric information, including multiple focal points and perspectives as would have been captured from a standard two-dimensional image—all from a singular light field data set. According to Jon Karafin, Head of Light Field Video for Lytro Inc., the capture of this kind of “angular information,” or what some people call “directional data,” at the time of image acquisition allows content creators to make optical and virtual camera decisions after capture with precision. The search for a practical method to capture and utilize such data has been an ongoing quest in the image-capture industry for decades.

In recent years, a variety of companies have produced various light-field related camera technologies as it relates to consumer still camera applications; smart phones; cameras used for research and optical analysis, and inspection; and more recently, virtual reality applications. These include Jaunt’s NEO system, Google’s GoPro Jump array system, and Lytro Immerge, among others. Karafin claims there is some debate within the industry as to what kinds of imagery actually end up as true light-field images in the final analysis, because while some cameras themselves may capture multiple viewpoints to begin with, the processing of those images does not always result in the mapping of all viewpoints in such a way as to end up with the entire light field accurately represented in the final image. However, these developments all represent, to one degree or another, strides in how technology built around light field concepts can be utilized.

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