The internet. Air conditioning. Sliced bread. The L16 camera aims to be the next big thing.
At first glance, the L16 certainly looks unlike any camera we’ve ever seen before. It doesn’t have a lens. Rather, it has 16 tiny cameras across one flat, futuristic surface. The folks at Light have essentially deconstructed the optics of a traditional lens and flattened them into a 2-D surface. Pretty cool, huh?
A little camera with unlimited potential and The camera of the future are taglines boldly scrolled across its website. The camera’s social media ads boast its universal appeal with boundless photo opportunities – for everyone from professional photogs to snap-happy iPhone users. The company’s SVP of Marketing even went so far as to claim the L16 would make all major camera brands obsolete in less than a decade. Them’s fightin’ words.
How does this thing work?
The L16 is the world’s first multi-aperture computational camera. The camera boasts 16 different lenses and sensors. The 16 lenses all simultaneously take a picture, and then frankenstein the best parts together to create one magnificent photograph.
The retouching options are nothing short of groundbreaking. According to Consumer Reports, “You can adjust the depth-of-field with image-editing software long after you snapped the picture. In the process, you can also adjust the focal point.” So the depth of field, ISO and dynamic range can all be adjusted after the fact. This allows for breathtaking photography in low lighting and high exposure situations.
The L16 is a camera four years in the making. Needless to say, the wait has stirred up a lot of excitement with early backers and consumers. But there is a lot of pressure for things to live up to their hype. Remember Y2K? The Blair Witch Project? Pajama Jeans? And with headlines like This Camera is Going to Change the World, how could photographers not buy into the hype?
According to its manufacturers, this camera is designed to make other point-and-shoot cameras antiquated, eventually replacing professional cameras like DSLRs. Enthusiasm for the product exploded after the prototype debuted in October 2015. The company raised $30 million in funding, and quickly had to shut down the pre-order program due to the overwhelming demand. Only now are the first models being shipped.
Thankfully we placed a pre-order in the nick of time. Two years later, a shiny L16 camera has arrived at Laughing Samurai HQ.
We bought it, we tested it and these are the things you need to know before snagging the new L16 for yourself. You are welcome.
1. It will cost you.
The L16 comes with a price tag of $1,700. With typical point-and-shoot cameras going for $200 – $400 online, the sticker shock is enough to scare away most non-professional photographers.
2. Its battery is non-removable.
The L16 lasts about 400 shots before dying, so for serious photographers you do not have the ability to swap out the dead battery to finish a photoshoot. This is a major limitation.
3. It has finite storage.
L16 comes with 128GB of internal storage instead of memory card access. That’s the equivalent of 1,600 pictures – another deal breaker for serious photographers.
4. It’s hard to hold.
The box shaped camera is futuristic and stylish. According to the company’s CEO, Dave Grannan, the camera fits “DSLR quality [into] something the size of an iPhone 6 Plus.” That’s awesome! Except, it’s much heavier and larger than any iPhone we’ve ever seen.
Our friend Rob Bartlett is one of the best photographers in Orlando. He took the L16 for a spin earlier this week and told us “The L16 has good interaction, but bad form. It’s a heavy block. It needs to be smaller and lighter to be practical.”
You have to essentially relearn how to hold a camera to operate the L16. The sleek design is hard to grip and unwieldy to hold, unlike typical digital cameras. And because the entire front of the camera is covered in lenses, you could easily slip a finger in front of one of the lenses and ruin a picture. The flat face also leaves your pictures more susceptible to unwanted flares and obstructions.
5. It requires its own desktop app.
The camera comes with a desktop app that is required to download your photos. The app is still in beta, and we could not find it or get the photos off our camera for a looooooong time. The website was not very helpful in resolving this. Getting in touch with customer service to download the desktop app is a must. Without the app, the camera is pretty much useless.
6. It doesn’t shoot video.
At least not for now. We were confused too, since the majority of smartphones and digital cameras have video function. There is also the mysterious microphone on the camera which seems to serve no purpose. The L16 founders stated that the first generation model can capture 4K-resolution video, but the software does not currently support it.
7. Its photo quality isn’t always picture perfect.
The photo quality is inconsistent. It can produce some of the most stunning photography, but as far as we can tell, that’s only under ideal conditions. The L16 boasts the ability to incorporate high resolution, big sensor image quality with optical zoom into their modular device of the future. Currently, it seems like the mirrors, sensors and lenses are not communicating consistently, and the results are not as dependable as with a DSLR.
8. Its retouching software is touchy.
You need to have the software fully downloaded in order to retouch your photos, and the software is cumbersome. You can adjust the depth of field after taking pictures, and adjust any issues that arise as the camera attempts to blend the images from the 16 different lenses. You can correct the focus of blurred areas and smooth edges. Yes, these are great editing tools, except these edits have to be made because of problematic blending caused by the multiple lenses. The blending issue can be too complicated for the software to handle, and the tools are not always able to fully correct the photos. The L16 currently is not able to further edit pictures, so you will have to export them and put on the finishing touches with another photo editing software.
9. It still has a lot of promise.
The software-forward model will allow for rapid improvements (we hope). Software updates will enable more functionality.
The precision of the 16 lenses could potentially lead to widespread use of facial recognition, 3D mapping and even 3D printing directly from a point-and-shoot. The technology is sure to inspire future smartphone and digital camera designs. Lautenbach predicts smartphones will start being made with two or three cameras, or even have compound eyes. Time will tell how the smartphone world will be influenced by this new approach to optics.
To buy, or not to buy: That is the question.
The optic technology in the L16 is a pretty revolutionary concept. The user interface is amazing, the adjustable focus is convenient and the camera offers auto and manual shutter speed and ISO. There are software glitches the company is still working out, but that is to be expected for any new product as the makers perfect the design and overall user experience.
That said, this camera is a work in progress and not the best investment in its current form. We had issues downloading the software needed to offload our photos, and although the customer service line was helpful, it was a more cumbersome process than we would have hoped for after 2 years of anticipation.
The L16 is too big, heavy and awkward to appeal to casual point-and-shoot photographers. For professional photographers, the non-removable battery, fixed memory and inconsistent photo quality are deal breakers.
If you’re considering adding your name to the pre-order list, we suggest holding off. The L16 isn’t ready for world domination quite yet. It’s hard to justify the expense when there are smaller, more convenient and more consistent cameras on the market. We recommend waiting for Light to work out the kinks and release newer models before throwing down $1,700 for a camera that leaves much to be desired.