Lytro Launches to Transform Photography with $50M in Venture Funds (TCTV)

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I Could Definitely Use This Fold-Out Field Kitchen

Love photos but utterly bored by wave after wave of iPhone photo sharing apps? Lytro is the company for you. This is also the company for anyone who thinks Silicon Valley has fallen into a rut of innovation-less posing. And it’s the company for anyone who complains that the Valley is more about media and marketing than brass-knuckles, hardcore technology. This is the company that jaded, cranky, rap-lyric quoting investor Ben Horowitz says, “blew my brains to bits.”

In short, Lytro is developing a new type of camera that dramatically changes photography for the first time since the 1800s. Rather than just capturing one plane of light, it captures the entire light field around a picture, all in one shot taken on a single device. A light field includes every beam of light in every direction at every point in time. Experimentation in this field started in the mid-1990s at Stanford with 100 cameras in one room. Lytro’s innovation is making it small enough to fit in your pocket. Really.

As a result you can refocus photos after the fact, wiggle around the orientation, and even show the photos in 3D. Get excited, Jason Kincaid, because it’s not too far away from those 3D moving photographs in the Harry Potter movies. The company has raised $50 million so far from NEA, K9 Ventures, Greylock Partners and Andreessen Horowitz.

Check it out in this photo below by Richard Koci Hernandez. Click around to see Elvis come into focus in the foreground:

Here’s some of what Horowitz wrote on his blog about the company:

“People often refer to taking a picture as capturing the moment, but conventional photography does not really capture the moment. It captures one angle, one set of light, and one focus of the moment. If you are a professional photographer, you might capture the best parts of the moment. If you are someone like me, you most certainly will not. With Ren’s light field camera, you actually capture the moment or at least all of the light that visually represents the moment.

Once you have captured the moment, you can go back at any time and get the picture that you want.

Essentially, you can take the picture you wish you would have taken after the fact. If you are used to the old paradigm, it’s like travelling backwards through time.”

Of course there are big risks with any business this jaw-droppingly innovative. Will they be able to get the price point low enough that people will buy the camera? Right now, the closest Ng will commit on price is somewhere between north of $1 and less than $10,000. That’s a pretty broad ballpark. We won’t be able to see the devices until the also vague “sometime this year.” An equally important question is whether the user experience be as simple as the company claims.

We invited the CEO and founder Ren Ng into the TechCrunchTV studio to answer some of these questions, give us a demo and tell us more about this undeniably cool company. Video below.