Make Your Own Lytro-Style, Adjustable Focus Photos With DSLR Video And A Simple Hack

The Lytro is a very cool piece of tech that can produce images with easy-to-manipulate depth-of-field, but it also means buying a new, $400 piece of photography gear that takes admittedly low resolution pictures, for a very specific use. Now, The Chaos Collective has built a workaround to allow users to create images with similar, stunning effects using the kit they already have – so long as that includes a camera with manual focus and video shooting capabilities.

It works best with DSLR cameras and lenses with very wide apertures, like the Canon 6D and EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens I used to create the image above, but it could also work with any pocket camera with manual focus and a fast fixed lens like the Sony RX100. The steps are simple: shoot a quick, 2 to 3 second video, starting by focusing at one extreme (close or far) and then adjusting the focus to the other. You then upload the resulting file using the Chaos Collective’s tool, preferably in .m4v format, and it spits out a magic focus, Lytro-style image that you can either upload to The Chaos Collective’s website and share via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest or via an embed code. You can also embed it yourself along with the uploaded, full source video if you’d host it on your own website.

Results turn out best if you’re using a tripod, and if you happen to have one of the variety of tools available to filmmakers for doing smooth focus while shooting video without producing camera shake, you’re golden. But even with my cheap $20 tripod and hand-adjusted focus, you can see above that the results are very impressive for about 15 minutes of work, including transferring the movie to my computer and cutting the clip length a bit in QuickTime.

Chaos Collective member Adam Kumpf explained in an email interview that the project was mostly just a lark, the result of a one-day hack meant to see if it was possible, but he says that if the community seems to embrace it, they’ll put more resources into the project, but otherwise, it’s on to the next idea.

Here’s another example from The Chaos Collective itself, and you can check out more via the official project site.