Years ago, a representative from HP told us a digital camera was nothing more than a “a computer with a lens on it.” It’s been years since HP exited the camera market but computation has only grown more important, and more sophisticated, since then, even if camera companies don’t always emphasize the algorithmic nature of their products.
The L16, from the start-up Light, is unabashedly a computer with many lenses on it. Sixteen lenses, to be exact.
The Light L16 is a smartphone-shaped camera that uses 16 built-in 13-megapixel camera modules and lenses that collectively snap 10 images at once for 130-megapixels of image data. This information is computationally rendered in the camera to produce up to a 52-megapixel-equivalent image, depending on your focal length.
Because it’s capturing light from multiple different apertures and focal lengths, a photo’s depth of field and focus can be altered after the fact, similar to the approach used by Lytro. According to Light, this multi-capture approach combined with its software also “virtually eliminates” noise in low light scenes. Thanks to its multi-image blending approach, Light also promises to deliver superior high dynamic range photos as well.
The combined lenses offer a focal length range equivalent to 35-150mm. Light is able to squeeze 16 lenses onto a thin body thanks to the use of folded optics. Each lens has an aperture of f/2.4 and each sensor measures 1/3.2 inches. Detailed specs on the L16 aren’t available, but we know you’ll be able to shoot 4K video and capture images in both JPEG and RAW (DNG) formats. The camera will also have built-in Wi-Fi.
As you’d expect, the L16 makes some trade-offs from conventional cameras. It uses a continuous LED flash, not a strobe, and doesn’t offer a hot shoe or sync port. It saves images and video to 128GB of internal memory and has an internal (non-removable) battery rated for about 400 images. There are no external controls outside of a power button and shutter button. Instead, you’ll navigate the camera’s settings using a 5-inch touch screen display.
The L16 isn’t quite ready for prime time. Units won’t ship until late summer 2016 and when they do they’ll cost $1,699. For those brave enough to pre-order, Light is offering a discounted price of $1,299–a promotion that will expire on November 6.
Below are some sample images from Light (we’ve not yet tested the unit).