Light field photography comes with features so revolutionary, it is considered by some to be the next major imaging revolution after the pinhole camera.
With the timeline below, we’re following the history and development of light field imaging, from its earliest stages to today’s technology.
Please note that this page is a work in progress, so it will continue to grow (slowly, but steadily).
Light Field Photography
- Leonardo Da Vinci: Pyramids of Light
Leonardo Da Vinci writes about vision and perspective, and describes the distribution of light rays in space, calling them “pyramids of light”:
The body of the atmosphere is full of infinite radiating pyramids produced by the objects existing in it. These intersect and cross each other with independent convergence without interfering with each other and pass through all the surrounding atmosphere; and are of equal force and value—all being equal to each, each to all. And by means of these, images of the body are transmitted everywhere and on all sides, and each receives in itself every minutest portion of the object that produces it.
While these “light pyramids” fill space, intersecting and crossing each other at every point, Da Vinci notes that the image information that is contained in any particular location can be revealed using a pinhole camera (camera obscura):
I say that if the front of a building—or any open piazza or field—which is illuminated by the sun has a dwelling opposite to it, and if, in the front which does not face the sun, you make a small round hole, all the illuminated objects will project their images through that hole and be visible inside the dwelling on the opposite wall which may be made white; and there, in fact, they will be upside down, and if you make similar openings in several places in the same wall you will have the same result from each. Hence the images of the illuminated objects are all everywhere on this wall and all in each minutest part of it.
- Codex Forster II, Reale Commissione Vinciana, Rome, 1930-6 (in the Library of the Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington)
- Richter, J. P. 1888. The notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci: Vol. 1. New York: Dover (republished 1970).
- Adelson, E. H., and Bergen, J. R. 1991. The plenoptic function and the elements of early vision. In Computational Models of Visual Processing, edited by Michael S. Landy and J. Anthony Movshon. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
- Faraday: Light as Lines of Force
In his 1846 lecture entitled “Thoughts on Ray Vibrations”, Michael Faraday suggests that light and other radiation occurs in “lines of force”, similar to the “lines of magnetic force”. In today’s terms, he suggests that light manifests a field, similar to magnetic fields.
The point intended to be set forth for consideration of the hearers was, whether it was not possible that vibrations which in a certain theory are assumed to account for radiation and radiant phaenomena may not occur in the lines of force which connect particles, and consequently masses of matter together.
All I can say is, that I do not perceive in any part of space, whether (to use the common phrase) vacant or filled with matter, anything but forces and the lines in which they are exerted. The lines of weight or gravitating force are, certainly, extensive enough to answer in this respect any demand made upon them by radiant phaenomena; and so, probably, are the lines of magnetic force: and then who can forget that Mossotti has shown that gravitation, aggregation, electric force, and electro-chemical action may all have one common connection or origin; and so, in their actions at a distance, may have in common that infinite scope which some of these actions are known to possess?
Faraday, M. May 1846. “Thoughts on Ray Vibrations”, Philosophical Magazine, S.3, Vol XXVIII, N188, May 1846. via
- Lippmann: Integral Photography
Franco-luxembourgish physicist Gabriel Lippmann introduces “integral photography”. He proposes an analogue multi-lens photo plate that is “reminiscent of the insect’s compound eye, where a large number of crystalline lenses are arranged hexagonally, like the cells of a bee hive”. This makes him the inventor of the world’s first analogue light field device, though the term “light field” wouldn’t exist for another 30 years.
By placing a print from such an exposure behind the same lens array, and illuminating it from behind (think “light field display”), he is able to reproduce a virtual, 3D image of the recorded scene, complete with parallax and perspective shift when the observer moves:
If we looked at the photographic print from behind, we could only see a system of small juxtaposed images.
The observer must be on the anterior side, his eyes at an arbitrary distance from the plate, which is being illuminated by diffuse light (applied for example against a frosted glass). In this case, he sees a unique, full-size image that is projected in space.
Indeed, during the exposure, the light rays emitted from point “A” converge at the bottom of any cell at an image point of “A” (Fig. 1). This image is revealed and fixed by the photographic process. When we then light up “a”, the rays leaving from “a” will converge to “A” under the principle of reversibility of light.
This applies to all cells that have received rays emitted by “A”: all bearing images “a”, “a”, “a” which have the conjugate image point “A”, all emit light beams which converge towards “A”.
Later in 1908, Lippmann wins the Nobel prize for colour photography.
While Lippmann describes the theoretical basics for light field photography, his technique remains experimental due to limitations in optical quality. When he dies in 1921, he reportedly has a working system with only 12 lenses.
G. Lippmann. 1908. Épreuves réversibles donnant la sensation du relief. J. Phys. Theor. Appl., 7 (1), pp.821-825 Timby, Kim. 2015. 3D and Animated Lenticular Photography.
- Gershun: The Light Field
Andrey Gershun defines the term “Light Field” in a scientific publication, in which he discusses the radiometric properties of light in three-dimensional space.
We may define the physical field as a part of space, studied from the standpoint of a definite physical process happening within that space. Analogously, we shall introduce the concept of the light field, as a part of space studied from the standpoint of transmission of radiant energy within that space.
Until recent times, photometry limited itself to concepts concerning the emission and absorption of light by bodies, while the transmitting medium was ignored. The older photometric science was a peculiar manifestation of the concept of actio in dislans. The modern study of the light field consists of an investigation of the space-distribution of luminous flux.
- First Single-lens plenoptic camera
First single-lens plenoptic camera
- The Largest Known Light Field is recorded
Marc Levoy and Jonathan Shade record the largest light field known: A light field volume of Michelangelo’s statue of Night in the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy is recorded through a grid of 62 x 56 viewpoints in 7 light field slabs, resulting in 24,304 individual pictures of 1.3 Megapixels each. The entire dataset amounts to 16 GB of 1300 x 1030 RGB JPEG files.
More information: A light field of Michelangelo’s statue of Night
- Hand-held Light Field Camera
Ren Ng: First hand-held lightfield camera
- First Commercial Plenoptic Camera
German LightField specialist company Raytrix announces the world’s first commercial plenoptic camera.
- First Consumer Light Field Camera
Lytro ships first consumer Light Field camera in 2012.
More details are available in Lytro’s 2011 product announcement: Lytro, Inc. Unveils the World’s First Consumer Light Field Camera