Last year, Apple purchased a small Israeli startup named LinX. The deal was kept fairly low-key, in part because the company being acquired was relatively unknown. The technology it had been working on, however, has the potential to revolutionize smartphone photography. Rather than using the traditional one-lens, one-sensor configuration, LinX had been using an array of cameras to build a bigger, better lit, less noisy photo. In the near future, an iPhone may benefit from this idea — but in the meantime, one of LinX’s former rivals has beaten Apple to the punch. The Light L16 is a pocket camera, with sixteen sensors, which outputs DSLR-quality, 52-megapixel images.
The back of the L16 is covered by an array of lenses, making it appear almost alien, with numerous digital eyes arranged in an apparently illogical layout. In fact, these sixteen camera units are very carefully placed. When you press the shutter button, ten of them simultaneously spring into action. Each camera unit produces a 13 megapixel image which is used in the construction of a much larger composite photo. Quite apart from the significantly higher resolution, this system allows the L16 to take in more light, and digitally reduce noise. It also means you can refocus images after you take them, just as with the Lytro.
Despite the relatively compact size of the L16, it is capable of producing photos that rival those from a flagship DSLR. There are three focal lengths to choose from — five of the camera units operate at 35mm, five at 70mm, and six at 150mm — thanks to “folded optics” lenses that use mirrors to fit telephoto reach into a small space. Apart from the shutter button, all the controls can be found on the five-inch touchscreen.
Light is currently offering the L16 for pre-order at $1299, which is $400 less than it will eventually retail for. With such a lofty price tag, it is just as well that Light is only making the L16 in limited quantities, although early adopters are likely to be tempted. More importantly, however, this multi-camera shows us what the future of pocketable photography might look like.