During my year at Artefact I spent most if it working on the Lytro project - partnered with my long-time friend and colleague Markus Wierzoch. He and I are both highly obsessed with photography and photography gear - in fact, Markus is the official photography expert at Artefact Group, having made some waves a year or two before with his provocative WVIL camera concept.
Being avid camera users, we had both been wanting to design a camera for most of our careers. The traditional SLR camera is an expert's tool - heavily weighed down by tradition and norms that are passed down from generation to generation. Add to this the fact that expert photographers are among the most vocal and critical consumers in the world and you get a product platform which struggles to buck tradition, which produces the same flaws year after year. When the opportunity came to design the next Lytro camera, we both regarded it as a dream project: here was a chance to evolve the exciting Lightfield camera by adopting traditional camera controls and therefore so much more capability - but also, because this was a whole new platform: here was a chance to buck traditions and evolve the conversation about what a high-end camera can be.
Markus' ability to quickly generate form studies in the shop allowed us to quickly zero in on ergonomic concepts. We knew right from the beginning that the absence of a viewfinder on the camera would require a new ergonomic approach - one that would allow dynamic positioning of the camera body without sacrificing stability and comfort as well as visibility of the screen. Finding the right solution wasn't easy, and took many iterations. Early on, I was a big advocate for a "toggle" solution, where half of the camera body would swivel like a light switch to adapt to different viewing angles. Markus favored a baked-in angle to the body shape. In the end, a hybrid of the two was the ultimate solution: a baked-in body angle that incorporates a novel "kick" action on the screen to quickly toggle between angled and perpendicular screen orientations.
The first thing you might notice about the Illum is the forward slanting angle of the camera body. A traditional camera is centered around holding the camera up to the eye. A perpendicular body makes perfect sense for that purpose, but shooting with the Illum is different. Shooting Lightfield is a computational experience. The viewfinder is replaced by the touchscreen, and for this reason a traditional perpendicular form factor just won't do. As you hold the camera out from the body to view the screen, your grip changes and your vantage point changes. From these observations, we developed a functional and dynamic posture right into the camera - one as versatile as the shifting postures of the user.
Now that we had the ergonomics and architecture sorted out, it was time to get deep into the details of how this camera should feel and behave. When it comes to the controls you find on today's cameras, this is an area we all felt strongly we could improve upon. The first order of business was to develop a stronger relationship between software and hardware than you typically find in a high-end camera. The physical controls are carefully curated to provide a balance between staying engaged with your subject (use your hands, not your eyes to select and change settings), and creating engagement with the software experience (using the GUI to adjust, share and compose after the shot has been taken).
Also, we wanted to take a fresh look at so many details that are typically "leftovers" in a high-end camera. My personal favorite is the approach we took with the hotshoe - rather than purchasing an off the shelf component, we found a way to integrate the hotshoe right into the lens barrel. Just one simple detail that makes a big difference and drops a clue that there is something remarkable about this camera. Another win came with the strap lug design - we visited local camera shops and found that straps with quick releases were hands-down best sellers. So we built a quick release mechanism into the strap lug itself so you can make any strap a quick release strap.
Certainly, one of the most rewarding aspects of the project was working out the manufacturing challenges shoulder-to-shoulder with our client Dave Evans. Before his life as Lytro's Design Director, Dave lived numerous incarnations as Product Designer (One&Co/HTC), Manufacturing Innovator (Apple), CAD surfacing specialist (One&Co/HTC), and prototyping mentor (Stanford University) - and this leaves out a multitude of several more adventures in product development Dave has tucked away in his resume. The above picture attempts to show a set of stern faces as we were set on banging out the part breakup and fabrication plan for Illum. I couldn't keep a stern face, working with these guys was just too much fun.
The best part of designing this camera has been owning the camera :). It's just plain fun - and it's distinctive presence is guaranteed to gather attention on the street or at the park. For me, the additional tools for composition and animation lend another dimension to the creative process.