16 Cameras in One? Light Announces L16 Multi-Aperture Computational Camera as Pocket-Sized DSLR Challenger

Want a camera with the imaging power of a digital SLR that can fit in your pocket? Well, a Palo Alto, CA-based company called Light has an interesting new compact device that promises to be 16 cameras in one. Called the L16, the slender, rectangle-shaped device is stuffed with an arachnoid-like array of cameras and lenses, which combine with software to capture what the company claims will be DSLR-worthy images.

We got some hands-on time with a prototype of the L16 recently and were intrigued by the concept, which Light calls the first “multi-aperture computational camera.” While that might sound geeky and while the unusual-looking camera itself takes some getting used to (its lens array did, indeed, remind us of some strange spider), what it’s promising could be nothing short of amazing. (Images of our time with the L16 are included in this story.)

The L16 is equipped with an array of 16 13-megapixel, smartphone-sized sensors (made by Aptina) at focal lengths of 35mm, 70mm, and 150mm. To squeeze all this into a device that can fit into a pants pocket (it slid snugly into the front pocket of my skinny jeans), the L16 uses molded, plastic lenses equipped with tiny, directional mirrors. (See the image at the bottom of this story to get an idea of how Light fits all these sensors and lenses into the L16's chassis.)

When shooting a photo, the L16 fires several of the cameras in the group at multiple focal lengths and apertures simultaneously, and then fuses the images together via the device’s internal computer to create a single image at up to 52MP of resolution. Focal range is 35-150mm and zooming is done by pinch zooming on the device’s 5-inch, high definition rear touchscreen display, or by sliding your finger vertically on the screen.

The L16 takes a few seconds to merge the multiple images together into a high-resolution photo but the user can see a quick snapshot of the image on the device’s screen. You can edit the images on the device and then share them to popular social networks using the L16’s built-in WiFi. Photos can be captured in a variety of formats including a Raw format.

According to Light, since the L16 is shooting an image at multiple focal lengths and apertures, it captures more data in each shot, allowing you to change the main focal point and depth of field later. This is similar to what Lytro has done with its cameras but with a different approach. (Rajiv Laroia, who is co-founder and CTO of Light, assured us that this was only one feature of the L16, not it’s main purpose as is the case with Lytro’s products.)

The L16 can shoot HD or 4K video but uses only one of the camera modules for video capture. It can also shoot six frame still image bursts at 1/40th second per shot. Images and video are stored to 128GB of internal memory. It runs a version of the Android mobile operating system and is powered by a Snapdragon processor.

Will all this technology combine to work in the way that Light says it will? That remains to be seen but Light has already turned heads in the tech world. The company has attracted over $35 million in seed money and they’ve partnered with Foxconn to eventually bring the technology to smartphones.

Photographers looking to get their hands on the L16 will have to wait a while, however. It’s not slated to go on sale until late summer 2016 for $1,699. There will be a limited supply available for pre-order for $1,299  through the Light website starting November 6, 2015.

Light was founded in 2013 by Laroia and Dave Grannan (who serves as Light’s CEO), both who have backgrounds in mobile technology. Laroia founded and served as CTO of Flarion Technologies, which developed the tech behind LTE and was acquired by Qualcomm in 2006. Grannan was CEO of Vlingo, the first natural language speech recognition service for mobile phones. Vlingo provided speech recognition for the first Siri app and was acquired by Nuance Communications 2012.

Calvin James's picture

who needs 16 camera though? really?