The first Light L16 computational camera reviews are in and they are not good

The Light L16 computational camera (now priced at $1,950 after a recent $250 price increase) already started shipping in very limited quantities. The first reviews are in and things don't look very good:

I left the Light event scratching my head a bit. Maybe Light gets there and gives us all the camera that the L16 hopes to be. Maybe it takes a generation or two. Or, maybe Light’s not really interested in making a piece of hardware that it sells to millions of consumers. Perhaps Light is more likely to take this tech as far as it can before the company is acquired by Apple, Samsung or some other tech giant. An acquisition may make the most sense as a company goal. If Apple, Samsung, Sony or whoever can shrink the tech down to a phone-sized package, they could get the next leg up on the competition. Unfortunately, I think the dream that Light is dreaming is a little to big for the small company to achieve in today’s camera market. And I hope I’m wrong. (PhotographyBay)

If the L16 is ever going to have any chance of competing against the likes of cameras like these, or even many cameras costing far less, it will need to address the issues shown above or it simply won't be taken seriously by enthusiast photographers. We can certainly hope that Light's image processing improves over time, but we’ve also seen that processing alone can only go so far in repairing artifacts and eliminating noise. We'd be happy to be proven wrong, but what we're seeing in many L16 images to date seems tied to fundamentals of their approach, rather than being amenable to firmware fixes. (Imaging-Resource)

The weakness of the L16 is the extremely large file sizes and the ability of Light’s Lumen (beta) software to convert these files to usable DNG and JPEG files. The software is limited, slow and doesn’t (yet?) allow for batch file handling. I don’t know that most consumers are going to enjoy working with these extremely large files. (TimmulHolland)

As a serious hiker, backpacker, outdoor adventurer, and globetrotter who travels light and wants great photos… I really want the Light L16 to achieve its promise! And it’s the L16’s reliance on software rather than hardware gives me hope. It seems that many of the L16’s current shortcomings and missing features can be improved upon and added over time via their “frequent” software updates. Case in point, I belive that AFTER-taking-a-photo, focus plane adjustment is coming very soon. As I write, a Light representative says “This feature will be available when we release the new version of Lumen in about 1 week.” (AdventureAlan)

Additional information on the L16 camera can be found at

If you have the L16 camera and want to share your experience, you can send me an email or post a comment below.

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  • dpanch_89

    Well, what can one expect from a bunch of tiny smartphone sensors crammed into a package with different lenses attached?

    • dredlew

      Frankly, their demo shots looked worse than what a top-of-the-line smartphone can produce. I would have expected much better given the concept and especially the price.

      • I can see this as a nice gadget to play with for let’s say $400. $2,000 is just way too much. Like one of the reviews said – they are into this to get acquired by a big company, not to sell a product to consumers.

        • dredlew

          Sure, they might be in it to get acquired but I think they’d have to have a viable product first. If they managed to make the IQ superior than anything else in the same size form factor, I could see it. A larger corporation buying them could make the product much more affordable. But at the moment, the IQ is not there, so what do they really have to sell? Software that doesn’t work? Hardware that doesn’t work? They have a theoretical idea and a prototype, not much more. Seems like risky business to buy.

          • Yes, I wonder who is ready to pay $2,000 for this camera.

    • Michael Gmirkin

      Quite a bit, actually. And shitty review(s) aside, it actually delivers pretty well on its promise. Yeah, there’s rough spots, at present, but implying it’s a failure, or majorly/permanently deficient is, I think wrong, and quite premature.

      Quite a few folks have already gotten their cameras, and are already using them to good effect, and enjoying themselves in the process.

      Sure, they’ll tell you the various high and low points for the camera, but that’s true of any camera. And it’s being actively developed / improved, which is something you generally can’t say of most monolithic cameras over their lifetime.

      I’d agree it probably will never match the flagship DSLRs and full-frame cameras from the industry leaders who’ve been in the game for 20-50 years. But, folks who seem to think it has to, in order to be of value, or that it was intended to, have a seriously wrong-headed approach, and have missed the point, and the boat…

      Let’s give them their Generation 1 product, and see what they can do with it, as they develop it into whatever it ends up becoming over the life of the product, before jumping to completely rash conclusions or hasty generalizations. And also see what they do with Generation 2, if/when that comes out. There’s always going to be a shake-out period with any new/disruptive technology. By today’s standards, the original iPod(s) / iPhone(s) were crap. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t pivot the entire market, or get improved generation-over-generation.

      This camera already has a lot going for it, even in its current “extended Beta” (being realistic, for a moment) state. Yeah, it’s got places to go, and things yet to do, but even now, It’s already doing a lot. And the future for the thing is pretty wide open, given its software-based nature, active development, and eventual extensibility with 3rd party Android apps.

      • Do you work for Light or you are getting paid to promote the L16? Because all of your previous comments are about how good the L16 is.

        • planetMitch

          Is there a problem with people who LIKE the Light L16? There are plenty of people who have said good things, but you only posted the negative comments.

          • No, I have a problem with people promoting their websites, products or whatever and make it look like a “regular “ comment. Just look at your comments history and you will see what I mean.

          • crickets… I guess I was right…

        • also crickets here… I guess I was right…

      • Thom Hogan

        The problem for Light is that they raised US$65m in venture capital. They’ll need sales in the hundreds of millions to even begin to pay that back. We’re talking hardware volume—at the US$2000 price point, mind you—that’s as good as the big ILC vendors get from a model to produce that. And I don’t see how they get there.

      • Zeneize

        Are you trying to sell us something? If so, try using fewer words.

        • I should probably ban both accounts for spam.

  • It seems that they’ve made little progress in the last year or so. That’s a pity and I hope that slow progress doesn’t kill the concept. IF they could make this produce results at least comparable to single-shot m43 images with a 24 – 120mm (35mm equivalent) FOV at f/2.8 (or even f/4) then I would be seriously interested in one as a general-purpose camera.

    It might take the resources of Sony or Google et al to make this work.

    • Michael Gmirkin

      Or it might just take their rather compact / focused team finishing building out features and shaking down the compositing algorithms, and post-processing. We’ll have to wait and see.

      We know there are some big firmware updates and Lumen updates in the works that will improve a few areas and add some functionality. And there will undoubtedly be other big updates thereafter, to turn on more features, etc.

      As I understand it, the new Lumen will [either in the upcoming release, or at some point after] allow for additional range of synthetic aperture. I seem to recall down to f2.0 equivalent? I forget off hand. And I think they said they’d soon be rolling out the ability to adjust the focal plane(s) in Lumen?

      It’s the nice thing about being software-based. They can roll out new features over time, or improve the existing features. ‘Cause they’re, in large part, simply working with manipulating image/scene information in specific ways.

      I’m hopeful they’ll eventually get simultaneous HDR up and running, and perhaps get some P&S-esque automatic “scene modes” (vivid, tungsten, fluorescent, cloudy, etc.) implemented for those who want to simply export a JPG rather than importing DNG RAWs into Lightroom and messing with things in post for hours to get the best ‘shot’ / exposure / color balance, etc.

      • Thom Hogan

        My problem is simple: it’s the software side of things that make light field interesting. What we’re seeing from Light’s software is that they’re not there yet. Lytro’s software seems much more mature.

        The questions asked above are the correct ones. Is Light in the camera business or the software business? And is their goal selling to the end customers or building a salable asset?

        • Lytro already dumped their consumer products to concentrate on high end cinema cameras. The price of their cameras was also cheaper. I just don’t see how the L16 makes any sense today at $2,000.

  • Michael Gmirkin

    Umm, not exactly a “balanced” review.

    I suggest reading/summarizing ALL the reviews, in full, rather than just one or two reviews, and then cherry-picking only the “bad” part(s) of the review(s) to report on.

    The reviews do note that it is still very early days, the camera has a few
    areas it does well in, and a few areas it needs some work, and that
    Light is actively improving software, firmware, etc. on an ongoing basis, and rolling out software/firmware updates fairly frequently, as well as actively taking customer input on features, ideas, places the algorithms are currently having issues, etc. The great thing about it is that since it’s largely software-based, where it’s currently at is not where it will be at for the lifetime of the product. Yes, the hardware is ‘locked,’ but the software/firmware is not, unlike so many other cameras out there, where what you buy is what you get for the duration of that model’s lifetime.

    I agree, and they agree, they’ve still got a road ahead to get it where it needs to be in all areas. But they are actively developing for it, and have multiple updates in the pipeline, both to improve functionality/interface, and to improve the desktop software for processing the images after the fact.

    FWIW, here’s another review, or two, you didn’t include (some of it’s flattering, other parts enumerate some of the areas it’s currently struggling):

  • planetMitch

    You left out the most important one. The Wall Street Journal gave an overall very good rating – tho indicated the Light L16 right now is for early adopters.

    • The WSJ post is not accessible – you have to pay to read it:

    • Nyarlathotep

      On paper this tool is a great idea, but execution is well, lacking, WSJ articles or no.

      As the manufacturer, I would be way more concerned about what was identified by the reviewers noted above and way less about a non-technical site, WSJ. The fact that the images are rough at best. Abundant blending issues, “Smoothies”, edge halos and consistent acuity problems in general are going to be a tough pill to swallow. Especially for $2K. Either the price needs to be an order of magnitude lower or the imaging improved by a significant margin.

      • Correct – I can see this for around $300-$400, but $2,000 for what it currently offers is way overpriced. I also don’t care what future upgrades and improvements may or may not come, the camera is selling for $2,000 now.

        • Nyarlathotep

          Yeah, that $2K is a poison pill. As a curiosity, I might jump at 200 or 300, with potential future improvements. But really the present issues appear to show this hardware should not be anywhere close to retail availability.

  • Narretz

    I wouldn’t call the imaging resource article a review; it’s an examination of photos posted by Light/co themselves. So at no point did ir have the camera to themselves. That doesn’t discredit their summary but it’s definitely not a full review.

  • Azmodan

    The physics and maths behind the camera is what’s interesting. I’m not worried about results yet, I can see a strong future for a light field camera, after all of the huge amount of information available in the light field that impinges on the sensor we only keep the intensity in a regular camera, what a waste. I was working on other aspects of computational photography at Canon a few years ago, and what we really lack is on-board processing power. Give it another 5 years and computational photography will be mainstream and an integral part of any camera at least higher end. It doesn’t necessarily have to be for refocus like Light does, it could be to produce accurate depth maps, capture polarisation, allow for non-circular apertures that can allow for improved DoF just to name a few. Wait until our cameras have the power of even todays top-shelf smart phones. We will also do Canon DLO in camera to RAW capture and correct a large number of aberrations. Imagine smaller cheaper less corrected lens, that are made almost perfect computationally in the camera

  • silmasan

    Peter, you’re probably waiting to put it in the next ‘what else is new’ article, but 2 days ago the news of Apple acquiring Invisage (maker of QuantumFilm) came out, and I remember seeing the demo video from here on PR.

    If you recall it’s the one with 70s oversaturated colors, soft focus and some other quirks, but the key is that highlights rolloff and gradation was very film-like. So frustrating reading Apple rumor websites where some people think it’s just about having thinner camera that doesn’t bulge out… -_-

    • Yes, I am just behind…

  • Same with the first Lytro cam.
    Pretty much it’s all a prototype with drawbacks and child diseases…
    The concept is there… the general idea… it just lacks a bunch of finesse (and attractive pricing) to get it to a big enough crowd. Which is probably why they’ll refocus their activities like many other startups have and get swallowed by a big corporation wanting to buy their department or need to change from a consumer markt product to a professional/business one like Lytro did.

  • A quick update – this is the email I got from Light’s PR:

    Hi PhotoRumors team,

    xxxxx from Light’s PR team here, it’s nice to meet you.

    I just finished reading your recent post on the Light reviews. At this point, we’ve only had one official media review publish with the Wall Street Journal:

    The articles you’re linking to include a publication that hasn’t even seen a camera, a customer with a balanced review and someone that shared their reactions after ~20 minutes with the camera.

    I’m bummed that the few negative bits from these other posts were framed the way they were in your post, especially since we’ve never met or given you a hands-on look with the camera.

    I’d love to find a way to work together – would you be free for a call this week?

    Thanks and talk soon,

    • This was my response:

      Hi xxxxx,

      Thanks for your email. If you read the comments to my post, you will see that the WSJ article requires a subscription in order to view it – this is the reason I did not include it in my post. I am also not sure what is an “official media review”. I run multiple photo gear blogs for over 10 years and have never heard this term. With all due respect I really have nothing further to discuss here. Feel free to send me future reviews of the camera and I will be happy to include them in my post.


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