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Mark Tebbe on getting the right focus

Updated: July 26, 2012 6:11AM

I’m a self-admitted geek who grew up in the technology industry loving gadgets — not to brag about owning the latest and greatest doohickey but rather to independently learn how it improves on existing products.

While I’ve had a personal computer since 1975 and a cell phone since 1984, my love of photography makes me a sucker for new cameras. In the past few decades, I’ve taken more than 165,000 photos and have owned well over 100 cameras.

I shoot mostly travel and kid photos, because I believe that while you’ve got to live in the moment, you also have to be able to recall the past. Photos are a great way to do both.

It was film-based when I started. Snap a photo. Then another. And several days after that “moment,” you would get your pictures back only to find some were good but most had issues: Images were out of focus, had bad framing or the wrong exposure.

The arrival of digital cameras allowed me to reduce those problems, but one thing has always vexed me: changing my mind after capturing that moment. Like a spontaneous photo of my daughter in Antarctica as a penguin walked by her — when I shot the photo, I put the bird in focus and Kira slightly out. No current post-shot digital processing allows me to get her in focus and the penguin slightly out.

So, I was excited for the new Lytro camera because they record “living pictures.” Instead of snapping a photo, this $400 camera captures the light field around what’s been photographed. As such, you can refocus your photo’s subject. (It’s very cool.) If I had used the Lytro camera, with one mouse click she would be in focus. Believe me, the realm of what’s possible with this technology is off the charts.

Regrettably, this first version of the camera is best suited for those who are excited by curious experimentation rather than those who really want to capture dynamically versatile photos. The camera’s limited resolution — as well as the cumbersome method to share these photos — puts a real damper on its general usage. Even so, I’m optimistic about this technology.

Constant improvements over those lingering frustrations is what makes new gadgets so appealing, and they will continue to enhance our daily reality in ways that only science fiction writers once dreamed. Living through this era is amazing, which is why I will always be a gadget geek.

Mark Tebbe donated his $1,000 fee for writing this column to the Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute.

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