All of the tech blogs are abuzz over a new kind of camera by a company called Lytro. Rather than focus on a plane in space to form an image, the Lytro captures an entire light field in front of the camera, allowing you to focus on any plane in the field after capture. To get an idea how it works, go play with their photo gallery and come back.
As someone who uses images as data to understand how plants grow and respond to stimuli, I’m very intrigued by this concept. One of the obvious weaknesses of our current methodology is that we usually limit our growth analysis to a 2-D plane because it’s tough to capture 3-D data. To get an idea of how this problem has been overcome in the past, see the article by Randy Clark and others from June 2011 in Plant Physiology (see Figure 1 in particular). If I understand this technology correctly, it could overcome that limitation in an elegant way and allow us to collect full 3-D data sets with a single, inexpensive camera. I’ll be curious to get ahold of one and try it out when they ship early next year.