Light L16: Will Your Next Camera Have 16 Lenses?

Light L16 Front View

One look at Light’s L16 camera and you know something interesting is happening here.

Light’s L16 camera promises to put a 35-150mm zoom—plus the image quality of a DSLR—in your pocket 

Digital technology has radically altered what’s inside your camera, but until now, not much is new with respect to how the light gets in. That’s not to say there haven’t been significant advances in lens technology, but your camera still has just one lens and image sensor.

That’s about to change with Light’s new L16 camera. Instead of a single lens and sensor, the L16 employs an array of 16 lens/sensor camera modules that capture the scene at multiple focal lengths, and then “computationally fuses” this data into a single image of up to 52-megapixels. By capturing the image from multiple focal lengths simultaneously, the L16 records much more data than a single lens and sensor, and allows you to make sophisticated adjustments like changing an image’s depth-of-field after capture. It also provides a focal range of a 35-150mm zoom in a totally flat design that requires no actual physical zooming.

I recently met with Co-Founder and CEO Dave Grannan, and Bradley Lautenbach, VP Marketing, in our Santa Monica office, and they brought along a pre-production model. They expect to ship the camera in summer 2016 for $1,699, but a limited number of pre-order units will be available for a special price of $1,299 starting today, October 7, and running through November 6.

The physical dimensions of the camera, at least in this stage of development, are roughly the size of an iPhone 6 Plus, but about three times as thick (this is from my impression handling it, and by no means a scientifically-accurate measurement, but an anecdotal one give you an idea of the size). Though subject to change in final production units, the ergonomics were very satisfying, as was the physical design overall. The lens array on the front of the camera has a distinctive look, immediately telegraphing that something different is happening here. I asked Dave if there was a reason beyond aesthetics for the arrangement of the lenses, and he told me that there are few ways they could have placed the lenses, and that this is one of the configurations that worked best technically.

Light L16 Lens Closeup

A close up look at the L16’s sixteen lens/sensor camera module array.

Depending on the focal length you’ve selected, a combination of ten of the sixteen lens/sensor camera modules (five at 35mm, five at 70mm and six at 150mm) fires simultaneously to capture the ten images that will be combined to create the final image. Each of these lenses has a constant aperture of f/2.4 that’s a perfect circle, allowing the L16 to computationally produce exquisite bokeh when selecting a shallow depth of field. Focal length and other exposure settings are controlled via the large, 5-inch touchscreen LCD and a touch-sensitive thumb pad on the back of the camera.

Light L16 Back

The back of the Light L16 features a 5-inch touchscreen LCD and a touch-sensitive thumb pad for camera control.

The L16 leverages the availability of high-quality camera modules similar to those used in smartphones. These camera modules have the advantage of being extremely small and lightweight compared to traditional camera lenses, the tradeoff being a diminished ability to collect light. By combining the data collected from multiple camera modules, the L16 is able to overcome this limitation and produce images that promise to rival or even surpass the image quality that’s possible with much heavier and larger traditional single-lens cameras. Sample images that I was shown by the Light team exhibited exceptionally low noise, impressive detail and sharpness, and with a resolution of 52 megapixels, compete with the top professional DSLRs.

Low-light Image Taken With L16

A sample low-light image provided by Light.

Also built-in to the device, not as an afterthought but as an integral part of the user experience, is WiFi connectivity, for instant image transfers and social sharing. Image editing tools will also be available for in-camera adjustments.

For outdoor and adventure photographers who want to keep the weight of their gear to a minimum without compromising image quality, a 52-megapixel camera that offers a 35-150mm zoom range and image quality rivaling professional interchangeable-lens cameras has the potential to be a game changer. For more information on the L16 product launch, see https://spot.light.co/Light‐L16‐Camera‐Launch.

Light L16 Sample Image At 35mm

Example image provided by Light to show L16 zoom range @ 35mm.

Light L16 Sample Image At 70mm

Example image provided by Light to show L16 zoom range @ 70mm.

Light L16 Sample Image At 150mm

Example image provided by Light to show L16 zoom range @ 150mm.

Wes is the editor of Outdoor Photographer.