Introducing the Lytro Illum Lightfield Camera / by Brenda Hartshorn

New Toys!

Why yes, Christmas did come early.  I've been keeping an eye out for prices on the Lytro Illum and I was able to get it for a steal off Woot.com last month.  I started playing around with different scenarios captures to see what this new technology had to offer.  
Lytro is attempting to brand the concept as Living Pictures, but let's get it straight.. it's a lightfield.  

With the Illum, there are many small lenses over the sensor to be able to capture the light rays from different positions.  In theory, this allows the software to be able to estimate depth so that the user can click on different areas of the image.  When the file is processed and exported, it allows the user to change what they would like to focus on and also allows for slight changes in the viewing perspective to create a more engaging experience.  However, with all new technology- there are going to be some bugs.  Where to do I file my P0s?  I'm not saying it's horrible, on the contrary- it is actually a very impressive piece of equipment for how small and user friendly it is.  But it's far from being professional publishing grade.  I do however think the Illum will end up being a very good preview tool by professionals in this new technology.  Much like how Polaroid was used as a preview in studio photography for large and medium format cameras back in the silver age of film. And for those of you hipsters out there that keep saying film is making a come back: No, son... just no.

Since the Illum is attempting to estimate depth in it's processing, I decided to push the device to its limits by putting it in various tricky scenarios and visit some of my favorite places in the process.  This will be the first of a many part series going over the subject of lightfield subject matters, processing, and user experience.  However, as an introduction I am going to proceed with this post as editorial on the location so you can create your own first impressions.

Welcome to Main Street

I hadn't visited Chinese Camp for nearly 15 years.  With all the housing development that has occurred in California over the last 10 years, let me tell you: Chinese Camp was not one of them.  The only thing that changed was the fact that the mummified bat that hanging in the window of an abandoned building had fallen down.  You read that correctly, mummified bat.  When I had first visited, one of the locals approached my dad and I awkwardly with the amazement and excitement that they would be actually able to speak to another person that day.  He gave us a short tour and pointed out that I should take a photo of the bat.  It had gotten trapped between the screen and the window and overtime naturally dried out entombed in the attic window.

During the Gold Rush, Chinese Camp was actually a significant town as it is located at the intersection of HWY 49 (which connects all of the major mining towns) and HWY 120 (which was the supply route from Stockton.)  It was originally named Camp Washington, but grew to be known as Chinese Camp as it was home to 5,000 Chinese during the Gold Rush.  It was also home to one of the first Tong Wars in California that consisted of 2,000 people from 2 rival clans.  However, because there were only a few firearms were used during the fight and weapons used were mostly handmade knives and mining tools, there were very few people that died although many were injured.

Today, Main Street is a whole one block long.  The whole town consists about 8 blocks total and a population of 126 according to the 2010 census.  However, those numbers could also be contributing from the surrounding rural ranch areas.  I would say about half of the town itself where the post office, fire station, and gas station are located are abandoned buildings.  Most of these buildings have boarded up windows and have walls that have fallen down.  They would seem completely uninhabitable and probably are condemned, I did however observer evidence that someone was taking shelter in one of the old buildings.  Despite their deteriorate state, they are protected from being torn down or remodeled because it is considered a historic site.  I would understand if this was a state/county/national park or if the city took the effort to attract tourists to the area that these buildings should remain intact.  However, the current condition of them are so poor I can't imagine they are doing anything good for the community.  There are many other mining towns in the area that have kept up the look of their downtown's, host festivals, and attract a number of people on their way to the snow or lake, who like wine tasting, enjoy little shops, or want to get a feel of what the gold rush was like.  As much as I do enjoy taking photos of rust, property value and a healthy economy is something that comes to the front of my mind when looking at these depressed places.  Or a more pointed question: Who would want to live out here?

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