The whole “light field” thing caused a bit of a buzz a few years back when Lytro started announcing light field cameras. They looked like the kind of futuristic photography tech we’d see in Blade Runner or Minority Report, allowing us to shift focus after the fact and look at a true 3D scene. After shifting their focus from photography to video, killing off their sharing platforms, and ultimately selling out to Google, not much has been said about the tech since.
Now, though, the K|Llens One lens, teased earlier this year by German company K|Lens, is finally about to release on Kickstarter. They say that this is the world’s first light field lens that can be used with regular DSLR and mirrorless cameras – and it works for both stills and video. Designed for full-frame cameras, the lens is a “ground-breaking mix of state-of-the-art lens and software technology” which K|Lens says will open up new worlds of creativity to users.
According to the latest specs, the K|Lens One has a focal length of 80mm and an aperture of f/6.3 to f/19. But don’t be put off by that maximum aperture. Despite the light requirements, it allows for a virtual aperture offering a depth of field as shallow as f/0.8, which is incredibly shallow for a lens of this focal length. It’s designed for full-frame cameras and has a minimum working distance from 50cm up to infinity.
How does it offer a “virtual aperture”? Well, it essentially shoots 9 images at once, with each taking up 1/9th the area of your sensor for a 3×3 grid. This does have the effect of reducing the native resolution of your camera, meaning that on something like a Nikon Z7 II, which offers 45-megapixels, you’re going to end up with something around the 5-megapixel mark. But depending on what you’re doing with those images, that might be enough for your needs.
The lens essentially turns any camera into a 3D camera. It means you can produce 3D images and video for stereo, holo or lightfield displays, produce higher quality “3D” images for social media sites like Facebook, easy keying of subjects from their environments (although, this lens will likely be a bit too expensive for your Zoom and Skype calls), and allow for more advanced manipulation of your creations in post.
Because of the way the lens and the software works to reconstruct the final image along with a z-depth map, you are also able to shoot video with this lens. But, do be aware that you will again only be shooting at 1/9th the overall resolution of your sensor. So, if your camera shoots 4K, then your final result is going to be around 720p. If you’re using something like the Canon EOS R5 (or the upcoming Nikon Z9) that shoots 8K video, then you’ll get something around 1440p (2560 x 1440 pixels).
That is a significant drop in resolution, particularly for stills, so this definitely isn’t a lens for everybody. Right now, it’s a specialist lens for specific tasks like Visual Effects, where having that 3D depth information can be vital for compositing and selling off an effect as real. As cameras increase in resolution in the coming months and years, this technology will become more and more useful for a wider range of users.
Interestingly, while all of the software was developed in-house, the lens itself, they say, was developed in cooperation with Carl Zeiss Jena GmbH, who they say will also be doing all of the manufacturing. So, while K|Lens might be a company that few have heard of, it will essentially be a Zeiss lens. And not just their name stamped on somebody else’s product as Huawei did with Leica, as they’re actually making the thing.
K|Lens says that the hardware has now been fully developed and that the software “is continuously improved in order to integrate further functionalities”. Hopefully, this won’t be a repeat of the Light L16, with hardware that held a lot of promise and software that just simply couldn’t deliver. They also say that if successful, more focal lengths of light field lenses will be released in the future.
The initial 80mm K|Llens One will be offered in Nikon F, Canon EF and Sony E mount. It will be usable on Leica L, Nikon Z and Canon RF via the use of an adapter.
The K|Lens One is coming to Kickstarter on November 29th, with an early bird price starting at €1,799 (around $2049). After the campaign is over, this will essentially double, bringing the retail price to €3,599 (around $4,099). You can find out more and sign up for notifications for the Kickstarter launch on the K|Lens website and see our previous coverage here.