The Worst Camera Ever – Light 16
I am and always will be someone who looks out for cool technology, and usually wants to be the first to use new and innovative things. I don’t mind the risks involved with the whole idea of being a digital pioneer, but sometimes that risk bites you in the ass.
Last week, I was looking through some of our digital archives and came across a video we made in February 2019. During this time, photoPXL was just starting as a project with my web developers. That didn’t mean I was sitting on my hands; we were already writing articles and producing videos like this one.
The video I found was about the Light16 camera, which was first announced in October of 2015. I remember it well, as Michael Reichmann and I spent a whole evening discussing it before we decided I should order it. Its technology and what it could do for photography sounded very promising. A month later, I put my order in for the camera. You can read more about the camera in the link above, taken from a DPreview article from that time.
The Video (7:32)
I paid and preordered the camera and expected delivery in about 10 months, or in the fall of 2016. I was excited to see this camera, as it was hailed as a totally new way of making photographs; a 52-megapixel 16-lens camera. Well, the fall of 2016 came and went, and many people started becoming very worried about their investments.
I could make this a long story, and it probably at the time deserved it. When the camera finally arrived 2 years after I ordered it, I couldn’t wait to open the box and start photographing with it. That’s when I realized it was like a visit to the dentist without Novocain. The price for this camera was $1,900 USD, and after just a few weeks with it, I was so full of frustration that I put it on the shelf and forgot about it. Then in 2019, I pulled it off the shelf to try it once more.
I updated the firmware and software and went to the Indianapolis and RV Show to try it out again with Michael Durr, photoPXL’s video producer. It was one of the worst photo experiences one could have. The video accompanying this article pretty much sums it up.
The $1,900 Light 16 was, just plain and simple, a camera that seemed to be designed by a team that had no concept of what a photographer wanted. There was no removable storage card. The controls were minimal (two buttons), and everything was controlled by the rear touch screen. The operating system was based on an Android OS. There was shutter lag and very poor performance in low light. Ergonomically, the camera was the worst I have ever used, with almost no thought given to how a camera with 12 lenses on the front should be held. Using the camera in a vertical format was super-awkward. It was missing a battery removal and any kind of image stabilization. It was advertised as being 4K-video capable, but that never materialized. The front of the camera held 12 cameras (or sensors) with mirrors and lenses (see expanded view above), and glass that was prone to fingerprints. Plus it was heavy and oversized.
There were no camera modes or face detection, and focusing was a hit-or-miss affair that was as slow as a snail. Oh, did I mention there wasn’t even a histogram? How could you not put a histogram on a camera?
Then there was the software and firmware. After you finally were able to power the camera up and take a picture, you had to then select an image and wait while the camera processed it before seeing a full-size image on the screen. Waiting and patience were a requirement.
When you got back home, getting the images off the camera was another challenge. You had to download the images using proprietary software called Lumen, which was by far the worst piece of photo software I ever used. The images loaded very slowly, and opening an image to work on took forever.
The cool part (at least in concept) was that you could use computational photography to choose the focus and depth of field when processing the images. Well, the software was buggy, and if the conditions of the scene were perfect, you could do some cool stuff. But in reality, there were very few images it could work with.
You’d select an area you wanted in focus, and this is where you could vary the focus. The software would allow you to select border areas or edges, from which you could separate in-focus and out-of-focus areas. Then it would take a few minutes to process the image. However, the results in almost all cases were complete crap.
Also, the normal controls for adjusting exposure, contrast and such were horribly designed and very slow to respond. Outputting an image was even worse, and slower than could be believed.
Color was also a challenge; the images seemed to be have some kind of strange color feel to them.
When I did the video I also shot many images side-by-side with my iPhone, and I found that in many cases, the iPhone was much better both in color and quality. While the camera could do many images with 50-plus megapixel resolution, the image quality never seemed to match what you would expect at that resolution.
When shooting the video, I became very irritated with the whole experience, and it showed in the video. Since photoPXL wasn’t launched until a few months later, I kind of forgot about this video. Once in a while I saw it on my project list, but because I didn’t have anything nice to say about it, I kind of pushed it aside. It is now off my list — I think the video will say it all.
In June 2020, Light announced they were abandoning the Light 16 project and were moving into automotive imaging for autonomous cars. I hope they produce something better for that market.
The bottom line is that this was the worst camera experience I ever had to endure. During the time they were developing their technology, mobile photography overtook them. I couldn’t imagine ever using software that was so poorly designed. In my opinion, this was a complete fail on so many levels. The camera design, user interface and software were simply deception by the company, for those users that took the risk and invested in these promised and undelivered features. For more detailed insight into this camera (as if at this point it really matters), see the review by PetaPixel. You can Google “Light 16” and read more about this camera, but it seems that just about everyone agrees it was a complete FAIL.
Photography is my passion and has been for 50 plus years. My career in photography has allowed me to travel the world, meet some of the most interesting people on the planet and see things I could never have dreamed of. My goal is to share the passion of picture taking through photographs and teaching with as many people as I can, hoping it brings them as much joy and happiness as it has me. I do this through photoPXL.com, this site, as well as Rockhopper Workshops, and other projects, as well as teaching as Artist In Residence at the Indianapolis Art Center.