L16 camera manufacturer Light abandons consumer imaging, turns to automotive: Digital Photography Review
In 2015 a start-up called Light announced a product that appeared have the potential to revolutionize photography. The Light L16 was a portable camera that, according to the company, provided ‘excellent low-light performance and DSLR-like image quality’. However, now it looks like Light has abandoned the consumer imaging market altogether and is instead focusing on the automotive sector.
The L16 offered focal lengths between 35mm and 150mm, 4K video recording, and depth-mapping technology to adjust a photo’s depth of field and focus after it has been captured. Instead of a conventional camera/lens setup it used 16 separate cameras across its front and computational imaging methods the combine the data captured by all sensors into a single output image.
|The Light L16|
When the camera finally started shipping in July 2017, after some delays and a $30M funding round, the camera’s performance was underwhelming, though, resulting in lukewarm reviews and presumably lower than expected sales figures.
Instead of working on an improved follow-up model Light turned its attention to the mobile market, announcing partnerships with smartphone makers Sony and Xiaomi. Given the Light technology’s limited space requirements and ability to fit into a flat smartphone body this seemed like a logical next move.
It followed a $121M funding round led by the SoftBank Vision Fund that also included German camera makers Leica, and the news that Nokia was going to be the first smartphone brand to launch a Light camera-equipped device. The Nokia 9 PureView was launched in February 2019 and featured a circular penta-camera setup on its back.
|Penta-camera setup on the Nokia 9 PureView|
The five Zeiss-branded lenses all came with an equivalent focal length of 28mm, an F1.8 aperture and were placed in front of 12MP image sensors, three of which were monochrome and two RGB. In addition, there was a dedicated depth sensor.
Much like the L16, the 9 PureView camera could not convince the testers, though, with more conventional camera setups in the flagship phones from rivals Apple, Samsung or Huawei delivering better results across the board.
Now it looks very much like the Nokia 9 PureView was the first and last smartphone with Light camera technology as the company has told Android Authority in a statement that it is ‘no longer operating in the smartphone industry.’
On the Light website there are no traces of smartphone or consumer camera technology to be found anymore. Instead, a statement on the About page says ‘Light is a depth-sensing and perception technology company focused on providing automobiles with the ability to see like humans.’
|The company is now focusing on the automotive sector.|
Demand for camera technology in the automotive sector has been rising quickly and with autonomous vehicles being on the brink of mass production the potential for growth seems almost unlimited. If Light’s venture into automotive will be more successful than the company’s beginnings in consumer, imaging investors could finally see a return.
This said, despite the lack of success in the marketplace, both the Light L16 camera and Nokia 9 PureView smartphone will always be remembered as innovative imaging devices and secure their place in tech history.