In October 2011, the $400 Lytro camera was released with a revolutionary twist on the way we take photographs. You see, the Lyrto allows users to refocus pictures at will AFTER they have been taken. This means that you can completely change the subject of the piece with a simple tap of the finger, and without having to take multiple photos. While the technology is really cool (but expensive), I’m not really sure that it took off as I’ve never seen anyone using one of these cameras in the wild.
At the time the Lytro launched, I thought for sure that it would be just a matter of days before we saw some enterprising iOS developer bring focus-less photo taking to the iPhone. Well it didn’t take days, but well over a year. However, now we finally have the ability to take focus agnostic photos courtesy of the recently released app, FocusTwist.
To make a refocus-able “twist” you simply aim your iPhone at your subject(s), tap the screen and hold the iPhone still for a couple of seconds (this works best with a tripod). During this time, you will see the focus go in and out a number of times as FocusTwist takes a number of quick, successive shots. After a moment of processing, your twist is ready to go.
By tapping on the screen, you can refocus the photo to a particular object or person. The resulting effect is quite breathtaking. Obviously the better thought out the composition, the more vivid and noticeable the effect will be. If you purposely set up your shot so that you have something in the immediate foreground and other objects positioned further away in the field of vision then you will get an ideal twist.
Completed twists are stored within app and they can be shared with others via twitter, email or SMS/iMessage. They are also accessible via a URL which can be both viewed and interacted with from any web browser. Within the app you can also view a gallery of other people’s twists (cultivated from those tweeted out with the #focustwist hashtag). This feed is great for getting ideas of what exactly what the app is capable of.
Click/tap to change the focus of this ‘Checkmate‘ example courtesy of Arqball
Only a single standard photo of the twist (presumably the initial shot) is saved to your camera roll. Looking at the source of one of my completed twists, I can see it is actually made up of seven images. The ability to save off additional still photographs from a twist (at differing focus points) is notably absent. It seems to me that this would be an incredibly useful feature and the next logical step toward making FocusTwist a more general-use photography tool. Also missing is the option to take landscape oriented twists.
There are a few other minor limitations that I should mention, the first of which is that you cannot take a usable twist if there is an object moving in the scene. It will cause some weird “ghost” objects in the finished twist. Also, even if your subject is stationary, your hands may not be, and you have to hold the iPhone fairly still while taking the shot. This is completely eliminated with the use of a tripod, but perhaps some sort of image stabilization mechanic could be implemented in a future update to help diminish the negative effects of moving. My final area of concern is that it is unclear if the twists you create can be kept private as right now they are immediately available for viewing online after being shot/saved.
Even with these minor quibbles, FocusTwist is still a really inventive and fun photography tool ripe for experimentation. At the very least, it will get you thinking a lot more about shot composition. It is remarkable how well the iPhone and this $2 app can mimic the functionality of a $400 special-use camera. Those looking for a very different type of camera tool to add to their iPhone photography arsenal will definitely want to check out FocusTwist.