When you think of controlling the focus of images after the fact, you probably think of the Lytro camera; a clever little device (one is tempted to say prototype) that shows us one way of gaining different info from a shot, instead of spending all our pixels on increased resolution. But now there is an iPhone/iPad app (I’m tempted to think of this as a prototype as well) which allows you to perform a similar trick with your phone photos.
With Arqball’s FocusTwist app, its time, not resolution reduction, that is used to produce the multiple images. Hold your iPhone still, tap on the foreground element on screen to start the focus process, and in a couple of seconds the FocusTwist app will have captured multiple images with different focal planes; starting with the foreground element you selected. Take a look at this example, which I shot with FocusTwist to include in this article.
The process is something of a gimmick, in that the resulting photo can’t be used as a standard image, since there is no current format for “multiple focal plane images”. The other “gimmicky” factor is FocusTwist’s expectation that the foreground object be three to five inches from the lens. This is a great range for macro shots with recent iPhone models, and it shows off the focal plane change function clearly. But it also makes all photos taken with FocusTwist rather similar. The term “meme” comes to mind.
But there are other issues than the “one trick pony” aspect of the application. Note that, while the iPhone was carefully placed and oriented for several seconds before the shot was taken, that FocusTwist failed to orient the image correctly; it appears to be a one-orientation pony as well. And if one wished to adjust the exposure or other factors of the image, say to lighten the tub handles in the foreground? Since this is not a standard image it cannot be edited in a standard image editor, so rotation, lightening, cropping, or other adjustments are not possible. Please recall my “prototype” comment above.
Will FocusTwist images make the rounds as the next phone photo fad? Will such images be passé in a few months? Or are the capabilities of this App perhaps a bit deeper than the directions and marketing video imply? One further dimension that immediately comes to mind is time: it would be possible to capture boughs waving in the breeze, cars moving on the road, or a dancer spinning on the floor in the multiple frames of a FocusTwist image; particularly if Arqball chose to extend the App’s capture capabilities.
How much further will Arqball move with features and functionality? Will they add an option to render out to video, or animated GIF, so that the results of their app can be widely used, instead of trapped in the snowglobe of their own application and website? Will they see this as a beginning of a category, or a parlor trick? Only time will tell…