At first glance, there’s something Frankenstein-like about the Light L16 computational camera. When viewed from the front, it could be any number of things: a funky looking hard drive, a mini-tablet festooned with lenses, a portable speaker riddled with sensors.

But the creators see nothing strange about this photo device. To them, the Light L16 is a bold new concept, one that's clearly defined by the design: A single camera body with 16 different lenses.

In truth, it's more than that. The L16 actually marries multiple optics components with powerful software to produce images worthy of an advanced digital camera. The lofty goal is to reproduce the picture quality of SLR cameras, which capture very good images in all lighting situations. The problem, as the L16's engineers see it, is that SLRs are so bulky people are reluctant to use them. So the group set out to invent a simple, portable device with an arsenal of built-in lenses. 

The Light L16 camera
The new Light L16 computational camera offers 16 different "lens modules."
Photo: Terry Sullivan

To start, the group is targeting the highest end of the photography market: That's where camera companies are still seeing growth. The L16 is available for pre-order at $1,300 and will eventually retail for around $1,700. To appreciate the value in those prices, you need to factor in the cost of a full-frame SLR body and, of course, all those extra lenses.  

How It Works

What truly sets the camera apart is its ability to stitch photos together. When you press the shutter, the L16 uses several "lens modules" (lenses + sensors) to capture an image, each module functioning almost like a separate camera. Then it uses internal software to instantly combine the data into one frame. Because some frames overlap more than others, the resolution will vary, based on focal length, between 40 and 52 megapixels. Those figures rate right up there with advanced SLRs.

Light L16 camera
To cut down on size, the "lens modules" are packed closely together within the camera body.
Photo: Terry Sullivan

By allowing the camera to stitch various images together digitally, the inventors were able to create a thin, lightweight body. They reduced the thickness even more by employing a "folded optics" strategy that uses tiny mirrors to direct light periscope-like into zoom lenses laid on their sides.

The camera has an effective optical zoom range of 35 to 150mm (4.3x zoom), which is slightly longer than the 18 to 55mm, or roughly 3x zoom range, found on most SLR or mirrorless kit lenses. So you get longer zoom range with less bulk. The L16 also offers built-in wireless and captures 4K-resolution video, although the first generation model won’t provide the same sweep of options available for still photos. 

Never-Before-Seen Photo Ops

The one-of-a-kind design affords this camera some provocative capabilities. Since each shot uses several lenses, you can adjust the depth-of-field with image-editing software long after you snapped the picture. In the process, you can also adjust the focal point. In this respect, the camera's functionality somewhat resembles that of the Lytro (although the L16's makers insist their camera will be much easier to use).

You can feasibly take the multiple-exposure benefits of high-dynamic-range photography to a whole new level, too. For example, if you shoot a subject in front of a brightly lit window, you generally have to expose for the indoor subject and blow out all the outdoor details. If you expose for the bright scene outdoors instead, your subject becomes a silhouette. HDR lets you shoot three quick photos and then merge the best parts from all three exposures in one frame. You get a detailed subject standing in front of a detailed backdrop.

But that all changes when your subject starts moving, because it's hard to combine three successive images when your focal point is dashing across the frame. With the L16's many lenses, however, you can capture all three exposures at once, which means you can potentially freeze the action, maybe a moving car or a sprinting athlete, and still maintain sharp details, according to the company.

This is the Light L16 camera
The Light L16's "folded optics" design allows the camera to be even thinner and relatively lightweight.
Photo: Terry Sullivan

Additional Specs and Availability

Officially available summer 2016, the L16 will come with an internal, non-removable battery good for roughly 400 shots per charge and a handgrip with an additional cell that doubles the battery life. Instead of memory card access, the camera will ship with 128GB of onboard storage. Additional features include a very large, 5-inch touchscreen LCD and, according to the makers, an easy-to-use interface for point-and-shoot functionality.

We didn't get to snap any photos with the camera, so we can't yet vouch for the picture quality or any of the other claims made by the company. We’ll be sure to get the L16 into our labs as soon as it’s available, though. In the meantime, feel free to check out our Digital Camera Buying Guide.