Camera maker Lytro, a Silicon Valley start-up, started taking pre-orders Thursday for its revolutionary Lytro camera, which has a tentative release date for early 2012. The Lytro camera allows the user to snap photos instantaneously and then manually alter the focus and perspective of the image later.

We see technology companies all the time, but it's rare that someone comes along with something that is this much of a breakthrough, said Ben Horowitz, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, an investor in Lytro. It's super exciting.

But what's so revolutionary about the Lytro camera anyway? Here are five of the Lytro's best features.

No shutter lag. Until Lytro came along, no one had addressed the camera's one major flaw: shutter lag. Photographers have missed too many fleeting moments and perfect shots because of auto-focus, or the substantially more time-consuming manual focus. With the Lytro's instant shutter, users can simply zoom, point and click away without pause.

Utter simplicity. Digital camera makers think more features and settings means a better photography experience; Lytro heartily disagrees. The Lytro camera is a complete departure from other cameras on the market, with no autofocus, shutter, modes, dials or settings. The camera doesn't even feature flash since it can easily handle low-light settings. The camera has 8x zoom potential, a USB port, and a power button. Besides that, picture taking is as simple as pointing and clicking.

Perfect pictures every time. Lytro devices capture 11 million light rays and instantaneously record aspects of light including color, intensity and direction. The camera collects and combines raw light data with a unique sensor called a microlens array, which is at the very heart of Lytro's invention, to capture images the moment they happen. Later, you can revisit your photos on your Mac and experiment with putting different parts of the image in the background and foreground. This is particularly useful when there are more multiple focal points in the photo. Also, the cameras capture enough data to create 3-D images, which can be viewed on the computer screen with 3-D glasses.

It's fashionable. Lytro's camera looks like no other camera on the market; if it resembles anything at all, the Lytro looks like a blocky, mini telescope. Measuring only four inches long and weighing less than eight ounces, it's easy to confuse this sheik camera for a tube of lipstick. The camera also comes in three candy colors, including red hot, electric blue and graphite, which make it look even more like a fashion accessory.

Friends can play, too. Tinkering with Lytro photos doesn't just stop at the user; as Lytro founder Ren Ng explains, they become interactive, living pictures. At launch, the Lytro camera will only compatible with Mac computers running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or higher, but users can share the photos to Facebook or Twitter where friends on any platform can enjoy the same interactive controls as the photographer, focusing and adjusting the image to their liking. No special software is required.

The Lytro camera, developed by Lytro founder and chief executive Ren Ng, features an 8x optical zoom and comes with 8 GB or 16 GB of storage, which can hold 350 or 750 photos, respectively. The company is currently developing a Windows application for Lytro. Pricing starts at $399.