Before the arrival of 360 degree cameras, 360 degree photography involved having to shoot as many as 50-60 photographs with the aid of a panoramic tripod head so as to be able to seamlessly stitch them together to create a 360 degree panorama. The greater the number of photos you clicked, the better the quality of your photo-sphere would be. However, there were several challenges to this approach. Moving subjects being one of them. Your subjects are bound to move if you’re going to take as many as 50-60 photos. This would sometimes result in people appearing more than once in the same panorama, for example. Even more difficult to deal with was that people would end up getting cut in photos because they were walking out of one of the many frames shot for the 360 degree panorama. Not a desirable effect at all!
Changing lighting conditions also posed significant problems when trying to maintain exposures while shooting for a 360 degree panorama. Any significant changes in the lighting would make the process of stitching together the photos seamlessly very difficult.
The Ricoh Theta S manages to do the same task of shooting both 360 degree stills and video with just the press of a button. While companies such as Samsung (Gear 360), LG (LG 360 Cam), Nikon (KeyMission 360), and a few others have already joined the VR camera bandwagon, this is Ricoh’s third iteration of the 360 degree camera.
The Theta S, like its predecessors, features two fisheye lenses, which bulge out on both sides of the camera’s body. It is small and very portable. The camera design is minimal, and very slick. The Theta S is intuitive to use, and it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to figure out how to use the camera.
The camera’s rubberised exterior offers adequate grip. At the bottom, there is a groove that allows you to mount the camera on a tripod. If you wish to use the camera’s live streaming function, then you’ll need to connect the camera to your laptop using the HDMI/USB port at the bottom of the device. Mounting the camera onto a tripod while using this function may however not be easy.
The camera barely has any buttons. Aside from the power button on the side panel, there are two buttons, one to switch Wi-Fi on, and the other to switch between the camera’s video and stills modes. The camera’s shutter release button sits on the front panel of the camera, above the LED indicators which display the mode the camera currently is in.
The Ricoh Theta app, designed both for Android and iOS platforms, lets you navigate the functions of the camera with ease. Switching between the Auto, Shutter Priority, ISO Priority, and Manual modes is easy. Several of the camera’s features can be accessed only using the app. This isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Each of the two fisheye F2.0 lenses of the Theta S are connected to separate 1/2.3-inch 12-megapixel CMOS sensors, and capture a 180 degree angle of view. This data is then stitched together in the camera to give you your 360-degree panoramic photograph or video.
What’s disappointing is that the camera doesn’t allow for the use of any external memory. Out of the 8GB internal storage of the camera, about 7.5GB is usable. At the maximum image quality setting, you can record about 1600 images. The camera only supports continuous video shooting up to 25 minutes at 1080p at 30fps.
Aside from shooting 360-degree stills and video, the Theta S has a provision to live stream video. Streaming, however, doesn’t work over Wi-Fi. The Theta S streams via USB or HDMI. However, the resulting video feed from both the cameras is displayed side by side, and not as 360-degree video. This might, however, change with future firmware updates.
The Theta S app allows you to copy or move files from the camera to your smartphone, and also allows to use your phone’s display as a viewfinder to frame your pictures. The Android version of the app lets you configure your Facebook and Twitter accounts for sharing your photos immediately. The iOS version additionally lets you configure Tumblr for sharing photos shot using the Theta S.
Using the app, several parameters can be controlled. There is an option for time-lapse photography. Shutter speed can be set from a 60 second long exposure to 1/6400 of a second in the manual mode. The app also gives you control over white balance, and exposure level for stills. The video mode lets you switch between 1080p and 720p video resolution modes.
The camera can be used standalone, or in conjunction with the Theta S app. There are some constraints with using this camera hand-held. For one, if you are to use it without the app, there isn’t a way to not appear in all of your photos. Your hand, holding the camera, appears gigantic in the 360 degree panoramas clicked in this manner. The Theta S app for iOS devices have slightly different photo editing options.
We had some trouble with Wi-Fi connectivity while shooting with the Theta S outdoors. When used together with the app, the connection dropped more than a few times while we were shooting with the device outdoors. We didn’t have the same trouble while shooting with it indoors.
Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA
The standard Theta S app doesn’t have a video editor. So if you want to edit your video content before sharing it online, you’ll have to download another app Theta+ Video, which is available only on the iOS platform.
The Theta S’ battery, rated at 260 photos with Wi-Fi on and files transferred to a mobile phone every 30 seconds. We thought the battery performed satisfactorily.
Sharing your photos and videos
The 360-degree photos are saved as JPEGs and can be opened with just about any photo-viewer. They will appear two dimensional though, and not as intended, and are instead best viewed using Ricoh’s Theta S app.
Post from RICOH THETA. #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA
Images can be uploaded onto theta360.com from your phone, and anyone with the link can see the photospheres you’ve uploaded. Users are directed to the theta360 website when attempting to access links shared over on Facebook or Twitter.
While sharing photos is fairly easy, sharing a video is a somewhat tedious process. Playing the videos shot using the Theta S is easy using the smartphone app. However, unlike photos, videos cannot be uploaded directly to Facebook, YouTube 360 or even the theta-360 website, and need to be run through Ricoh’s desktop application on your laptop or PC and converted into the MP4 format before they can be uploaded. Without this conversion, the video output from both the cameras appear as separate orbs in a single frame. Once this is done, your video can be uploaded to the Theta360 website. In order to upload to YouTube 360 or Facebook, metadata information needs to be injected into the desired file so YouTube/Facebook can recognise the format and apply the required codec so your video can be displayed as a 360 degree video.
We quite liked the image quality. A closer inspection of your panorama may reveal abnormalities from improper stitching, although for the most part, almost all of the panoramas are usable. The Auto mode is surprisingly good, and yields acceptable results even in low light.
Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA
We like how the Ricoh Theta S and its bundled software make corrections for tilted horizons in your photos and videos, automatically correcting for it irrespective of the orientation of the camera. The Theta S has a built-in accelerometer and compass. You could even mount the camera upside down, and corrections for the same are applied by the bundled software, and your panorama turns out the right side up.
Video quality certainly has improved when you compare it to footage from the Theta M15, its predecessor. While the M15 recorded Full-HD videos, a maximum clip length of just three minutes and a lower frame rate made videos that were a tad underwhelming. The Theta S records Full-HD video at 30fps for as long as 25 minutes. The device heats up a little when recording video for extended periods of time though. Viewing the videos over theta360.com and YouTube are somewhat different experiences. The theta360 website let’s you zoom in and out of the video, in addition to being able to pan around.
The Ricoh Theta S retails at a price of Rs.39,995. While considerably more expensive than its predecessor, the Theta S is a unique offering. The Theta S offers great image quality and is very easy to use, and although this may not fully justify the price, early adopters have more than just kicks to gain from this unique camera. Having said that, the 360 degree camera is becoming increasingly popular, and with the Virtual Reality market heating up, even better alternatives may soon be in the markets.