Producing panoramas and/or 360-degree photographs is pretty common on smartphones. The feature is usually built into the native camera application, or can be downloaded as apps such as PanoramaPro and Pano. However, many of these aren’t quite as easy to use as they could be (through obvious limitations) due to the need to “scan the horizon” and requiring software on the device to stitch the many pictures together.
So, if you’re after a very easy way to take a 360-degree picture, you’re pretty much out of luck. Unless, that is, you get the Ricoh Theta. Maybe.
We’re giving this $400 Ricoh Theta 360-degree camera away to one fortunate MakeUseOf reader! Continue reading to find out more about the device, then join the giveaway to win!
Ricoh Theta and its Competitors
The Ricoh Theta is a special gadget that is designed to take spherical 360-degree photos thanks to two purposefully-designed cameras. In fact, it’s the first of its kind. If you try to look for any other cameras that can do the same thing, you won’t find any. Therefore, the closest competitors to the Ricoh Theta would have to be Android and iOS devices. Of course, they can vary from price and features, as well as how good the panorama/360-degree photos turn out.
The general idea behind the Ricoh Theta is to provide the ability to take 1-click 360-degree photos, instead of producing panoramas the “traditional” way — which is panning the horizon with your smartphone or camera. With just one click of a button, the Theta uses cameras on both sides of the device to simultaneously capture its surroundings and stitch the two photos into a complete 360-degree image. It sounds sophisticated but there are some design flaws.
Oh, and the Ricoh Theta costs a whopping $400.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Ricoh Theta. On paper, it looks impressive.
- Shooting distance: 10 cm to infinity
- Exposure control: Automatic
- Exposure compensation: Manual (-2.0 to +2.0EV 1/3EV Step)
- ISO sensitivity: Automatic ISO 100-1600
- White balance: Automatic
- Shutter speed: Automatic 1/8000-1/7.5 second
- Wi-Fi capabilities
- Internal memory: 4 GB (holds approximately 1,200 images)
- Power: Lithium ion battery that lasts for 200 captures with Wi-Fi enabled
- Image file format: JPEG (Exif Ver2.3) DCF2.0-compliant
- Dimensions (LxWxD): 42 mm (approx.1.65 inches) x 129 mm (approx. 5.08 inches) x 22.8 mm (approx. 0.9 inches); Depth 17.4 mm/approx. 0.69 inches without lenses
- Weight: Approx. 95 grams (approx. 3.35 ounces)
The megapixels count wasn’t published by Ricoh.
The packaging is very straightforward. After opening the box, you’ll immediately find the camera itself. After removing the camera, you can pull out some cardboard to find a quick start guide, a protective case, and a USB-to-microUSB cable used for charging and computer-to-device communication.
I have to say, the camera is very well designed. It can easily be assumed that it had simplicity in mind, as the camera only has three buttons — it’s on/off switch, a Wi-Fi on/off switch, and the shutter button. Along the bottom, you’ll find the microUSB charging port and a tripod mount. Along the top, you’ll see a few holes that might make you think that there’s a microphone, but don’t be fooled because there isn’t. No video functionality here.
Besides these, you’ll find a curved camera lens on either side of the device. If you look at the device from the side, you’ll be able to see not just the glass protecting the two lenses, but light seemingly reflected off of the lenses themselves. You’ll also find that the camera has a matte rubber finish, which is a good idea when holding a seemingly “simple” and small camera that costs $400.
If you can see the light being reflected off the lenses, they can see you. This means that if you’re on the side of the device, both lenses will still be able to see you, and the camera can stitch the photos from both lenses together perfectly. This also works much better than stitching methods found in smartphones and tablets because it reduces the number of variables — primarily the stitching points from picture to picture. Because the lenses on the Theta fixed, the stitching points will be the same for every photo it takes.
Setup is pretty much non-existent. You can immediately start using the camera after simply turning it on. You can also turn on the device, enable the WiFi, and connect to it via the smartphone app to use the camera. More on all that stuff later.
The Theta makes some pretty impressive pictures. The camera stores the pictures that it takes in its internal memory. Each picture comes out to 3584 x 1792 pixels (roughly 6.4 MP) with an average size of 2.4 MB. They’re certainly 360-degrees — nothing can hide from it. After a bit of tinkering, I’ve noticed that if you want to be in the middle of the picture that it takes (rather than be split between the left and right edges), then you’ll want to have the side of the camera with the shutter button facing away from you.
There is one major flaw to every picture that you take (when viewed in its raw form), however. If you hold the camera like you would any other camera, you’ll notice that the bottom edge will have a rather noticeable capture of your hand and arm.
This undesired effect doesn’t ever go away, and can only be minimized if you hold the camera as high as possible and only touch the shutter button with the very tip of your longest finger. You could remedy the situation with the help of a tripod, but even then you’ll need to reach for the shutter button in order to take a picture anyways (unless you trigger a shutter remotely; again, more on that in a bit).
Ricoh does provide software for Windows and Mac OS X which can communicate with the Theta to download the pictures, update the camera’s firmware and turn the 360-degree pictures into spherical ones, also known as “little planet” pictures. If you’re mainly interested in the 360-degree pictures it takes, then you won’t need the software and you can simply copy the images from the device just like any other removable media storage.
There’s also a smartphone app which can connect to the Ricoh Theta and offer the same functionality as the computer software. Unfortunately, the app is currently only available for iOS, so I wasn’t actually able to test it out. Additionally, it can also tap into the camera to change a few settings (supposedly) and remotely trigger the camera to take pictures without physically pressing the shutter button. This is where the WiFi functionality comes in, as the smartphone and the Theta need to communicate over WiFi for the app to work. The Theta creates its own ad-hoc — it doesn’t need to connect to an existing WiFi network.
Random fact, but the Theta does also support Microsoft Photosynth, for any of you who use that.
Although the Ricoh Theta is really cool simply because it can take 360-degree pictures, there are a handful of issues. First, Ricoh probably didn’t factor in the person holding the camera when designing the Theta — having your hand and arm blemish the images isn’t pleasant. The effect is reduced when the image is turned into a spherical/”little planet” photo, but otherwise you’ll have to use image editing software to crop out the offending portions of the image.
Secondly, if you wanted to use a tripod, you’ll still need to go ahead and press the shutter button to take a picture, which doesn’t eliminate the hand and arm issue. The only way I see a tripod helping is if you want a stable picture where you’re not the focus of the picture (where you’d be split between the left and right edges of the picture and would therefore have to crop yourself out).
Finally, yes, you could use the smartphone app to remotely take a picture, but there are even more problems with this. It would only be useful if you’re using a tripod, and you’d have to position yourself so that it’s not obvious that you’re looking at your phone in order to take the picture. Or, you’d just have to go to a different room entirely (if you’re indoors) and then take the picture. Plus, as far as I can tell (since I wasn’t able to test the app), the camera doesn’t even have a timer — something that would relieve at least a few of these issues.
Should you buy the Ricoh Theta?
Long story short, the Ricoh Theta doesn’t quite work the way you and I may want it to work unless you have a very specific setup to take good pictures. If you want a great impromptu picture without any setup (i.e. holding the camera up and taking shots), it won’t work very well without having to resort to image editing later on.
I’m sure that the camera has its uses, but it’s not made anywhere near for what I or most other people regularly do. It’s not very useful without the correct setups, and it’s way too expensive just to accomplish one task. For non-professionals, smart devices will end up doing a better job at what you’re expected to get when it comes to these types of photos.
MakeUseOf recommends: Do not buy.
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