A number of friends have recently been posting some pretty amazing photos and video shot with the Ricoh Theta S camera. I’d resisted it since I had played with the original version while in Shanghai last year for CES but found it to be too low resolution for my liking. The new Theta S changed that. I picked one up while in Toronto recently for 3D Canada. They currently sell for $350 USD or $450 Cdn.
Simply put, the Theta S has two 12 megapixel cameras (14 megapixels combined), back to back in a small ‘candy bar’ sized form factor. The lenses are fisheye and can capture the entire 360 degrees around the camera. Stereo microphones on the top capture the audio.
The camera even removes itself from the images/video it takes which has led to some funny images with my hand ‘holding’ nothing in the shot.
The camera has a shutter button on the front, along with indicators for still or video modes, wifi and power. The side has a power button, off/on switch for wifi and a button to switch between still and video. The bottom has a microUSB port (for charging or streaming to your computer), a micro-HDMI port and a metal tripod mounting hole.
In the box is a neoprene sleeve for protection and a microUSB cable for charging/downloading. The sleeve is pretty useless in my opinion. I realized right away that I wanted better protection for the twin lenses and found that my sunglasses case was the perfect fit. So I usually just wrap the camera in a microfibre cloth and put it in the case. I also found a 3D printable lens cap which works quite well for even more minimalist protection.
The magic of the camera really starts when you connect your smartphone (iOS or Android) to it’s built in wifi. It took a few tries to get connected but eventually I was able to launch the Theta S app and ‘see’ the camera from the app. You can change the wifi password but not the SSID name (which is brutal but obviously the Theta).
Once connected, you can control a number of aspects of the camera, including taking a photo or video (switching modes via wifi immediately updates the indicator on the camera). There is a self timer mode and ISO or Shutter Priority modes as well as a ‘manual’ mode instead of using the default ‘Auto’ mode for either stills or video. There is a surprisingly good range of options.
There is also a ‘shooting’ menu to change things like interval, self timer and panorama modes, and view your available memory and the battery level.
The camera has 8gb of onboard storage and to do anything with the files, you’ll need to transfer them to your smartphone/tablet first. This is pretty quick over wifi although long videos can take some time.
There is also a desktop app. It was a little confusing to use it on my Mac as you have to use Image Capture (comes with OSX) to download the files and then drag them onto the Theta app window in order to be able to view/edit them. It would be nice if the app could see the connected camera and simply pull the files over.
Remote control can also be done via an Apple Watch. It also lets you switch between stills and video. I found it slow to launch while it connects to the camera but once it was up and running, it was great to trigger the shutter from my wrist.
Using the captures
Facebook and Youtube both recognize the output files from the Theta S and will add a 360 player front end to them when you upload to either service. This allows the viewers to interact with the Theta captures using either them mouse/trackpad on a computer or simply use the accelerometer in their smartphones to look around in the 360 capture. Once uploaded to either service, there seems to be some compression versus simply viewing the captures within the Theta S app itself (which looks stunning on my iPhone 6s+) but I guess that’s to be expected.
It’s also been fun manipulating the spherical photos and just exporting them ‘flat’ for Instagram, Facebook and Twitter since they usually look pretty wild.
There is also a “Theta+ Video” app that allows for editing and posting of the videos completely from the smartphone/tablet. This allows you to ‘move’ around inside the video and create an orientation you like for export (aka a cropped video):
or you can just output the video and it will be recognized by Facebook or Youtube as a 360 video:
One of the crazy things about the video mode is that during playback, you can pause and ‘look around’ that moment of video.
Ricoh also has a site for hosting the spherical photos which works very well. The embed below shows the limitation of embeds versus on the Theta360 site which offers more options and a better control interface.
Plane selfie #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA
On the Theta S app, you can also set it up for viewing via Google Cardboard or similar which is another compelling reason for getting this camera as VR (and AR) are exploding right now and this is one of the least expensive ways of creating content for those platforms.
Despite the minor issues mentioned, I’m still very happy with the camera and am looking forward to a summer filled with new content creation using it. The small size of the camera means that it can be used in a number of situations that will make for fun 360 videos. I’ve ordered the polycarbonate ‘hard case’ for it despite somewhat mixed reviews just to allow me to use it in the rain (it’s not waterproof so no snorkling with it) and other situations where I’d like some protection.
I’ll be posting stills and video in the usual places as well as on the Theta 360 site where the spherical photos are a little more interactive.