Just how does the concept of being able to move around what’s framed in a still image sit with you? Has it ever occurred to you that you could now get to look at what’s behind that subject in a photograph, not to mention what’s on its left and right or even top and bottom, that wasn’t visible at first glance? Surprisingly, there are still a lot of people who haven’t seen or experienced 360° photos or videos, and their priceless reactions when they do, are still part of the pleasure of using a camera that provides them.
There are now 360° cameras that consumers can have access to and the choices are quite extensive, making it a challenge to compare them and choose one for yourself. One brand produced a model at the onset of truly portable 360° cameras and has come up with a significant upgrade from the last—enter the pretty handy and snazzy Ricoh Theta S.
- Pocket-sized photo machine. At roughly the size of a regular Snickers chocolate bar, the Theta S sums up as a very portable, notably capable, easy to use 360° camera that produces relatively high quality “all-around” photos and video. It can handily shoot on its own, but the flexibility and usefulness of semi-manual controls and image settings for it are only accessible with a paired smartphone. The Ricoh Theta S, coming from its previous Theta predecessor, is now equipped with two 1/2.3 14-megapixel CMOS sensors, under a pair of bright new f/2.0 lenses mounted back-to-back. One can shoot with it in full Auto Mode, or choose between Shutter Priority, ISO Priority, or Manual Modes. There are various White Balance settings to shoot from, an ISO range of 100-1600 for stills, and up 100-400 for video (which is quite disappointing). It can do long exposures to up to a 1/8000 shutter speed for freezing fast moving subjects. Maximum pixel size of the photos it takes is 5,376 x 2,688, and video resolution tops out at 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (Full HD) at 30 frames per second. The Theta S has an internal/non-expandable 8GB storage, and it provides decent usage life from its built-in battery.
- Looking at it from all angles. After your friends see sample shots by the Theta S on your smartphone, then you whip it out to take shots with them in it, they usually are surprised firstly, by its diminutive size, then secondly, the fact that it doesn’t robotically spin or rotate (to give a semblance of a logical explanation as to how on earth it comes up with a 360° image) to take a shot. It delightfully boggles the mind at first at how its software manages to seamlessly fuse together “stereoscopic” images taken by its twin “fisheye-like” lenses. It’s a total blast how you can swipe to spin, pinch, or stretch the images on a whim, and see almost every angle you wish—more so, because you can also do that on high definition video as well.
- Shooting made easy. Using the Theta S is as straightforward as can be. Once you’ve downloaded the free Theta S app, pairing it via Wi-Fi is painless. Just key-in a specified portion of its serial number as its password, the Theta S locks on to pair with your Android or iOS smartphone quite quickly. The app’s interface is thorough with all the pertinent camera controls; a contrast to the camera’s streamlined minimalistic design. On Auto Mode, it’s as easy as pressing the big red button on your phone’s screen, then a conspicuously pleasant chirping sound indicates that it’s taken the shot. In about five to eight seconds, the photo is transmitted and processed to be viewable as a 360° image on your phone. The same procedure goes with shooting video. You’ll have to remember though that what you’re initially previewing on your phone are images or footage that are still saved in the Theta S, and that you’ll have to select and transfer them if you want to keep files in your phone, for later viewing or sharing on social media—which it does by default to either Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, whichever among the three Theta partners you enable.
- Some constraints. With ample lighting, images and footage produced by the Theta S are crisp and sharp. They tend to suffer from image noise quite quickly in low light situations though—most probably due to its small image sensors. A way around this is, if you’re taking stills, opt for Shutter Priority—so you can keep the ISO low and let a longer exposure compensate for it, that’s if your subjects aren’t fast moving or moving at all to prevent motion blur. Video with the Theta S is a bit more affected by lighting conditions, and requires more adequate lighting. If you shoot video mostly outdoors during the day, this shouldn’t pose much of a problem.
- Going live. For some individuals the Ricoh Theta S can be a significantly useful broadcast tool that can provide a unique viewer experience. Things like a die-cast car swap meet, a cosplay convention (where interesting characters are always milling around), or even an international auto show. The Theta S with its built-in micro-HDMI output is also capable of live streaming. Think of the possibilities.
- Justified price. Again, for its impressively small size and fairly reasonable cost of P19,990 (locally available through CameraHaus), the consumer-level quality of the Theta S’s photo/video output is justified. In fact, since the majority would view posts from it via smartphones, it’s pretty fine by me. But of course, an improvement on the next version would be more than welcome. Do I hear 4K video capability and a 21-megapixel sensors lined up next?
- At the end of the day. All things considered, you, your friends, heck people you don’t even know, will want one. Admittedly, the Theta S in my book is 80 percent a novelty more than anything else. It lets you create a little virtually explorable world every time you take a photo or shoot video. Just think of the stuff you can come up with on your next major family or school batch reunion, and how easily you can bring out the wacky side of everyone with this seemingly unassuming little device.
I was so thrilled and amused while testing it, that I had to acquire a unit for myself to add to my arsenal of image acquisition equipment for work and leisure. The Ricoh Theta S will definitely push 360° media forward a good deal. If you don’t believe it, check its photos and videos, and “look around you.”
|Max Resolution||5,376 x 2,688|
|Effective Pixels||14 megapixels|
|Sensor Size & Type||1/2.3″ CMOS|
|Max Shutter Speed||1/8000 second|
|Video Resolution||1,920 x 1,080 (30fps), 1,280 x 720 (15fps)|
|Storage Types||8GB onboard memory|
|USB||USB 2.0 (480 Mbit/sec)|
|Dimensions and Weight||44 x 130 x 23mm, 125g|