Photography / Hands-on Review

Hands-On Review: the Ricoh Theta S

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This is what I really like about the new Ricoh Theta S (and its Theta predecessors): The camera represents a new way of thinking about photographs.

At the launch party in New York City, Ricoh Imaging Americas president Jim Malcolm opened the festivities by stating that the Theta is on the forefront of a “visual revolution.” It might sound like some kind of marketing catch phrase, but I really believe that the Ricoh Theta team is determined to change the way we think about photography and how photography is executed. The Ricoh Theta S is a lot more than “The Ultimate Selfie Machine.”

Since the dawn of the art, photography has mostly been about capturing three-dimensional scenes and reproducing them in two dimensions on a print and, more recently, a computer screen. Photography will always contain that in its DNA. But, what if we can capture the world around us in a way that allows us to better explore the environment, as well as the moment in which we captured the image? What if you could explore your image in a virtual 360-degree spherical world?

Well, you can. That is what the Theta family of cameras brings to the table, and the Ricoh Theta S does it even better than its predecessors.


Watch Hill Lighthouse #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


The Numbers

Let’s hurry past the numbers, because when you are talking about truly unique photographs and videos, I would rather talk about the experience instead of the stats.

The Ricoh Theta S packs 14MP of effective resolution onto two 1/2.3" sensors. Each sensor is 12MP, but when the image is created, it is the equivalent of a 14MP image. There are two lenses, one on each side, and they feature 7 elements in 6 groups with a maximum aperture of f/2. The electronic shutter can open and close in 1/6400 of a second. For night or low-light photography, a 30-second exposure is possible. Close focus distance is 3.9". ISO sensitivity ranges from 100-1600, and the camera captures JPEG images and MP4, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 video. Video is 1080p at 30fps for up to 25 minutes.

Other features include HD live streaming, live view on your smartphone with exposure control, and shutter speeds up to 60 seconds. The memory is built in and tops off at 8GB. This allows you to capture approximately 1600 full-res photos or a total of 65 minutes of 1080p video. If you crave more, a full suite of specs is available on the B&H Photo eCommerce site for the Theta S.


Westerly Yacht Club, Westerly, Rhode Island - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


Design

The Theta S comes from the same general mold as Ricoh’s previous Theta cameras. The device is elegant and simple. The Theta S is clothed in a grippy, black rubber coating that feels good to my fingers. The two lenses are identical. One is on the front. One is on the back. Which side is which? I don’t know. One side has a shutter release below the lens.

It looks, to those unfamiliar, like the memory-erasing device from the Men in Black movies. “Just look right here at this light… and you will forget everything you ever knew about photography…”

Above and below the shutter release are soothing colored LED indicator lights that give you the Theta S’s status. A cool design feature: You cannot see where the LEDs are embedded in the camera’s facade until they illuminate. This keeps the overall design especially clean.

On one side is a trio of buttons. The top button powers the Theta S on. The next button is to activate the Theta S’s Wi-Fi. The third button toggles between still image and video modes. All three buttons have corresponding LED lights illuminating on the face of the device to confirm your selections.

When the Theta S is being charged, the power button illuminates red. Charging is done through a USB cable inserted into the bottom of the device. Also on the bottom are an HDMI port and standard ¼"-20 tripod socket. At the top, six circular holes allow sound in to dual microphones.

I won’t dare hypothesize about the complex innards of the Theta S. If you had doubts about the direction of Ricoh’s purchase of long-time photography stalwart Pentax, rest easy because, interestingly, the Theta family of cameras has technology grafted from the parent company’s line of high-performance facsimile machines. Who knew?


Brooklyn Bridge - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


Size and Weight

If you have seen or touched a Ricoh Theta in the past, you’ll know exactly what to expect from the Theta S. The dimensions on the spec sheet show the Theta S to be a hair larger, but when I held both, I couldn’t tell the difference. The Theta S does have a bit more heft, but it doesn’t feel like it is a bar of lead.

To compare to another device, the Theta S is about as tall as an iPhone 5s, about two-thirds the width, and about twice the thickness. The Theta S can slip into a pants or shirt pocket easily, but if your smartphone or wallet is already in there, it might be a tight squeeze.

Handling

The Theta S switches on quickly and you can take a photo almost as fast as you move your finger from the On/Off button to the shutter release.

There is something to be said about taking a photo and not having to wonder if you got everything in the frame, because, with the Theta S, trust me—you got everything in the frame. Everything in a 360-degree sphere ends up in the frame, unless something was blocking it. The Theta S does not yet have the ability to see through or around objects. Maybe the next version will?

The problem with this extraordinary vision capability is that I kept getting my thumb and forefinger in the photographs. Ugh! Your natural grip position on the Theta S means that the world will get to see your digits in every photo.

There are solutions. If there was one legitimate reason to own a selfie stick, the Theta S could be it. The tripod socket allows you to attach accessory grips, like the Ricoh WG Grip Adapter, or mount the Theta S on a tripod head, walk away, and snap the photo using the Theta smartphone app. A couple of Theta converts at B&H told me that the best way to avoid the finger problem is to hold the Theta S at the bottom of the camera and use your phone to trigger the shutter. Lastly, if you are working accessory-free, you can slide your grip down as low as possible on the Theta S and eliminate the objectionable presence of your fingers.


Pier 59, Hudson River, New York #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


Images

With some cameras, the capture is as fun and involved as viewing the images afterwards. The photographic process, for some of us, is as engaging and interesting as the results. With the Theta S, the process is simple: you just take the photo; therefore, the image is where the pleasure lies.

Uploading the images onto your computer or phone inside the Theta app allows you to “play” with your spherical world by panning and zooming. It is immersive and fun and an experience totally unique when compared to my previous photographic world.

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Unlike a regular panoramic image, the Theta image is spherical. This means you cannot only scroll 360O right or left, you can scroll your image vertically to the “poles.” This is where the Theta gets magical. Its internal algorithms keep the Theta S from showing itself inside of images. It is like the image was taken at a point in space, but the camera did not physically occupy that point. If your fingers did not show up on the image, or if the phone was resting on a surface, you can scroll your 360O spherical image straight down and, instead of looking through the guts of the camera, you see whatever was beneath the Theta. It is freaky.

Suspend the Theta S from a quadcopter and look “up” at the vehicle. You will see the quadcopter from below as if you were flying in close formation, a foot or two below it. Freaky.

By design, the Theta S is probably the easiest way to get into the 360O spherical world of virtual reality (VR). There are several VR viewing devices on the market that will work effortlessly with the Ricoh Theta S images.


Hudson River Community Sailing, Hudson River, New York #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


Selfies and Proof Photos

Today, many photographers, especially the younger crowd, are posting selfies and/or embracing the “photo or you were never there” mentality.

Love them or hate them, selfies are here to stay and the Theta gives your selfie a step up from the crowd because it shows much more than just you in the frame. It shows everything around you. Are you with a group of friends? Gather around the Theta and, as long as your friends can see the lenses, no one is left out of the image. It is, perhaps, the best single way to take a selfie or group photo.

For the “pic or it didn’t happen” crowd, not only are you proving you were there, hold the Theta above your head and you can see what was behind you. Now that I think of it, the Washington D.C. National Mall would be an awesome place to announce your existence with a Theta S—take a photo of the Washington Monument in front of you and US Capitol behind you in one click.

At a dinner for four, I placed the Theta S in the middle of the square table, connected my phone to the camera wirelessly, and took a photo of everyone seated around the table without obnoxiously holding a camera at arm’s length and looking at a screen showing my smiling face. “Everyone, get bunched up beside me to get in the frame.” At the next Oscars, Ellen DeGeneres can use a Theta S, stand in the middle of the room, and take a “selfie” of every single person in the theater with one click. No need for Bradley Cooper’s long arms. Sorry Brad, you’ve been replaced by technology.

Hey, wedding photographers or brides and grooms! Grab a handful of Thetas, program them to do interval shooting, and leave them on the tables around the wedding. Or just have one passed around from table to table at dinner. Continuous 360O action! How awesome will that be for your clients?

Oh, also, NASA, please send a Theta S up to the International Space Station (ISS) with the next cargo shipment. I want to see what spacewalking astronauts can do with the Theta! Also, take a 360O spherical photo inside the ISS Cupola, please. Thank you.

Accessories

Ricoh has a handful of accessories for the Theta S, including the Theta Hardcase TH-1 that gives the Theta S a bit of weatherproof capabilities. The box says not to submerge the case, but the IPX7 rating, if accurate, will allow submersion to 3.3' for 30 minutes.

The Theta comes standard with a neoprene sleeve for transport. I was very paranoid about scratching the exposed lenses, as they protrude from the body, so I was diligent in my use of the sleeve. I also inserted the camera top-first so that my fingers wouldn’t touch the lenses when I extracted the camera.


Stewart Manor Long Island Railroad Station, New York #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Don’t try this at home, and please don’t pass this on to Ricoh, but, while photographing an arriving train on a platform, the wind from the passing Long Island Rail Road train knocked the Theta S horizontally. Breaking the fall, the lens struck the painted concrete first. Luckily there was no damage. The lens must have a very robust coating on it, or I was just lucky that I didn’t break my loaner Theta S.

Additionally, Ricoh offers attachments for straps and a black or white leather soft case. Aftermarket grips might be the key to keeping your aforementioned digits out of the photos.

Ahead of its Time?

The Theta S is ahead of its time, but its time is now. What the heck does that mean? Let me explain.

I think that the Theta cameras are on the forefront of a new way to do photography. 360-degree spherical will not replace “regular” images, but I feel that it will add to the overall photography experience for a lot of people.

The caveat is that it will only become a mainstream part of photography once the 360-degree spherical image reaches a critical mass. In order to immerse yourself in Theta’s spherical images, you need the Theta app or you need to link the images posted on social media via the Theta website. If you send a Theta image directly to a friend, they need the app to really explore the image. Eventually, this technology will likely be built into your smart devices or computers and, then, seamless sharing will happen.

To facilitate this journey, Ricoh has built the Theta on open-source architecture and is hosting app development contests to increase the 360O spherical infrastructure. Also, Ricoh partnered with Google Street View to facilitate easy uploading of 360-degree spherical images into the geographic service. There is “regular boring street view” and there is “look up, look down, look over there 360-degree spherical street view,” courtesy of the Theta.

Ricoh has to crack the action-cam code for the Theta by figuring out a way to make it bulletproof. Once this thing gets truly waterproof and shockproof, there will be some amazing videos flooding the Inter-web near you.

The Theta is only ahead of its time because it is one of the first 360-degree spherical cameras on the scene. If Ricoh plays its cards right, it will maintain its technological lead in this field while the infrastructure catches up. And the company will maintain it while the competition tries to catch up.

It is up to you to decide when you want to join the visual revolution. 

Click here for our full line of Virtual Reality products.


Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Discussion 18

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Visit my 360 protrait page on facebook, made with this small camera: https://www.facebook.com/Portrait360-112660985877101/

Tony

Thanks for sharing, tony!

I am struggling with the direction Theta S should be pointed to when attempting to create a virtual tour. Should the camera be pointing with the lights and shutter button facing myself the photographer and with backside or frontside (depends how you view it) towards where you want the viewer of the sphere to initially look?  And if this does not come ok how can I change this default view? What EDITOR app or software should I use to change this default view?  Prefer to do it right in the first place though :-)  thank you

Hey Marcel,

Front or back doesn't matter on the Ricoh Theta S. I did my shots with the release button facing me so that I could see the indicator lights as well. In case you were tempted, I wouldn't point the top or bottom of the Theta S at your target, the "poles" are where the software does a bunch of crunching to make the simulated 360 image.

The "default view" is a spherical 360-degree image, so there is no changing that.

I hope this answers your questions. Thanks for reading!

How about someone at last, reports the dimensions of the image that this camera produces? Pixels x Pixels / PPI.

I read it is about 5376 x 2688 / 72ppi.

The Samsung Gear 360 makes 7776 x 3888 / 350ppi. And it is cheaper also.

And it has better 4K video. If they send the Ricoh on space... what a waste...

Just got the Gear 360, and will probably return it and get the Theta S or Theta SC. I use it mainly for images, and the gear just is not good at it. Horrible stitchline, resolution don't seem different (despite higher pixel-count), and large blindspot due to the width of the camera.

The Richo Theta S received far more credit than it deserves. Now that more bought the camera, serious issues (other than the company’s poor and slow support) are surfacing. Many users report unequal lens focus and some , including myself, have a seriously blurry lens resulting in worthless images. Buyer be cautious what you chose and make sure to buy the camera if you insist on a Richo model from a store rather than the net, that way if it has a problem you could return it immediately for exchange or return instead of having to go through Richo's slow customer service. If you want to know plenty more about the camera's problems and what you may be facing as a potential buyer , check the "Richo Theta Users" group on facebook. Yes, one more thing, a considerable portion of the photos you see out there are post processed and enhanced using photoshop and other programs!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Hi Hani,

Thanks for writing to share your experience. I am sorry the Theta S hasn't been great for you. I had a lot of fun with the camera, but only had it for a few days.

If you ever run into a brick wall with Ricoh, please let us know and we might be able to help you out. 

Thanks for reading!

I'm interested in this camera but won't buy it until I can get answers to the many questions I have about it.

  1. Where is the operation manual? Products are only as good as their documentation. Same goes for manuals for the various apps.
  2. I don't often travel with a computer. Will it transfer files to the WD My Passport Wireless Pro Portable External Hard Drive via USB cable? Also, will it charge from this drive?
  3. Can I edit the videos in Premiere Pro? Do they have a plugin for PP? I'd like to be able to pick a normal "flat" frame from the spherical file for output.

Hi Rob -

Here is the owner's manual:       http://static.bhphotovideo.com/lit_files/249154.pdf

It will use the THETA + free editing app.

No plug-ins yet.

The camera charges from a computer or a USB powder source via the included USB cable.

The camera records to its embedded 8GB memory.  It is not expandable. Images and video may be stored on a smartphone as well.  This allows you to capture approximately 1600 full-res photos or a total of 65 minutes of 1080p video.

How do you host the 360 still images on this site without having to click thru to the Theta360.com site?

Thanks

Hi smashthirteen,

Our IT/design guys worked on it to get it to post in our system, but, on the Theta360 site, under your images, there is an button labeled "Embed" that allows you embed the 360 images on other webpages.

I hope this helps. Thanks for reading!

I would love to see a review or some other info regarding the viewing options for these picture types or videos, other than posting to youtube and using either a smartphone or WASD on your keyboard.  A hosting or viewing service that facilitated a mouse based viewing experience would ge a great option to add these kinds of photos to a website or even sales listing.  Do any of you know of an option like this that I may be unaware of?

Camera looks great, will probably be buying one in the next few weeks.

Hey Andrew,

There is mouse-based viewing experiences available for the Theta images. Actually, the imbedded images in the article should permit that. My internet at work is problematic today, so I cannot verify, but it worked on my phone.

The Theta S movies on YouTube will not have the same interactive options, as it shows the full 360 frame.

The Ricoh Theta website does the hosting of the images and allows several interactive options. https://theta360.com/en/

Let me know if you have follow-up questions. Thanks for reading!

I love my Theta S except for one problem rarely mentioned in reviews. It only wants to charge when connected to a computer. I've attempted to charge it using a cell phone charger or from a battery pack, but the charging light immediately flashes red then shuts off. I don't take a computer with me when I travel, so this poses a big problem. I'd like to do a 3 week trip to Europe and not have to tote along a laptop just to act as a charger for my Theta S.

Another issue I have is with the Theta+ software (for Android). I love to create tiny planet images, and the control the Theta Plus software gives me is fantastic. It's the only tiny planet software I've seen that allows you to set the center of the planet to be anywhere in your image. Most programs force you to choose the nadir, some let you choose the zenith. Despite this power the app will only save tiny planet images at the screen resolution of my phone, severely limiting the usefulness of the images created. I hope Ricoh will correct this shortcoming soon.

I hope the Theta S will be very successful. To me it's a stepping stone to a full 3D version. To be able to shoot 3d x 360 video then experience it again with a VR headset would be amazing. Here's hoping!

Hey Scott,

Thanks for your comments on the Theta S! I honestly cannot recall having the same charging issues, but I no longer have the camera handy. If my memory serves me correctly (unlikely), I believe I charged from other sources besides a laptop. You may want to contact Ricoh about your issue.

Other than that, I am glad you are enjoying your Theta S! Thanks for reading!

It is fun, well built. The drawback is the company support. I did not find it as ease to set up as stated and hope they will keep developing the software. 

Hi Martin,

May I ask what things tripped you up on the Theta setup? I can pass it along to my friends at Ricoh easily.

I do miss the days of thick paper owner's manuals with lots of good info in them. These days, the tech companies assume no one reads them and publishes .pdf files that are sometimes hard to access and reference. Ahhhh, technology!

Thanks for reading!

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