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Ricoh Theta review

Seth Barton
9 Oct 2013
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
329
inc VAT

More than a novelty, the Theta creates instant panoramas that capture the moment in a unique way

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Specifications

The Ricoh Theta is a latest in a flurry of innovative camera devices. We've had a camera that takes photos without you pressing the shutter button, the Autographer, a camera that doesn't have a display, the Smart Lens, and one that doesn't need to focus to take a photo, the Lytro. Now we've got a camera that you don't need to aim, as it takes a 360-degree panorama with the press of a button.

Ricoh Theta

We love the design, simple, stylish and with one big button, so simple anyone can use it

It achieves this with two fish-eye lenses, one on each side of the slender, stylish -looking device. With its main central button to take a shot, you wield it much like the memory-eraser from Men in Black, except of course its purpose is to create memories, not wipe them.

Ricoh Theta

On the side are power and Wi-Fi controls

At first glance it looks like a shortcut to the kind of images you see on sites such as www.360cities.net, however such panoramas are often captured over a lengthy period of time. The Theta is unique in that it captures the whole image in one go, freezing a moment in time. That makes it ideal for grabbing a busy scene like a party, or for action shots.

Ricoh Theta

The fisheye lenses let you create some pretty cool effects, even when converted to a flat image such as this

SHOOTING AND SHARING

The shutter button is fine for ad-hoc shots, but the Theta is designed to be used with a smartphone, via a Wi-Fi connection. There's a power button on the side and a Wi-Fi button below that, type the password into your phone and you're all set. Once connected you can fire the shutter from your iOS device, and you'll need to unless you want your thumb in every shot you take.

It's a shame there's no live view option through the app. Yes, the 360 degree nature may seem to make composition an irrelevance, but how you position the Theta in a room can be critical. Especially when getting a balance of objects around to get the most dramatic results.

Managing your pictures using the app, both on your phone and the device, is simple and logical. Once you've shot a panorama you can open it on your phone and 'browse' around the image at will by panning and zooming in-and-out, zoom out enough and you get a fisheye effect with a 180-degree angle.

Setting up sharing was a bit of a pain, we had to register a Facebook account with the Theta website first. Then associate the app with our Facebook account before we could start sharing with that or other services, Twitter and Tumblr are then supported. Sharing only consists of a thumbnail and a link to the Theta site being posted. There's no way to browse the panorama within the timeline, which is a shame and something that Lytro has managed with its images.

Ricoh Theta

You can share images through the site but can't embed them into say a Facebook post or a webpage, instead you just post a link like this one - https://theta360.com/spheres/1183

It has to be noted that Ricoh has ignored Android users to date. Its native app only supports iOS (and there's no iPad specific version at that) and the alternative is to use Microsoft's Photosynth, which only supports iOS and Windows Phone. If you're an Android user you're out of luck for now, with no way to view panoramas you've just snapped or share them online. An Android app has been rumoured for release later this year but we couldn't get any official corroboration for this.

As well as using an app, you can plug the Theta into your PC or Mac and access the files off that way. Looked at this way, they are simply rectangular JPEGs that you can drag-and-drop off the device. Download the Windows or Mac software from the site and you can load up the panoramas on your PC and explore them as in the app. You can then upload them Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr as above.

IMAGE QUALITY - CLICK SAMPLES TO ENLARGE

There are no quality settings on the Theta, and the flattened JPEG images come out at 6.4 megapixels. This isn't too bad for a typical 35mm equivalent shot, but once you've spread those pixels around a 360-degree sphere they start looking a little thin. That said there's enough detail for sharing online, just don't expect to be picking details out of your panoramas like on 360gigapixels.com.

Ricoh Theta

The flattened JPEGs are quite intriguing in and of themselves

Shoot in low light and the picture noise. The aperture is locked at f/2.1 and the frame rate is always 1/30 second. At ISO 100 pictures are fairly clean but in a reasonably lit bar it dived to ISO 800 and everything started to look very noisy indeed, almost mosaic like.

Ricoh Theta

Even at ISO 800 things are starting to look pretty noisy in this 1:1 pixel crop from a Theta image

It does a good job of piecing together the two images at range, though the two halves of the image are sometimes mismatched a bit in terms of exposure and white balance. The join can be mismatched in very close objects but mostly it looks pretty smooth.

CONCLUSION

The Theta is undoubtedly the best of the new camera devices we've seen of late. Like most of the others we listed above it's not cheap, you can pre-order one now for a fairly eye-watering £329 inc VAT. Despite some niggles though, it's still a groundbreaking device and you'd expect to pay a premium for it.

Our immediate thought was that estate agents are going to love the Theta, as it will quickly capture usually time-consuming panoramas in the time it takes you to put it down, walk out the room and activate the shutter. But that's just a more convenient way of catching a still scene, the Theta can do so much more, put it in the centre of some action and snap away. The results are different to anything else out there, in fact it's so good we'd be amazed if we don't see something similar

We're very excited about the Theta and if you have a job or pastime that might benefit from its unique capabilities then it works well enough to make it worth buying. For everyone else it's still a great toy and hopefully a concept we'll be seeing a lot more of in future. We'd love to see just one of these lens in front of Nokia's 41-megapixel Pureview sensor.

Details

Price£329
Rating****

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