About three months ago I ended up getting a Ricoh Theta S, one of the new generation of 360° cameras to hit the market. Since then I’ve taken a few hundred spherical images, well and truly putting the camera through its paces, and noting its strengths, as well as its weaknesses.
Here’s a quick rundown of its highlights and shortcomings:
First, the good news… the Theta is an absolute joy to use, with a simple set of on-board buttons and an easy-to-use app. Transfers of spherical images from camera to smartphone are automatic, and the in-app preview looks and works great. The Theta is also a whole lot more sturdy than it looks. I was shooting some spheres in the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley (UK) yesterday, when the camera took an eight foot dive from the top of the cabinet it had been perched on. Fortunately it landed on carpet, not concrete, but at the time I was pretty sure the camera would be history. Eight feet is a long way to fall for a device like this.
Nevertheless, the Theta was fine. Contrary to what a lot of folks out there have been saying, Ricoh have produced pretty good build quality.
Now for the bad news… The resolution really is on the low side for a camera of this type. Overall it’s good enough for indoor shots, where the furthest object is no more than thirty feet away. For outdoor shots, however, things have a tendency to get very grainy. It’s still plenty good enough to see what you’re looking at, but it lacks the pristine crispness I get with my Nexus 6P. Unless Ricoh raises its game in this department, I can see trouble ahead for the company’s 360° camera range, as more and more competitors appear on the scene.
Next there’s the Wi-Fi, which has next to no range at all. This severely restricts the places you can set up the camera, unless you’re planning to be in every shot. I’ve learned to live with it, but overall another thirty feet of Wi-Fi signal, beyond the 50 feet I’m currently getting out in the open, would be extremely handy. Indoors its even worse, depending on the object between myself and the Theta. Sometimes the signal starts getting shaking at about 10 feet.
Nevertheless, I do like the camera for its ability to produce a PhotoSphere instantly, without the need to spin around in circles with a smartphone. The only trouble is that I’ve basically outgrown the Ricoh Theta S already, and that I’m already wondering about better quality alternatives. However, if you’re looking for a nice entry-level 360° camera to just lug around wherever you go, this is a pretty decent proposition.
Here are a few Photospheres taken with the Ricoh Theta S during the past three months:
Alan Turing’s Office at Bletchley Park
The Code-Breaking Museum at Bletchley Park
The Pagoda at Avery Island, Louisiana
Group Shot from the 2016 Google Dance