Ricoh Theta review

The Ricoh Theta is compact camera that captures unique 360° spherical images, but it's on the pricey side and battery life is disappointing.
Photo of Ricoh Theta

The Ricoh Theta ($399.95 direct) is an odd-looking camera that uses two lenses to capture a 360° view of the world with a single press of its shutter button. It may be a one-trick pony in that regard, but at the very least it’s a neat trick. At $400, it’s not cheap, but for certain applications it can be a pretty useful tool. It’s small enough to slide into your shirt pocket, unlike the Panono Ball ($599), a larger device that uses 36 lenses instead of 2, but yields images with higher resolution.

With a stick-like design with a lens bulging out of its front and rear façades, the white Theta measures 5.1 by 1.7 by 0.9 inches (HWD) and weighs just 3.4 ounces. There’s just enough space on the bottom of the camera to fit a standard tripod socket and a micro USB port (which doubles as the charging port). The bottom is flat so if you don’t have a tripod available, it will stand up on its own. There’s a shutter button on the camera, but that’s it for controls. The Power and Wi-Fi buttons and status indicators are located along one side.

The view from the center of the Sony #CES2014 area. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

You don’t have to spend a lot of time taking composition into account in a traditional sense when shooting with the Theta; getting an interesting shot is more about positioning yourself (or the camera) in the environment: whatever’s around it will be in frame, but the Theta itself will not be. This leads to an interesting effect if you’re shooting handheld—your thumb and index finger appear to touch, even though you were holding the camera when shooting.

Pairing the Theta with your smartphone (it’s compatible with Android and iOS, but there’s no support for Windows Phone at this time) is pretty easy. It sets up a network, to which your phone connects, and you can capture an image using the app as a remote control. You’re able to adjust the exposure compensation (which brightens or darkens a scene) via the app; that’s something that you can’t to when using the camera without your phone or tablet at hand.

Connecting to a smartphone is a simple matter, and the transfer of photos from the camera to your phone is reasonably quick. You’ll have to tap photos one by one, though; there’s no batch transfer option available in the app. Once copied you can view them on the phone or tablet—scrolling your finger rotates the spherical image, and you can pinch to zoom in or out. Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr are supported for online sharing; all images are hosted on Theta360.com. I did notice that the Theta did not live up to the promised 200 photos per charge; I was only able to capture and transfer 30 images before I needed to recharge. The micro USB port is used to charge the Theta; you can also use it to connect to a PC or Mac and transfer photos to your hard drive. 4GB of internal memory can hold about 300 spherical images.

Here I am standing inside the xxArray. #CES2014 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

I struggled a bit in an attempt to find the right situation to put the Theta through its paces. My eye is more keen on isolating a single subject, but by its design the Theta isolates nothing. I ended up taking the camera with me to CES; it did a great job capturing panoramic views of the show floor. In addition to reportage, Realtors may see the Theta as an appealing device to capture interior views of properties. If the idea of spherical panoramic images appeals to you, either for personal photography or commercial applications, the Theta is one of the few devices on the market that will capture them. Its image quality is no match for a stitched panoramic image from a D-SLR or even a compact camera, but it makes it possible to capture images with a single exposure that would be impossible with stitching.

Specifications
Dimensions 5.1 x 1.7 x 0.9 inches
Weight 3.4 oz
Media Format Internal
Maximum ISO 1600
Type Compact
Battery Type Supported Rechargeable
Viewfinder Type None

Verdict
The Ricoh Theta is compact camera that captures unique 360° spherical images, but it's on the pricey side and battery life is disappointing.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
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