Ricoh Theta 360 Review (after one week of use)

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MikeFairbanks
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Ricoh Theta 360 Review (after one week of use)
6 months ago

I was one of the people who won the essay contest to receive a free Ricoh Theta 360.  How much bias that introduces to my first review is unknown to me.  But to preface the review:  I seriously doubt I would buy it for its current price.  To me it feels like a $99 camera, maybe $199.  My review will explain further.

1.  The device itself is sleek and cool-looking (and was packaged very well with included neoprene case and foam case for the soft case.  When in its box it's very, very safe.  Out of the cases it's very, very fragile (because of the glass bulbs).  However, it's a quality item to hold.

2.  The device is also easy to hold because it is covered entirely with that rubberized plastic that is popular these days.  This will eventually lead to a dirtier device, but I'd rather have a dirty, working device than a clean, broken one from slips.  It doesn't come with a handstrap but an optional one can be purchased or one from a previous camera easily made to fit.  One reason there isn't anything attached to the camera is that it will be in the photo.  The camera takes a picture of everything, including much of itself.

3.  It really does take spherical photos that show everything.  Complete and total globe.

4.  It's a lot of fun and the creative possibilities are limitless.

Let's shift gears here and look at it from a photographer's perspective.

5.  No manual modes.  That's bad.  You can (sort of) adjust ISO (there is a brightness slider, which is essentially an ISO control, but there are no numbers.  You have to experiment.  The default is the middle.  You slide left to lower ISO and right to raise ISO.  But it doesn't say ISO.

There is no shutter control.  That's the biggest problem.  It doesn't need aperture control because everything needs to be in focus anyway, and you can add blur later if you wish (more on editing in a minute).  But if we could just have a real ISO control and shutter control then we could have longer exposures and that would help tremendously.

You see, most shots (once you understand the device) you won't want to take handheld.  When taking handheld shots your entire hand and arm are huge in the photo, and your body will block a lot of the scenery.  Therefore a tiny tripod or homemade stand are ideal.  You might want to even make a pole-type mount (like they use for GoPros to get the camera farther from you.

Having a dedicated shutter and ISO feature would allow amazing night time shots.  I don't want high ISO when using a tripod, and I don't want the camera making decisions that add a lot of noise to the photo (grain).  This is a mistake on the part of Ricoh (not allowing long exposures).

6.  There is no self-timer.  That's a huge problem for me.  No self-timer?  What camera doesn't have a self timer?   YES, you can take pictures using your phone (the phone and camera communicate.  A tablet works, too).  But that limits you to the following:  A.  take a picture hand-held or B.  mount the camera on a tripod of some kind and trigger it with your phone (which means your phone is either in every single picture or your hand is hiding in your pocket triggering the phone.

Ricoh:  Even though it's too late to add a timer to the device itself, your coders can put a self timer in the software overnight.  PLEASE put in a self timer so I can push the button, slip the phone in my pocket, and then place my hand where I want my hand to be (or have time to form a pose, do a stunt, jump, etc.

7.  It beeps when it takes a photo.  I don't think this feature can be turned off.  That can be a problem in libraries, nuclear bomb factories, and in my case a television set I snuck onto yesterday.  I couldn't take photos during the scenes because it would beep and I'd be in hot water.  So I had to take photos between takes.  Nevertheless I was able to get some cool tv studio shots of a popular show.  That will happen again, bwahahaha (I'll keep it respectful, of course).

Now to post processing

8.  You can, in fact, open the file with Adobe Photoshop, edit the file, and then save it.  It will still work in the theta and google software as long as you do NOT change the image size, not even a little.  Do not crop.  If you do, then it's all over.  But it's nice to be able to edit.

9.  You can do HDR.  While it doesn't have a dedicated ISO number adjustment, it does have a "brightness adjustment" which is the same thing (but without the numbers).  Since you can control the camera with your smartphone while it's mounted on a tripod, you can take several pictures at various levels of brightness.  Then, import those photos into your favorite HDR program and make it work.  There's a catch, however.  When I did it with Photomatix the saved failed to save as a proper spherical photo and wouldn't work on the various spherical players.

There's an easy work-around:  First, open your saved HDR file in photoshop.  Next, open one of your original Theta images.  Copy the HDR file and paste it on top of the regular file.  Flatten the image and save as.  It will now save properly.  You might choose to stretch or contract the layer first, but you probably won't need to.  It works great.

10.  You can add to the photo when you edit and can stack (using the trick from the above comment).  I set the Theta in the center of my backyard table and then sat in all six chairs, taking a picture each time.  I then put the six layers together and since the lighting was consistent in each photo, all I had to do was some simple erasing and....tada....There are six of me sitting around the table.  And it still works in spherical form.

Note:  I don't know how the software knows a spherical image from a regular image.  It could be coding in the jpeg or it could be a specific size.  All I know is that I use one of the regular images (it can be any theta 360 image) as a base and simply place layers on top of it.  Then I flatten the image when done and do a save as.  As long as you do not change the size of the base photo you're ok.

11.  You can do spherical artwork.  Open one of the Theta 360 images in Photoshop, select black (or white...or any color you like) and then go to Edit and Fill Selection.  Your entire photo turns a solid color (black or white is most common).  Then, you can draw on it, use your stamp tool to place a bunch of hearts, clovers, yellow moon, blue diamonds, and any other lucky charm you like, creating a pretty spherical mural, piece of artwork, etc.  It's fun.

12.  Finally, I thought it would be fun to throw the camera up in the air (could be seen as a really dumb idea).  I was over soft mulch on a playground (I'm a teacher) and with my Iphone in one hand (remember, there is no self-timer) I threw the Theta 360 up about fifteen feet in the air, pushed the button on my phone to take a picture, and then dropped my phone (it's in an Otterbox and I was over very soft and deep mulch) and then I caught the Theta 360 in my hands.  It offers a really cool perspective.

13.  Image quality is on part with my older Iphone 4.  My current 4S takes much nicer photos in terms of IQ.  So don't expect miracles.  Frankly, it's very challenging to get a really good quality photo, but it can be done.  In low light it's a miserable experience (again, because they won't allow us the option of open shutter with a low ISO.  If they did it would be a dream, especially in the city with noise-free or low noise photos of the city and cars going by with streaming tail lights).  Oh well.

After notes:  For a really fun time, hold the camera in your mouth while taking photos.  It's a blast.  You become a true-life caricature of yourself with a huge, puffy head and a spherical surrounding.  It's the ultimate selfie.  You'll look like a bloated, overweight person holding your breath, but the pics come out great (and very funny).  Furthermore, because the camera is in your mouth, all that is seen of the camera is a thin white line between your lips which is very easy to erase in Photoshop.  The only challenge is finding a place to put the phone in order to keep it out of the photo (in pocket, behind back, etc).  It means you only have one hand free and it's not in the photo (RICOH:  Add a self-timer).

My final take:  I would be excited and eager to pay up to about $150 for it and would prefer $99.  It's not worth $399 in my opinion.

But it's fun.  I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

 MikeFairbanks's gear list:MikeFairbanks's gear list
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