Ricoh's 360-degree Theta camera gets better images, video

The company is hoping more users try out all-around photography

Ricoh's Theta, a candy bar-sized camera that can capture all-around images, is getting an upgrade.

The new Theta S delivers better still and video images and was unveiled on Thursday at the IFA electronics show here in Berlin.

From the outside, the new camera doesn't look very different from the two previous models, but you'll notice the change in the pictures and video that's captured.

The Theta is two cameras in a single body, each with a fisheye lens. That means it takes two 180 degree images in opposite directions.

150903 ricoh ifa 3 Martyn Williams
The output of Ricoh's Theta S 360-degree camera as a flat image.

That doesn't make much sense when viewed as a flat image (see above) but with the right app or browser plugin, the two images are stitched together and can be explored. Ricoh hosts hundreds of Theta images on a website.

I took the Theta S out for a test at the IFA fairground in Berlin, and one of the resulting images looks like this on the Theta website:

Checking out Ricoh's new Theta S 360° camera at #IFA15. Say hi to @adampatmurray behind the camera! #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
So what's new? The first major change is a live preview window in the companion smartphone app, which allows the user to preview exactly what the camera is capturing. With it, users can check out the positioning of the camera and make small tweaks to it with ease.

The camera has also been improved and the images have a resolution of 5,376 pixels by 2,688 pixels.

Various camera settings including ISO and shutter speed can be set with a manual mode in the app. Shutter speeds range from 1/6400th to 60 seconds, the latter allowing stunning shots to be captured of the night sky.

Video was first introduced on the previous m15 model but limited to up to 5 minutes at 15 frames per second. That's half the number of frames of standard video, so it looked a little jerky. The Theta S can shoot high-def video at 30 frames per second for up to 25 minutes.

150903 ricoh ifa 2 Martyn Williams
Ricoh's Theta S 360-degree camera features two spherical lenses to capture all-around images

Live 360-degree video can also be streamed from the camera, but right now it comes out as two side-by-side images, one from each camera. Software that stitches them together in realtime is due around the end of this year.

The Theta S will be available throughout Europe, North America and Asia. It will cost from $349 before tax or €399 in Europe including tax.

Speaking at IFA, Ricoh president and CEO Noboru Akahane said, "You can’t fully understand how great it is until you actually use it," and I found some truth in that.

It wasn't until I got the camera in my hand, started taking pictures and then viewing them that I started to get an idea for the kinds of occasions and places where an all-around picture would be fun.

The company recently held a contest where it asked users to come up with innovative and interesting applications for the camera. The winner was an app that creates augmented reality and virtual reality views based on pictures from the camera.

Ricoh is hoping word spreads and that more people start experimenting with the camera. With its introduction, the Theta S will be the high-end model in the company's line-up. The Theta m15, introduced last year, will remain on sale. It costs around $279 in the U.S.

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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