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Biospheres with a spherical camera: the Theta V at Amazon HQ

01 Feb

Introduction

Note – click and drag the 360 images in this article to explore. Enter full-screen by using the button on the bottom right of each image.

It’s not every day that you get to take 360-degree spherical images inside of a collection of enormous spheres. But it wasn’t just any day; it was the start of opening day for the Amazon Spheres, and our former writer and current Amazon Visual Storyteller Jordan Stead invited me along for the ride.

And so, I armed myself with Ricoh’s Theta V, Jordan armed himself with a Canon 5D Mark IV, and we set off into the warm, humid expanse to capture all the images we could. We were allowed in just one hour before the Spheres were to be overrun with events staff, tours and employees looking for an artisanal caffeinated beverage to sip while being gently misted in the face by the building’s environmental control system.*

Full disclosure: DPReview is a wholly-owned but editorially-independent subsidiary of Amazon. We weren’t asked to visit the Spheres, or to write this article, we just thought it would be fun.

Inside the Spheres

This space is primarily geared towards large presentations, and is where the grand opening festivities chiefly took place.

Walking through the entrance to Amazon’s Spheres begins with a blast of humidity followed with a spike in temperature, concluding in several seconds of adjustment to the blindingly bright lights from every direction. It feels like an exercise in teleportation or extraterrestrial abduction (in a good way).

Here, the Theta V makes perfect sense

And the Spheres also lend themselves really well to 360-degree imaging, mainly because of how architecturally distinct they are. I’ve struggled with really understanding the broad appeal of 360 imaging in the past, but here, the Theta V makes perfect sense. Given that it’s such an extraordinary environment, 360 photos and video provide a unique and valuable view of what it’s like to be there.

Despite the Spheres’ immense size, part of what helps in this case is that they’re enclosed; the geometric skeleton gives you a consistent frame of reference and provides visual interest whichever direction you look. I also enjoy how the hard corners and edges of the metal skeleton contrast with the gentler curves of so many leaves and plant stems throughout the space.

The Theta V: What worked

One of the reasons we chose the Theta V for this shoot was its compact size and ease of use. We could mount it on a long monopod to convey a sense that the viewer is ‘floating’ within the surrounding area, and once it was paired to my Android smartphone, remote triggering of the shutter proved reliable.

The Theta V automatically downloaded images to my phone immediately after capture

Through the app, we could also experiment with other exposure modes for a given shot location, including DR Compensation and HDR capture; sometimes these improved things, sometimes they didn’t. But it also helped that we could preview our perspective in real time, to make sure we could be as efficient with our limited time as possible. That the Theta V automatically downloaded images to my phone immediately after capture was icing on the cake.

Lots of power in an impressively small package.

And though functionally and physically the Theta V is very similar to the older Theta S, Ricoh’s shoehorned an all-new processor into the V. Not only does this allow the V to capture good quality spherical 4K video (the S could only do 1080p), but still images are improved as well, despite the fact that the actual sensors and lenses are unchanged.

Robust battery life was a plus, as well. We had the Theta V Wi-Fi connected to my smartphone for most of an hour, captured a couple of dozen stills as well as almost ten minutes of 4K video, and still the app showed full bars for the battery. Not bad.

What needs work

I really like this vantage point, but unfortunately, it required me holding the camera horizontally over the rail, and the Theta V’s auto horizon correction only works in video mode, not stills. Neither our embed code, nor Ricoh’s Theta app for Mac will allow me to adjust it at this time.

For the average user, the Theta V could really benefit from software tweaks more than anything else.

The main reason that we left the Theta connected to my smartphone for most of an hour was because early on, we had difficulty with reconnecting after a disconnect. The app would crash one or two times in a row for no real reason, and then it would work successfully on the third try. Usually. It wasn’t confidence inspiring.

An option for batch conversion would be appreciated

The next issue arose when I downloaded the spherical video files onto my iMac. Ricoh’s Movie Converter App refused to recognize any video files; luckily, the ‘Basic App’ converted the files just fine, albeit one at a time. An option for batch conversion would be appreciated.

Lastly, the Theta falls behind on the video front compared to the likes of the Rylo 360 camera. This isn’t necessarily due solely to image quality (and our informal tests show the Theta produces more pleasing still images), but more due to the impressive software-based stabilization and subject tracking that the Rylo offers. The Theta V does at least offer intelligent horizon correction from its built-in gyros, but shaky footage remains shaky.

What I learned

Quibbles aside, I really enjoyed using the Theta V in the Amazon Spheres. Not only did I come away with some really neat 360 images, but I also learned just how little I know about ‘proper’ 360 video capture.

When I sat down to edit the video, first of all, I was impressed that Adobe Premiere Pro handled the files just fine, and has an option to view the videos in their ‘VR’ form as I’m editing them. But I noticed that, too often, I just didn’t record clips that were long enough. The viewer really needs time to be able to click-and-drag around to explore before you move onto the next clip. Also, I was walking way too fast while recording.

I also find myself wondering, for the first time, what other events and venues would lend themselves well to 360 stills or video capture – maybe all it takes is a little thinking outside the box.


* There are a lot of misters throughout the Spheres to regulate humidity, but in the event that you don’t want to be misted in the face while sipping an artisanal caffeinated beverage, they’re easy to avoid.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Ricoh courts developers with plug-in program for the Theta V 360 camera

10 Jan
DPReview Ricoh Theta V hands-on photo. Credit: Jeff Keller.

Ricoh has just announced a so-called Partner Program for the 360° Ricoh Theta V. Taking advantage of the fact that the Theta V runs the Android operating system, Ricoh is setting up a program that will allow developers to create plug-ins specifically tailored to the camera.

The idea is actually kind of brilliant, as DPReview’s own Dale Baskin explains:

This is interesting because most consumer-grade 360° cameras really don’t do anything unique. What makes them useful is the software (which is why I really liked the Rylo). I think Ricoh is smart to open their platform up to developers as someone may come up with a really interesting feature that could potentially drive sales of the hardware.

What we’re not clear on is to what degree developers will be able to create features from scratch, given that Ricoh uses the word “plug-in” to describe what they’ll be creating. The Partner Program graphic Ricoh released isn’t much help in that department either:

“Based on the Android operating system, the RICOH THETA V provides a user-friendly way for third-parties to not only create apps and software that extend and enhance the capabilities of 360-degree imaging but also new features and functionality for the camera itself,” reads Ricoh’s announcement. “These can include customized capabilities that enhance the RICOH THETA V’s use for specialty applications and in vertical markets.”

The first step is to give developers access to the Theta V API and SDK. And once the apps and plug-ins start flowing, Ricoh will make them available for download through “an online RICOH THETA V partner marketplace where plug-ins can be uploaded and shared.”

We consider this a step in the right direction for Ricoh, and a good reason to keep an eye on the Theta V in the weeks and months to come. The Partner Program is set to launch in Spring of 2018, at which point Ricoh hopes the Theta V will become “a constantly evolving product.”

Press Release

Ricoh announces Plug-in Partner Program for RICOH THETA V

Launching spring 2018, initiative includes an online marketplace where third parties can upload and share their Android-based plug-ins for the popular consumer 360-degree camera

LAS VEGAS (CES 2018, South Plaza, Booth #64704), January 8, 2018 – Ricoh today announced the RICOH THETA V Partner Program, which will launch in spring 2018.

The new program will support third-party developers interested in creating their own Android™-based plug-ins for the RICOH THETA V, the top-of-the-line Ricoh 360-degree camera capable of capturing fully-spherical photos and 4K video. The program will be featured at CES 2018, where attendees will be able to get a hands on experience creating their own plug-in, resulting in the creation of a new feature for the RICOH THETA V camera.

Based on the Android operating system, the RICOH THETA V provides a user-friendly way for third-parties to not only create apps and software that extend and enhance the capabilities of 360-degree imaging but also new features and functionality for the camera itself. These can include customized capabilities that enhance the RICOH THETA V’s use for specialty applications and in vertical markets. As part of the program, Ricoh is making available the RICOH THETA V’s application program interface (API) and software development kit (SDK) and will provide tools and guidance to support plug-in development. It will also open an online RICOH THETA V partner marketplace, where plug-ins can be uploaded and shared.

A unique plug-in preinstalled in the RICOH THETA V enables “Remote Playback,”*1 which makes it possible, using a compatible wireless display adapter, to mirror playback of 360-degree still images and video data stored on the camera on a large screen monitor.

“By opening the platform for application development, we are enabling the RICOH THETA V to be a constantly evolving product. For this reason, we are very excited about the new partner program,” said Wataru Ohtani, Corporate Associate Vice President and General Manager of Smart Vision Business Group, Ricoh Company Ltd. “The RICOH THETA V Plug-in Partner Program will enable third-party companies and developers to create custom features and services. Our goal is for consumers and businesses alike to benefit from RICOH THETA V and to become a standard platform for the 360-degree imagery.”

When launched in 2013, the RICOH THETA was the world’s first 360-degree*2, single-shot camera, enabling users to express themselves in new and unique ways. 360-degree still photos and videos redefined photography by giving the viewer the ability to control what he or she sees in a scene. In addition, the resulting 360-degree images were easily shared with others, allowing them to virtually experience a scene as if they were there.

Today, the RICOH THETA cameras are being used for a broad range of consumer and business applications, ranging from documenting vacation memories to photojournalism, law enforcement, real estate listings and virtual tours, and much more.

*1. Other devices are required, including the separate wireless display adapter.
*2. In the consumer products category, a camera capable of capturing fully spherical scenes surrounding the user in one shot. (as of October, 2013 investigated by Ricoh)

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Ricoh to show-off 4K-capable Theta 360-degree camera at NAB

21 Apr

Ricoh will be showcasing a prototype Theta 360 camera that can capture 4K clips and live-stream video at the annual NAB show next week. In addition to its video capture and streaming capabilities, the Theta concept will also have four microphones, allowing it to capture ‘spatial surround-sound audio.’

In an interview at Photokina last year Ricoh told our Richard Butler that putting such features into the current form factor would be difficult due to processing power and heat management, so it will be interesting to see how they pulled it off.

DPReview will be at NAB and will drop by the Ricoh booth to see if we can take a closer look.

Press Release

RICOH TO SHOWCASE THETA 360-DEGREE CAMERA WITH 4K VIDEO AND LIVESTREAMING AT 2017 NAB SHOW

WEST CALDWELL, NJ, April 20, 2017 — Ricoh today announced it will be showcasing a prototype of its newest Theta 360-degree camera, capable of capturing high-resolution 4K video in a single shot, at the upcoming 2017 NAB Show, April 24-27, in Las Vegas. The camera will be featured at the Ricoh booth, C11139, located in the Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

In addition to capturing 4K video at 30 frames per second, the new camera will enable 4K 360-degree livestreaming, and a built-in 4-channel microphone will record spatial “surround-sound” audio.

The new camera is expected to be launched later in the year.

Ricoh offers the industry’s most extensive line of spherical imaging cameras, known for their high image quality, sleek design and ease of use. First introduced in 2013, Theta cameras allow consumers to record fully spherical images that show the entirety of a scene in photos or videos. The camera line’s combination of small size, high quality imagery and incredible functionality are a result of Ricoh’s many decades of experience in advanced imaging and optical technologies. The company has long been a leader in professional printers and copiers, and is known for its high-quality optics and optical components. A key achievement with the Theta series is an ultra-small twin-lens folded-optical system capable of capturing two wide-angle images and then marrying them into a single spherical image.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Ricoh debuts colorful Theta SC

13 Oct

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Ricoh has announced the latest member of its 360-degree camera family, the Theta SC. The SC is essentially a stripped-down version of the Theta S. It offers the same twin spherical lenses with 14MP sensors behind them, but with a five minute limit on Full HD video capture and no HDMI port.

The Theta SC continues to offer smartphone control with live view and sharing on theta360.com and popular social media sites, and the company is updating its app to be more user-friendly. Its 360-degree images can also be viewed in VR headsets such as the Samsung Gear VR, and the 8GB of built-in memory can store up to 1600 images.

The Theta SC will be available next month in beige, blue, pink and white at a price of $ 299/£249.

Press release:

RICOH UNVEILS THETA SC: A FULL-FEATURED 360-DEGREE CAMERA DESIGNED TO APPEAL TO A BROAD RANGE OF CONSUMERS

Newest addition to Ricoh’s pioneering Theta line makes it easy for anyone to shoot and share high-quality spherical stills and videos, available in four colors

WEST CALDWELL, NJ, October 12, 2016 – Ricoh Imaging Americas Corp. today announced it has added a full-featured, affordably-priced mid-range model to its pioneering line of Theta 360-degree spherical imaging cameras. Merging advanced imaging capabilities with simplified operation, the new Ricoh Theta SC is designed to appeal to the growing numbers of consumers interested in capturing and sharing 360-degree photos and videos.

Market demand for cameras that capture immersive imagery is on the rise, and experts predict that devices required for augmented- and virtual-reality experiences—such as 360-degree cameras and VR headsets—will be at the top of consumers’ holiday 2016 gift lists.

Ricoh offers the industry’s most extensive line of spherical imaging cameras, known for their high image quality, sleek design and ease of use. First introduced in 2013, Theta cameras are unique in their ability to allow consumers to record fully spherical images that show the entirety of a scene in photos or videos. The pocket-sized Theta SC is the fourth-generation Theta, joining the award-winning, top-of-the-line Theta S and entry-level Theta m15 series cameras.

Like its predecessors, the Theta SC boasts a stylish and sleek design, lending itself to quick and convenient operation. The camera can be handheld with one-button operation or placed on a flat surface or tripod to be remotely controlled by a smartphone and the newly updated Theta S app. It comes in a range of attractive colors including beige, blue, pink and white for a wide range of users.

The Theta SC delivers the same high level of image quality provided the Ricoh Theta S—with a high-performance CMOS image sensor and large-aperture dual lenses—in a more lightweight package. It captures 14-megapixel, high-resolution stills and records high-definition (HD) video clips up to five minutes in duration, in keeping with consumers’ interest in shooting and sharing short video clips. The resulting spherical images can be easily uploaded to the dedicated theta360.com website; posted and shared via Facebook, Google+, Google Maps and YouTube, as well as shared via Twitter and Tumblr.

With the introduction of the Theta SC, Ricoh is also unveiling an updated Theta S app for iOS and Android devices. The newly updated Theta app is designed to be even easier to use— making capturing, viewing, managing and sharing fully spherical imagery a snap.

“Our goal is that the Theta SC will introduce more people to 360-degree spherical imaging,” said Kaz Eguchi, president, Ricoh Imaging Americas Corp. “With the growing popularity of immersive imagery, augmented and virtual reality, we wanted to produce a high-quality camera at an affordable price point that appeals to anyone who is interested in capturing and sharing the world around them in this new, exciting digital imaging format.”

| Pricing and Availability |
The Ricoh Theta SC is now at www.ricohimaging.com and retail outlets nationwide for a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $ 299.95.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Ricoh releases THETA+ Video app for Android

30 Jul

Ricoh’s Theta series S 360° cameras come with several accompanying apps. While the Theta S app is used for shooting and reviewing 360° images and video, the Theta+ and Theta+ Video apps were developed for editing images and video respectively. The Theta+ Video app for iPhone was released last year, now Ricoh has launched an Android version as well.

Like the iPhone variant, Theta+ Video for Android allows you to edit 360° standard and time-lapse videos. Functions include trimming, color adjustment, cropping and the insertion of music tracks. Users can also select from from four types of view formats: Mirror Ball, Little Planet, Equirectangular, and Rectilinear.

As usual, edited videos can be shared to a range of social networks. On Facebook and YouTube they can be viewed in their full 360° glory while on some other platforms cropping is required. Theta + Video for Android is available as a free download from the Google Play Store now. 

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Ricoh Theta and Theta S apps add support for Google Cardboard

03 Jun

Good news for users of Ricoh Theta and Theta S 360-degree cameras: the corresponding apps now support the use of ‘head-mounted displays’ for viewing your images and videos in their full 360-degree glory. This of course includes Google’s budget Cardboard viewer. 

When viewing images or video in the app you can now choose between standard screen or two different virtual reality modes, single or double lens, the latter of which will work with Google cardboard. Until now, Theta users had to upload their content to a compatible service in order to view them using Cardboard. Now, thankfully this additional step is no longer necessary. The Ricoh Theta and Ricoh Theta S app can be downloaded from the Google Play Store.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Ricoh puts up 5 million Yen in prizes for Theta developers competition

06 Apr

Ricoh has announced the opening of its latest competition aiming to attract app developers to create new applications for its Theta 360° camera. The company says it is looking for innovative and original apps and devices that are creative, have potential for the future and which have practical value to Theta users. The prize fund for the competition is five million Yen (about $ 45,000), with one million going to an overall winner who also gets a trip to Japan for the prize-giving ceremony. 

The winner of the 2015 competition was a team called ‘bitstars’, which developed the desktop application ‘holobuilder’ that allows 2D and 3D objects, animations and text to be added to Theta 360° virtual tours. The program also allows links to be added to the photospheres so viewers can travel from image to image as if from room to room in a building or navigate an area following directions added to the scene.  

For more information about the competition visit Ricoh’s Theta Developers Contest website. The closing date is 31st August 2016. 


Press release:

RICOH Announces the RICOH THETA Developers Contest

RICOH IMAGING EUROPE S.A.S is pleased to announce the second annual developers contest. The competition is looking for new apps and gadgets that utilise the RICOH THETA camera which takes 360-degree, fully spherical images or videos in one capture. Once registered applicants have until 31st August 2016 to submit their final app and gadget designs. 

Part of RICOH’s 80th anniversary celebrations this year, the contest challenges developers to create innovative apps and gadgets that work in conjunction with the RICOH THETA. Winners of the contest will receive a trip to Tokyo, Japan, for the awards ceremony and the first prize winner will be awarded a cash prize of one million Yen.

Applicants will also gain early access to an exciting new platform which has been optimised for cloud-based applications leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT). The new IoT platform makes it possible for developers to efficiently and cost-effectively build cloud-based apps, which typically require significant expertise in cloud services and servers and a longer development time. 

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Ricoh launches Theta+ Video app for iPhone

22 Dec

Ricoh Imaging has announced THETA+ Video for Apple’s iPhone. The app allows for editing of 360° footage and time-lapse videos that have been captured with one of Ricoh’s THETA cameras. You can trim video clips, choosing from four viewing formats including Little Planet, which “projects” the video on a small planet floating in space, and apply 10 different filters. Read more on connect.dpreview.com

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Ricoh Theta S boosts resolution, introduces Google Street View integration

03 Sep

Ricoh has unveiled the latest version of its 360-degree camera, the Theta S. Thanks to two 12MP 1/2.3″ sensors, the S is capable of 14MP 360-degree still image capture, up from the previous model’s 6MP images. Brighter lenses, 1080/30p video and integration with Google’s new Street View app are all onboard. Read more

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Ricoh announces THETA+ app and two new camera accessories

08 Jul

Ricoh has announced a new app called THETA+ for iOS and Android. With THETA+, owners of Ricoh’s THETA spherical camera can edit images shot with the device via a smartphone or tablet. The new app is designed to work with the existing THETA app, which enables shooting and sharing from a smartphone. Read more

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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