The market for 360 cameras has suddenly grown crowded, with upstarts like 360Fly, Insta360, Yi and others launching credible offerings over the past 18 months. One constant in the market, however, has been Ricoh.
For a company that has had so many recent public struggles with its finances, one area in which it has led is its innovation in the 360-degree camera market.
The Ricoh Theta S is the company’s flagship 360 camera and boasts a sleek, highly portable body design that measures 130mm x 44mm x 22.9mm and weighs just 125g.
Inside the Theta S are dual 1/2.3in 12-megapixel CMOS sensor and newly developed f/2.0 lenses. The Theta S can record up to 25 minutes of Full HD video at 30fps and can also live stream video to Youtube and Facebook.
The Theta S offers 8GB of internal memory storage, however it does not have a card slot to expand this. It boasts an ISO range from 100 to 1600, a shutter speed range 1/6400sec down to 60secs (in manual mode), +/-2EV exposure compensation, Auto, Shutter Priority, ISO Priority and Manual shooting modes, as well as the full range of white balance presets you’ve come to expect over the years.
Still images are saved as JPEGs, videos as MP4 files and live streaming employs Motion JPEGs. Ricoh says the Theta S can take up to 260 images on a single charge, which I found to be largely accurate.
Ricoh Theta S Build & Handling
The Ricoh Theta S is about the size of an old mobile phone circa 2003, back when phones were just phones and meant to be small. In fact, I dug out an old Sony Ericsson handset long since retired, and their size is about comparable. In other words: the Theta S is small and extremely portable. It can slip in the pocket of your jeans and you won’t even notice it’s there.
When you slide it out of its branded sheath you’ll be a little surprised at how solid and luxurious it feels. Its shape is something like the monolith out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and in some ways the Ricoh Theta S carries on Kubrick’s theme of innovation leaping us forward.
The body is made of dark metal, with a soft, rubberised grip covering the front and back of the camera.
On the front (or back; aren’t these terms moot when shooting 360 degrees?) is a large shutter button which rests under your thumb as you hold the Theta S like an ice cream cone.
Below the shutter button are several indicators. On top is a wireless lamp, which flashes when not connected to WiFi and lights constantly when connect to WiFi and the wireless function is turned on.
Next are the capture mode indicators: still images, video or live streaming. When filming video its recording lamp will flash.
Finally, at the bottom is a memory warning lamp which lights when the memory is full and flashes when it’s almost out of space.
On the bottom of the Ricoh Theta S is a USB terminal for charging the device, along with an HDMI terminal for use in live streaming mode. Ricoh has also conveniently included a tripod mount on the bottom of the Theta S, which I found really expanded how I could use this 360 camera.
On top of the Theta S are a microphone and speaker. On the side of the Ricoh Theta S you’ll find the power button, with a lamp in the centre that illuminates when it’s turned on.
Below that is the wireless button, which you can press to enable a connection with your smartphone for remote control of the camera.
Then, finally, at the bottom of this button stack is a capture mode button which lets you choose between still images and video. However, if you hold this capture mode button down while turning on the power, the Ricoh Theta S will enter its live streaming mode.
How to connect Ricoh Theta S to your smartphone
One of the benefits of the Ricoh Theta S is the ability to control the camera remotely via its companion app on your smartphone. To do this, first you will need to search for the Ricoh Theta S app on iTunes or Google Play, depending on your device.
The Ricoh Theta S broadcasts a WiFi connection, to which you can connect your smartphone (though you cannot use it to connect to the internet). When doing this for the first time, follow these steps:
- Press the power button on the Ricoh Theta S
- Press the wireless button to enable the WiFi network. The wireless indicator will begin to flash.
- Next, go to your phone’s WiFi settings and select the Theta S from the list of available networks.
- The serial number printed on the base of the Theta S is the same as the SSID and password. For example, you might see XS 00 001017 stamped on the base of your Theta S. This ID should be listed among your available WiFi networks, and the password is the same, without the XS. So: 00001017. You can change the password at anytime within your smartphone.
- Once you’ve set up the wireless network, you only have to do this once. Forever more when you press the wireless button on the side panel of the Theta S your phone will connect to the camera.
- When you are within the Ricoh Theta S and your phone is connected to the camera, you will then notice a little circular icon with an outline of the Theta S in the bottom right corner. Press this and you will enter the remote control mode.
Ricoh Theta S Performance
When using a 360 camera it’s important to remember that this technology is still within its infancy, at least at the consumer level. Products are announced as development projects, then officially launched, and then by the time they ship new firmware can add a slew of new features. They’re ever-changing, and improving their image quality all the time.
That said, even as a year-old camera – about 65 in human years – the Ricoh Theta S stands out for its image quality. Will it beat your DSLR or mirrorless camera? No. Not yet. But it’s far and away one of the best 360 cameras I’ve used.
For a start, it handles exposures very well. Take a look at the sample images I’ve linked to below in this Ricoh Theta S review. It might look like I shot all those on the same day, but they were taken over several weeks of walking around with the Theta S in my pocket.
Outside it captures deep blue skies, almost like you were using an ND filter, and retains a good amount of highlight detail, even when faced with direct sunlight. Indoors, or in overcast conditions, it still manages to record rich, vibrant tones.
And the images are impressively sharp. Of course, if you pinch and zoom far enough into them you’ll see noise and smudging of details. But for the purposes of sharing them online, the results are fantastic. Crisp, clear, full of contrast. And when you consider the size of the sensor inside the Ricoh Theta S, it’s all the more impressive.
Shooting with the Theta S is easy enough. You can hold it out in front of you and simply press the shutter button. You’ll hear a noise to indicate a picture has been taken. But I found that I didn’t know if the image was still processing. So I wasn’t sure if I had to keep holding it in position.
Really, the best way to shoot with the Theta S is to control it remotely via your smartphone. Here your screen becomes a live view and you adjust your angle, as well as make adjustments to exposure settings like ISO, which you don’t have direct controls for on the camera body.
The Ricoh Theta S has really been designed for us via it’s app, but the companion app was really a Tale of Two Cities for me. It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times.
When the app is functioning properly it’s a simple, versatile tool that allows you to get really creative with the remote control function. As you can see from my videos I was able to move quite a way’s away and still stay connected to the Theta S.
In one instance I was able to leave the Theta S – mounted on a Manfrotto Pixi tripod – on a rock at the base of a tall waterfall, then climb the rocks surrounding the waterfall and take a photo.
If you’re in still images mode, simply press the Theta icon in the centre of your screen to take a photo. You’ll hear a shutter-type sound to indicate the capture, and then the Theta S will automatically transfer that image to your smartphone (note: it only does this when using the remote control function within the app; any images shot using the shutter button on the camera sans the app will need to be transferred to your phone from the device later on).
When shooting video, again, press the Theta icon on your smartphone’s screen to begin recording – and again to stop – and you can choose your resolution at the top. This is all well and good, and brilliantly simple… when it works.
But in the beginning of my tests I found the app very buggy. It crashed on me quite a few times. And I did miss a number of shots because of this. I was able, of course, to still shoot directly via the camera’s shutter button. But being able to use your smartphone as a live view screen really does take the shooting experience to another level.
That said, Ricoh did update the app midway through my tests and since then its performance has been much better. It’s crashed a few times, but nowhere near the number of times it did in the beginning.
Another small niggle I should point out is that you’ll probably notice a small red dot within the centre of your images. I did. And it confounded me for some time. Other users have reported this, as well, and have suggested it is lens flare.
Transferring images from the Ricoh Theta S
Another great example of how simple the app is – when it works – is in transferring images over to your phone. When you navigate to your Album you’ll see tabs for Device images and Cam images.
When you shoot stills or video remote control via the app, your content is automatically transferred to your phone. When you shoot via the Theta S itself, your footage is stored in its internal memory.
In the Device images tab you will see all of those images that have been automatically sent to your phone. To view and transfer the Cam images you will need to enable the wireless connection, and then all of the content on your internal memory will appear. To transfer it to your phone, simply tap each icon. And that’s it.
Also, within both Cam and Device Images you can select individual stills and video to share to social media. And within Device images your can select content to download to your microSD card, Google Photos and more.
Ricoh Theta S Verdict
A year after it was launched, the Theta S remains one of the best 360 cameras on the market. Picture quality is fantastic, from colours to sharpness, and it’s a portable, take-anywhere camera that is simple to use, yet luxurious in its build quality.
Reliability of the companion app is the only thing that lets it down, but apps are so easy to remedy, and this has already proved the case.
Initially I thought 8GB of internal storage and the lack of expansion might be an issue, but it really wasn’t. I tended to transfer images straightaway, and my Theta S never reached capacity. Still, a microSD card slot might be a nice addition to Ricoh’s next flagship 360 camera.
It’s worth noting, that Ricoh announced the development of an update to the Theta S in April 2017. A new Ricoh 360 4K offering will be coming later this year. So bear in mind that this 4K offering promises better resolution, which will put more demands on storage.
With immersive content becoming more mainstream and the first 360 ad units being rolled out, Ricoh has placed itself well to become a market leader with its Theta line.