At IFA 2013, Ricoh launched the Theta , a pocket-sized camera that, with a single button press, could capture a 360-degree spherical image. Then at IFA 2014 came the Theta M15, which added full-HD video, though only at 15 frames per second and for up to 3 minutes. Now, at IFA 2015, the Ricoh Theta S has arrived and promises to deliver more while remaining just as easy to use as the original.
Improving on the M15's video chops, the Theta S can record spherical video with stereo sound in full HD at a usable 30 frames per second for up to 25 minutes. The twin f2.0 lenses use folded optics allowing for a longer optical path while keeping the body small and still making room for its two 12-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch image sensors that combine to output 14-megapixel spherical images (5,376x2,688-pixel resolution equirectangular JPEGs).
Like past models, the Theta S has built-in Wi-Fi that's used to connect to mobile devices for remote control of the camera and for transferring your shots for viewing and sharing. Ricoh upgraded the wireless for faster transfers -- from 2Mbps to 8Mbps -- but also made a fresh Theta S app that gives you a live preview before you shoot.
Camera settings can also be controlled via the app. With the camera in Auto mode, you can shoot with dynamic-range compensation, noise reduction for low-light shots and, at a later date, HDR. An ISO-priority mode lets you set the sensor's light sensitivity and white balance, while a Shutter-priority option gives control over shutter speed and white balance. Or, in Manual mode you can set all three: ISO, white balance and shutter speed.
Movies are fully automatic, but the Micro-HDMI and Micro-USB ports on the bottom of the camera can be used for live streaming to an external display.
Once you've got your spherical shots transferred, you can upload them to Ricoh's Theta360.com site, which can then be shared to Twitter or Facebook, or you can embed them. But, since the Theta S app is based on the Google-supported Open Spherical Camera interface, the images are also compatible with Google's services, including its new Street View app for iOS and Android.
Using the Street View app you can shoot and publish your own photo spheres with the Theta S to add to Google Maps for people anywhere to explore. (You can also use the app itself along with your phone's camera to shoot photo spheres, though it takes far more effort than using the Theta S.) The camera's images can also be shared on Google+ and uploaded to the YouTube 360-degree channel.
I was never able to get my hands on the Theta M15 for testing, but I tested the original Theta, which had merely passable image quality, and the user reviews for the M15 are not exactly favorable. The larger, higher-resolution sensors should improve things and with control over the shutter speed, ISO and white balance available, the opportunity to get good low-light shots is certainly there.
The Ricoh Theta S will be available in October for $350. Pricing for the UK and Australia wasn't available, but that price converts to about £225 or AU$500.