Ricoh Theta S Conclusion

by

No question about it, our review of the Ricoh Theta S has been very different indeed -- as befits a camera so unique as this one.

Usually, we pair the analytical with the subjective in our reviews, poring over every fine detail in the lab before we head out into the real world with an idea of where the camera's strengths and weaknesses might lie before we start shooting. With the Ricoh Theta S, we simply couldn't do that.

This is a camera for the real world, not the lab

The Theta S' unique twin-lensed design and complete 360-degree spherical panoramic coverage might have yielded an interesting behind-the-scenes look at our testing process, but it certainly wouldn't have provided meaningful results about the camera itself. And so rather than try to run it through our standard tests, I did something for this review that I've not done in quite a long time: Focus solely on my real-world experiences without concern for the minutiae of lab test figures.

Ricoh Theta S Review -- Product Image

You'll want to rethink everything you know about photography

And what an interesting time I've had shooting with this camera. The Ricoh Theta S is certainly not for everybody; there's no two ways around that. It takes a whole new thought process to use this camera, especially if you don't want to be present in your own photos. But what it can do, it does superbly, and at a pretty reasonable price of $350 to boot.

A bit more expensive, but for very good reason

I must admit, when it was first announced I did have some concerns about the fact that it was more expensive than its predecessor, but having had the chance to use the Theta S quite extensively now, those concerns have evaporated. No question about it: You're getting a much more well-rounded camera (no pun intended) than you did with the Theta M15, and the price difference is only a relatively modest $50, or 17%.

Well behind schedule but having plenty of fun, we continued up the Pacific Coast Highway to Point Reyes, arriving right at sunset. The views were spectacular. Having an interesting sky really helps bring a Ricoh Theta S shot to life! - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

And when you stop to think about it, buying one Theta S is much the same as buying two of any other camera. What would you get at half this cost in a standalone camera? Not anything terribly compelling, I don't think, and yet by pairing those two cameras into a single chassis, Ricoh has given us a very interesting product indeed.

Great still-image quality; video less so, but still acceptable

Image quality, especially in low light, is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. And where the Theta m15's video capture was very limited indeed, it's much more capable in this newer model. Yes, unless you're viewing at very wide angle, the Theta S' video will still seem relatively soft and low-resolution, but the ability to pan and zoom to choose your own subject during playback makes it fairly easy to overlook that fact.

Selfies that put you right back in the moment

But for my money, this camera is at its best as a truly unique still shooter for the selfie set. It puts you back in the moment weeks, months or even years later, setting a scene and letting you reimagine yourself at the center of it all over again. And it does so with very impressive image quality for next to no work.

Suffer with multi-shot panoramas no more!

Shoot with the Theta S, and chances are that you'll never again want to go back to the effort of creating a multi-shot spherical panorama without stitching artifacts. Yes, you can still get better results with a multi-shot setup and a lot of work (both in the field and in post processing), but we do mean a lot of work. With the Theta S, it's just a matter of positioning the camera and tapping the shutter button: End of story.

Long exposures with the Ricoh Theta S are a lot of fun. This particular shot was 30 seconds on a cool, breezy and moonlit Point Reyes, during which time my wife and I huddled under beach towels for warmth. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

A clear Dave's Pick and a must-have for pano fans

If you have a need for 360-degree panoramic imagery, the Ricoh Theta S is a no-brainer. Get one now; you won't regret it. A definite Dave's Pick, it's in a class of its own for 360-degree panorama fans!

 

Pros & Cons

Image Quality

  • Significantly better image quality than its predecessors
  • High ISO performance is sufficient for handheld shots under city street lights
  • Long-exposure image quality is good, albeit limited to 60 seconds
  • Unlike with multi-shot techniques, moving subjects present no problems
  • Dynamic range can be an issue, since both cameras must use identical exposure
  • Nearby objects within a few feet in the plane between the two lenses can show stitching errors
  • Handheld shots suffer from Gigantic Hand Syndrome ;)

Performance

  • No autofocus lag due to fixed-focus design
  • Takes several seconds to synthesize each image
  • Transfers also take several seconds per image, and movies can take almost as long to transfer as to shoot

Video

  • Generous clip length and frame rate compared to its predecessor
  • Allows the viewer to pan and zoom to choose their own subject
  • Fixed-focus design means your subjects are always in focus
  • Video resolution is quite limited, especially if the viewer zooms in much
  • Onboard microphones are prone to wind noise

User Experience

  • Comfortable ergonomics
  • Quality build
  • Reasonably intuitive controls and indications
  • Automatically levels your stills and movies, even during capture
  • Photos and movies like nothing your smartphone or other standalone cameras can give you
  • Viewing your spherical panos puts you right back in the moment in a way that flat photos just can't do
  • Images are easily shared on social media, and tend to get lots of attention for their unique nature
  • No screen on the camera itself
  • Both battery and memory are not user-replaceable
  • Long shot delay on interval timer makes the feature less useful
  • Somewhat limited creative possibilities due to fixed focus, fixed aperture design
  • It's tricky to get yourself (and your gear) out of the shot
  • No flash means no way to throw more light on your subjects

Optics

  • Impressively compact fisheye lenses allow a very slim body even when placed back-to-back with beam-folding prisms in between
  • Protruding lenses could be easy to scratch or mar unless you use the provided soft case near-religiously

 



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