Ricoh Pentax previews concept of twin-lens immersive camera, hints at video capability


posted Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 8:40 PM EDT

At the CP+ Camera and Photo Imaging Show in Japan last week, consumer electronics giant Ricoh teased a new product concept that will be rather exciting for fans of immersive photography -- and it might just bring immersive video capture to the table, as well. Although relatively little information is so far available, Japanese tech blog DigInfo TV came away from the show with a nice video from the Ricoh Pentax booth previewing the as-yet unnamed device.

What the video shows is an omnidirectional camera including two fisheye lenses facing in opposite directions, allowing the device to capture a full 360-degree view both horizontally and vertically in a single operation. The twin-lens design means there's no need to sweep a camera over your subject, and that even moving subjects should be recorded faithfully. (A common problem with panoramic images -- even if they're shot over a relatively brief period -- is that cars, people, animals and the like can appear in different places in more than one of the source images. When they're stitched together, the moving subject, or parts of it, can appear more than once.)

Ricoh's concept of an immersive panoramic camera is previewed by DigInfo TV.

Where the concept gets particularly cool is that the device includes built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking connectivity, and as shown in the video, can be controlled remotely from your smartphone. Once captured, the smartphone's touch-friendly screen provides a very intuitive way of navigating the immersive image, with the swipe and pinch gestures that are by now second nature to most of us, making it easy to pan around the image and zoom in on interesting subject matter. And as well as still imaging, Ricoh suggested to DigInfo that it's considering the possibilities for video capture using the device. Another interesting twist is that Ricoh discussed the possibility of reproducing the panoramas on the outside of a sphere, providing a tangible method of displaying the full images (and a rather cool way of displaying your holiday snapshot or family photo on your desk!)

Ricoh's 360-degree camera isn't the first such solution we've seen, even for immersive video. In fact, there have been quite a few over the years, with varying degrees of success. The earliest-such effort we can recall for video capture was offered by the now-defunct Oak Ridge, Tennessee-based IPIX Corp. IPIX didn't create the camera hardware; instead, they paired off-the-shelf cameras with their own fisheye lens accessories and their proprietary software for stitching the images together. Nevertheless, they had a number of patents in the area of immersive stills and video, both for capture and playback. Our understanding is that several of these were purchased by Sony, and the remainder of the intellectual property by then-competitor Mind's Eye View Inc. Should Ricoh decide the project is commercially viable, they may have to work around these patents, or acquire licenses to them from their current owners before they can market a product. Should it do so, however, it will have a very interesting product on its hands -- one which will be particularly appealing for real-estate photographers, and probably more than a few consumers as well, if the price is right.

More details in the video, and from DigInfo TV.