Make your own Google Street Views with the new Ricoh Theta S!


posted Thursday, September 3, 2015 at 11:59 PM EDT


We've seen some fairly unusual cameras over the years, but the Ricoh Theta has to rank amongst the most unusual of the bunch. Ricoh has proven to be very good at finding market niches that have gone unfulfilled, and then creating products which meet that unanswered need, and that's just what it's done with the Theta cameras -- including the brand-new Ricoh Theta S.

The Theta-series cameras all include twin lenses that allow them to capture a full 360-by-360 degree panoramic image in a single action. The two images are stitched together in-camera, saving you the tedious work of stitching and blending multiple images together to create a spherical panorama. And since the images are captured at the same time, there's no chance of a moving subject -- or worse still, part of a moving subject -- appearing in multiple places in the same spherical panorama.


Announced in 2013, the original Theta was followed up by the Theta m15, which added video capture support. Now the Ricoh Theta S arrives as a much more significant overhaul of the design. Although the form factor is similar, the Theta S is en entirely more capable camera. Ricoh never really talked about the sensor or lenses of the original, focusing instead on its capabilities. It turns out, though, that resolution was just five megapixels per lens with an f/3.5 aperture for each optic. The Theta S upgrades this to 12-megapixel sensors behind bright f/2.0 lenses. And where sensor size was never mentioned before, the Pentax Q is said to have larger sensors, opting for the same 1/2.3"-type sensor size used in many fixed-lens compacts.

That's not all, either: The Ricoh Theta S now sports more useful video capture capabilities, with a much more generous clip length of 25 minutes and a frame rate of 30 fps. By contrast, the Theta m15 was limited to just three minutes of 15 fps video. And to cope with the larger file sizes you can expect for stills and movies alike, the Theta S now has twice as much storage (8GB) and its Wi-Fi connection is four times faster than before (8Mbsp). As if all of that wasn't enough, Ricoh has added an HDMI port and the Theta S is now capable of streaming video either via HDMI or the existing USB port, alowing it to be used to capture and share events in real time.

The Ricoh Theta S shoots full 360-by-360 degree spherical videos which you can pan and (in some apps) zoom with the tap of a finger or the click of a mouse. (NOTE: Many browsers don't support the 360-degree panning ability; the latest version of Google's own Chrome browser is a safe bet, though.)

Accompanying all of these changes is a slight increase in body size and weight, but the Theta S certainly hasn't grown unduly bulky when one considers that it basically contains two complete cameras. Its weight is similar to that of an iPhone 6, and it sits about halfway between the iPhone 5 and 6 in terms of height. It's about a third less wide than the iPhone 6, but around three times thicker -- certainly small enough to be called pants pocket-friendly. And what it can do, few if any other cameras can manage -- especially in this form factor and at this price point.

And it's not just the camera itself that's been upgraded. Alongside its launch, Google has announced a new version of its Maps application that makes it quick and easy for Android and iOS users to add their own Street View content to the map using devices including the Theta. Ever wanted to add Street View shots of your own business to Google Maps without hiring a photographer to handle it all? Now you can!

This is a 360-degree panoramic image shot in New York with the brand-new #Ricoh Theta S for our upcoming hands-on preview. #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

As well as videos, the Ricoh Theta S can shoot spherical panoramic stills, and now at much higher resolution than in past models.

Content providers won't find their imagery being censored as Google does with its own Street View images -- faces, license plates and so on will be shown unedited -- but not surprisingly they will have to meet Google's standards for their imagery to appear on Maps. A two-step vetting process will be used, with software algorithms making sure that images are appropriate, and humans lending a hand when the algorithms can't make a clear call. And photographers who've uploaded a reasonable amount of content from their Theta without issue will find that, at a given point, their content is approved more quickly.

The Ricoh Theta S is set to be available in November 2015 with a retail price of around $350. Want to know more? We've been hands-on with the new model at a press event in New York, and have just posted our hands-on preview, complete with sample photos and videos. Read our Ricoh Theta S preview now for the full story!