VR Photography (Ricoh Theta S)

Earlier this year, I got this VR camera, the Ricoh Theta S (amazon). It lets you take 360° photos or video. This isn’t a review but let me start with a few thoughts on the camera itself

It’s pretty cool for a bunch of reasons:

  • It’s quite small, so it’s very portable.
  • It has a very high quality feel to it.
  • Connecting it to a smartphone is way easier than other digital cameras I’ve tried.
  • Of course, it takes 360° videos and pictures.

Downsides I’ve run into:

  • At first glance, the Theta S has decent resolution: 14MP for still photos and 1080p for video. But what you might notice if you’re picky is that those pixels are spread over an entire 360° view, so when you’re looking at your pictures/video later, every subsection that you look at is lower resolution than those specs might suggest
  • Because the camera is so small, it uses a very small sensor (actually 2 sensors, to allow it to do 360°). This means it’s not great in lower light situations. They do have some low light shots that look good on the official website, so I guess it’s possible with tweaking and going into manual settings, but if you just pull it out somewhere darkish, it’ll be pretty gritty.

Anyway so I didn’t actually start writing this as a review, I was just going to talk about one specific point about VR Photography:

I love this camera, and it’s fun to use, but one thing I keep noticing when I watch 360° videos (filmed by me, or other people), is that so many situations and scenes just don’t suit themselves to 360° VR video.

In a lot of situations, traditional photography is all you need to capture what is actually happening. I’ve watched quite a lot of VR video where you have to spend the first 2 or 3 seconds orienting your view to whatever the main action is, and that covers the rest of the video.

Capturing a 360° field is cool in theory, but that includes a lot of fairly extraneous stuff. The sky is a big example actually – for most of these videos, you could orient your view to just be looking at the sky for the length of the video, but nobody is ever going to do that, nor should they. But probably more than 10% of all the pixels/scene in lots of VR videos is just a blue sky with some clouds.

Anyhow, I have no big point, I just thought I’d write this down somewhere. I just had a tech video open where someone was raving about how great the Theta S is, and I agree, but I don’t know, I am not so sure it’s going to catch on with actual normal people – doesn’t seem likely to me. A couple of years ago, I got a Sony 3D camera that is one of the greatest things, but those never caught on, and I’d argue that they provided way more utility and cooler/more fun images.

If you do get a Ricoh Theta S or other VR camera, maybe get it from somewhere you can return it if you’re not into it, that’s probably the smart move.