Ricoh's 360° Ambitions Come Full Circle With New Theta S

Can a tie-up with Google Maps take spherical photos mainstream?

The new Ricoh Theta S Credit: / Ben Keough

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As casual photographers continue to flock to smartphones for everyday photography, camera makers are increasingly looking for unique ways to sell their wares. Back in 2013, Ricoh hit on a truly unique way (at least, at the time) with its Theta 360-degree camera.

Last year, it followed that up with the Theta M15, which added video recording capability and some brightly colored cases. Now, two years later, Ricoh is upping the ante with the Ricoh Theta S, which offers fully spherical 1080p video at 30fps.

The newest Theta model boasts larger image sensors (two 1/2.3-inch chips), dual 180-degree f/2.0 lenses, and 8GB of onboard storage. Spherical stills are now captured at nearly 14 megapixels—approximately 5300 by 2700 pixels, according to one Ricoh rep I spoke to. That's a big boost from the M15's 6 megapixels.

True photo nerds can even go full manual and set the shutter speed, ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation.

There are other goodies, too. For one thing, you can now use your smartphone as a remote viewfinder when recording stills, and WiFi transfer speeds are now four times faster than the M15 thanks to a new wireless module. You can also upload your videos directly to YouTube's #360Video channel.

Ricoh Theta S
Credit: / Ben Keough

You can swipe around and pinch to zoom in 360-degree videos in the Theta S app.

True photo nerds can even go full manual and set the shutter speed, ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation using the Theta S smartphone app, which arrives alongside the camera.

The recently released Theta+ app allows for post-processing of photos, including creating time-lapses, exporting pre-set views (like "tiny planet"), cropping, and adding filters. These can then be exported to Instagram and other editing apps. A soon-to-be-released Theta V+ app will allow for similar editing of videos.

While the previous Theta cameras came in either white or bright pastels, the Theta S comes in what Ricoh is calling an “elegant black sure-grip rubber coating.” It’ll be available worldwide in late October, at an asking price of $349.

Google Maps Integration

That's all great news, but perhaps the coolest thing about the new Theta is its integration with Google's new Street View app, which launches today for iOS and Android. The app lets users browse and create "photospheres"—360-degree photos shot either with their phone or an external device.

Charles Armstrong of Google Maps
Credit: / Ben Keough

Google's Charles Armstrong (left) talks Google Maps Street View integration at the Ricoh Theta S unveiling.

Google Maps product manager Charles Armstrong was on-hand at Ricoh's IFA Berlin press conference to demonstrate how users can shoot with the Theta from inside Google's app and attach their 360-degree images to specific locations in Google Maps. The process looks dead simple, and the shots from the Theta clearly outclass most—if not all—of the more painstaking photospheres generated on smartphones.

Armstrong noted that Ricoh is one of three hardware partners for the Street View app at launch. He stopped short of naming the other two, but added that the Maps team was "excited about the resolution, clarity, the range in lighting” that the Theta S provides.