Ricoh Theta S Review
Handling and Performance
The Theta S has the same form factor as the previous models, which makes it convenient to hold for one-handed 360-degree shooting. The body is very ergonomic and thus easy to hold in front of you or above your head. It measures 130mm (5.12") tall, or about the same as a soda can. The shutter button is located in the middle of the front panel and is operated by your thumb.
The front and rear surfaces are covered by a non-slip rubber-like material that lets you maintain a secure grip. This is important since there is no eyelet for attaching a wrist strap (straps that attach to the tripod socket are available, but taking up the tripod mount for this purpose is less than ideal). The previous models had a smooth plasstic surface and thus provided for a less secure grip.
This new surface attracts dust and dirt, so more care must be taken to keep the camera clean.
The Theta's edges are made of metal and overall, the camera has a solid feel to it.
Another improvement in the construction is the omission of the flap covering the USB port, which caused the Theta m15 to be slightly unstable when placed on an flat surface. The flap on the m15 was also somewhat flimsy and one had to be careful to not break it off. On the Theta S, there are no flaps, and an HDMI-out port has made an appearance beside the tripod mount.
The downside of the open ports is that one must exercise some caution to not let dirt and moisture get inside. The ports are recessed by about a millimeter to minimize the risk of this.
Also, the tripod socket is made of plastic, so one must be careful to not strip the threads through excessive torque. A metal tripod mount would have been desirable, but is certainly not necessary on a camera this light.
The label on the bottom contains the information needed to connect to the camera's Wi-Fi so that it can be controlled remotely from a smartphone/tablet.
Size-wise the Theta S is ever so slightly larger than the m15. The body is about 3mm wider and 1mm thicker. The difference is big enough that the Theta S doesn't fit in the nice case of the m15 as covered earlier. We can look past this, however, as this minute change surprisingly makes the Theta S considerably easier to hold. This is augmented by the non-slip finish which increases friction and assures an even more secure grip.
Unlike the Theta m15, the Theta S is only available in black. The previous model had four color variants: white, red, blue, and yellow.
- Wi-Fi On/Off
- Still/Movie toggle
The Still/Movie toggle is a welcome addition, as it it makes switching modes a breeze. On the m15 one had to turn the camera off and press two buttons while turning it back on in order to enter movie mode.
The Theta S hasn't done away with the two button dance, though. In order to activate Live Streaming, one has to do the two button turn on trick. Not a big deal, though, as we're hard pressed to see any practical use for live streaming from this camera (detailed on the Operation page).
Lens and Sensor
Each of the camera's two lenses has at least a 180-degree hemispherical field of view. The lenses are a bright F2; an improvement over the previous model. There is no focus adjustment, as everything from 10 cm (4") to infinity will be sharp enough to be considered in focus. The sensor is small, 1/2.3", which results in a very large depth of field and makes this fixed focus arrangement possible.
Out of necessity, the lenses protrude from the body. We recommend that you carry a lens cloth and optical cleaning fluid with you to keep them clean. In a pinch, a clean piece of fabric will also do. Never use paper, as it may damage the coating or scratch the surface! We didn't find the lenses to be susceptible to attracting dirt and fingerprints, though. We suspect that the lenses have been treated with the Pentax SP coating although the specifications do not mention this.
Microphone and Speaker
The microphone and speaker are placed on top of the body, just above the lens. The microphone is monoaural and the speaker is only used to emit beeps related to the operation of the camera. Since the camera lacks an LCD screen, there is no provision for playing back movies (without a smartphone) and hence no need for a true speaker. The beeps and shutter sounds can be disabled when shooting with the Theta S app.
Battery and Memory
A non-removable Li-Ion battery is built-in and so is 8 GB of flash memory. There is no provision for augmenting the internal storage with an SD card. The internal memory can hold about 1600 images which should be sufficient for typical outings. Since the camera shoots only in JPEG, files are generally small. We found the file size to be between 3.5 and 4MB when shooting fairly detailed scenery in daylight; compression is minimal to keep the degree of detail high, and to speed up processing. The limitation you will hit first is not storage space, but battery life. A charge is good for 260 still images only, if shooting with W-Fi on and transferring the images to a smart phone on the fly. While this is an improvement by 60 images over the m15, it still is a bit on the short side. If you foresee taking more than 260 photos you may want to operate the camera directly and turn Wi-Fi off. That's what we did the most of the time and we never ran the battery flat.
Using the smartphone Theta S app, you can optinally reduce the resolution of captured files to 2 megapixels, which increases the image capacity to 9000.
Since the Theta S has the same USB connector as most smartphones, portable USB chargers/battery packs can be used while out in the field.
Frequent video shooters may find the 8 GB somewhat of a limitation, as this only equates to about 50 minutes of full-HD captures.
We were never disappointed by the Theta's performance while shooting with it in the field. It is quick to capture and save photos, and the Theta S mobile app works smoothly. We do hope for increased wireless range and a clearer live view image in the future, as transfer speed and live view performance can start degrading at a distance of just a few meters. A clear line of sight and high placement of the Theta can improve wireless performance.
The Theta family of cameras have a great form factor for their primary use, which is handheld spherical photography and movie recording. The new S model improves this even further with its non-slip surface, more ergonomic size, and a still/movie toggle button.
A longer battery life and more internal memory in particular for movie shooters are on our wish list.
Our only remaining and admittedly minor gripe regarding construction is the lack of an eyelet for a strap. An alternative would be the inclusion of a tripod mount strap in the box.