It may look like a Wii controller, but this sleek and stylish handheld device is actually a significant consumer first. Unveiled late last month by Ricoh at Berlin’s IFA electronics fair, it is the first mass-produced fully spherical camera, simultaneously taking images through two 180-degree lenses and delivering remarkable results.
The system works through a bespoke twin-lens optical system that manages to capture everything around, above and below this slimline 95g device. Each six-megapixel JPEG is stored in the Theta’s 4GB internal memory, while you should be able to take 200 shots from one charge. That might be important, because there is no preview option before taking a picture, so it could require several attempts to capture that killer image. However, its photos do look fairly spectacular, presenting the world in a totally new way and adding real originality to even the most mundane images or ubiquitous locations.
Photos can be taken while controlling the Theta remotely, before they are sent to a smartphone using Wi-Fi and a free app. However, at launch, the only compatible handsets are the iPhone 4S and 5, running iOS 6.0 or above. Android compatibility is due before Christmas, meaning this might be a gadget best saved for a Dear Santa list.
Check out this video of the Theta we filmed during IFA 2013:
Reviews of the Theta have been positive but largely underwhelming, with CNET rather capturing the general mood. The reviewer pointed out that everyone who saw it was impressed by the device and its “mesmerising” views, but when price was mentioned, “the excitement quickly faded”. T3 concurred, summarising the Theta as “a nicely designed little gadget that’s easy to use and gives great results”, and also noting that its low-light performance is disappointing and the lack of a conventional camera makes this very much “a niche product”.
BGR described the Theta as “a next-level selfie machine”, while agreeing with the over-riding sentiment that its 360-degree imagery is too specialised and limited to achieve mass-market success. Taking a slightly different tack, Expert Reviews pointed out that its £329 purchase price could perhaps be better invested on a wide-angle DSLR lens, which would offer greater everyday practicality and long-term usability.
Ricoh designed the Theta and are also manufacturing it, with a dedicated website for image uploading (www.theta360.com) that incorporates functionalities like picture rotation, size editing and social network sharing. The proprietary nature of all this may deter loyal followers of certain other technology brands, but the Theta is well worth a look for fans of characterful and unique photography – particularly those with fairly deep pockets.
Price: £329. Available for pre-order from Ricoh’s UK website later this month.