360 Photos, Ricoh Theta V

I bought a new camera recently, a Ricoh Theta V. It’s a 360 camera, which uses two fisheye lenses on a small thing about the size of a TV remote, and software inside stitches together the two images into a 360-degree sphere, which can then be hosted on various online things like Facebook or Flickr or whatever, with a viewer where you can drag around your viewpoint.

The camera is neat; it’s a small form factor and easily pocketable. It’s very good at removing them seam from the two images it glues together. It can also do video, and does the stitching on-the-fly, so you could also stream these spherical images to YouTube or some VR app. The camera has no removable battery, no video card, just a USB connector to charge or tether, and a mount for a tripod.

One of the reasons I wanted this camera was to port images into Google Street View. If you look at google maps, and drag the little GSV guy onto a map, all the roads Google has traversed will be blue, but you’ll also sometimes see little blue dots, which are where people have taken a spherical photo and uploaded it to Street View. I like to take these with my phone sometimes, which works but is not optimal; you have to spin around and take a bunch of pictures in each direction, and the stitching is slow and distorted. One of the cameras recommended by Google is the Theta V, so that’s what I got.

The workflow for using the camera is a bit goofy. It tethers to your phone by becoming a WiFi hotspot which you connect to, and then you can use an app to take pictures. Then you transfer the pictures to your phone or PC and post them elsewhere. You can take snapshots or recordings without a phone, but there’s no viewfinder, and the camera doesn’t have a built-in GPS; it only geotags when connected to a phone. The connection process is a bit goofy, and it takes a few seconds, but it mostly works.

The big problem is it’s impossible to take a 360 photo without ending up in it. If you hold the camera, your thumb ends up in the bottom of the shot, and looks gigantic and weird. There are tricks to get around this, like if you put the camera on a tripod and go hide behind something, using your phone as the remote. Or take two pictures and stand in different places, then merge them in Photoshop. You can also just be in the picture, but that’s not an option for me, because I look like a goofy idiot.

The other problem is that I bought this camera with hopes of taking a lot of great outdoor photos in the bay area, and almost immediately, we went into the dark gray sky season where it always looks dreary outside. And we’re getting a hint of the smoke in the air, too. So the light is all wrong and it’s time for seasonal depression to kick in. Time to drag out the light box.

I do think this will be a good camera for vacations. Of course, there are none on the horizon. I wish I would have had it when I was in Alaska last spring. I also would love to get out to the land in Colorado, which is very sparsely mapped – there’s a road about a half-mile from my place that did get captured by Google, but they didn’t turn down the dirt road, so maybe it’s time to get back there (when it’s not freezing out.)

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