Friday, September 6, 2013

Ricoh Revists Bubble Photography

Over a decade ago, I was asked to shoot Bubble panoramas with a little known technology called IPIX, now this was in the 1990s, and was state of the art stuff. You used a Fish Eye lens with a digital camera and a tripod. Aside from this, you also needed to buy a license from IPIX for every photo you wanted to stitch together as a final image for distribution or public use. It was massively expensive and the IPIX business model went down the man-hole of bad inventions and no one ever heard from them again until they exited Chapter 11. You can find them here.

Today, we have a new successor to the spherical image, Ricoh wants to resurrect the once popular Bubble panorama with this little camera called the Theta. It works in a very similar way to the IPIX system as takes two photos and which needs to be stitched together on an App available for the iPhone or Desktop PCs. You can view the image quality here, but make sure you have Adobe Flash installed.

Though I love the idea of a panorama bubble or spherical image, I think shooting with one isn't that easy. First, the Theta works in auto mode, giving you an estimated exposure for a single scene. In contrasting lighting, it would be a disaster. The only thing to save you is the manual exposure compensation. The full list of features are below.

Shooting Distance
10cm-infinity (from the front of the lens)
Exposure Control
Exposure Conpensation
Manual Exposure Compensation +/-2.0EV (1/3EV Steps)
ISO Sensitivity (Standard Output Sensitivity)
Auto ISO100~1600
White Balance Mode
Shutter Speed
Auto 1/8000~1/7.5 sec.
Recording Media
Internal memory (approx. 4 GB)
Storage Capacity ※1
Approx. 1200 pictures
Power Supply
Built-in rechargeable Li-ion battery
Battery Consumption
Approx. 200 pictures ※2
Image File Format
JPEG(Exif Ver2.3)  Compatible with DCF2.0
External Dimensions
Approx. 95 g
Operating Temperature
0℃ to 40℃
Operating Humidity
90% or less
Storage Temperature
-20℃ to 60℃

All for US$399

Yep. You can pre order the camera now but how you gonna use it? Well, for one, your photos will be hosted on social media like Facebook, G+ or Tumblr, what they don't tell you is that you may need to run Adobe Flash for desktop PCs or have the dedicated mobile app for the Ricoh Theta to view any pictures. This means whenever you tap a link on FB on your iPhone, you need to have the Theta App to view the picture or else it won't work. 

Again, this was no different than IPIX in its time when it required a dedicated plug-in to view images. Apparently for the Theta, all this is being done on Adobe Flash. 

What can I use it for?

Now, this camera isn't for every day use, this means no Cat or Dog pictures. The App on iPhone allows you to trigger the shutter remotely but that's about as far as it goes. 

You can't do any camera whoring with it either. You'd look pretty funny with a large face and a small body and be the laughing stock for children everywhere. The bubble image effect does that to you. 

I do see some useful purpose to this as it would be a great Google Street view image, those of you who aspire to be a Google Street View Photographer so that they don't have to send their cars around. You can visually document a place with the Theta and hopefully Google pays you for it. 

Besides this, the camera will also be useful for virtual tours of scenic locations, which was what IPIX wanted to do. Museums, historical places and buildings will be available online. You tour the place virtually so it should rock. 

Aside from this, I think there is very little else that would make you ante up for this little device. I could get one and sell myself as a spherical photographer, it would be a world's first. So now you know where the term spherical photographer came from. 


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