161202 Theta II - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

Last time I wrote far more about the Ricoh Theta than I expected to, so it only seems sensible to write more now.

Without a doubt, this is a fun camera. I enjoy using it, and enjoy seeing what it can create. But it's in a completely different category than any other one I've used, so its problems and challenges aren't what I expected, either.

Yes, there's the obvious ones: the lenses have more distortion than I'm used to – that's a joke, mostly – and there's a lot of blue fringing against high-contrast edges. It's a little like having my Sony F828 back. The image quality is pretty much on par with my phone, which is decent but not as good as any of my 'real' cameras, except perhaps for my two from the Nikon 1 system. I've had to become familiar with Lightroom's fringing correction tools, and occasionally switch to black and white when I lose hope in other methods.

But none of these were processed with Lightroom; they were all done on my phone. The Theta depends on its software in a way that other cameras don't, both to view the spherical images and to edit the flat ones. Editing on phones is okay, but even with jpeg files it's easier to do a better job on a computer with better screens and controls.

I'm considering downloading the files to my computer with a cable, setting the vertical orientation with the Theta desktop software, bringing those files into Lightroom, making the edits I like, exporting a full-resolution file, transferring it to my phone, putting it through the Theta iOS app, then saving the results and uploading it to wherever it needs to go from there. 

Although that does seem like a lot more work.

The ability to use different projections is the signature advantage of the Theta mobile app. The two images above are using the traditional 'mirror ball' projection, zoomed all the way out to catch the full sphere. Even though these look like traditional circular fisheye images, which capture a mere hemisphere, these photos do indeed have a fully spherical view.

In the image of the subway bench you're looking almost straight up, and can see the sliver of the bench at the top of the image that's behind the camera. With the road sign you're looking straight down – the camera has removed itself from its photo, creating the floating perspective without any obstruction, since it was sitting without a tripod – and the sky at the top and bottom of the ball is actually directly above.

The first image in this post, of the ugly TTC hallway, is using the reversed 'little planet' projection. Again it's centred looking straight down, with the vanishing camera resting directly on the floor, and this time everything expands outwards instead of being compressed. I used this photo in my last Theta post as well, only in black and white.

The second image in this post is done with a rectilinear perspective that introduces wild exaggerations when the camera leaves the straight and level. Since the building behind the lamp post is the rump ower, that seems fitting.

This is another little planet view, and it too includes the building that bears the name of the snaggle-haired spork of a muppet that the Americans have chosen as their next leader. Once again the camera is in the middle of the frame, and we're looking down on where it sits, but this time the camera is on a support. That's the reliable Manfrotto 209 tripod base, which remains one of the best and oldest pieces of gear that I own, and it looks small because the camera is on a 30" stand. Using taller stands is fun too, but they're harder to carry around.

You can certainly see the toll that this projection takes on repeating detail and straight lines toward the edges of the frame, but it's still one of my favourites when it works. The blank walls in the photo below are much more forgiving, as are overcast skies, but sometimes I see exposure artifacts in blue skies when it's a sunny day. And even though the camera was sitting directly on the carpet below, it left a shadow that remains despite the post-processing wizardry of the camera. 

I still have absolutely no idea what I'm doing with my Theta, both on a practical how-do-I-use-this level as well as on the slightly befuddled why-do-I-own-this plane. But these past six weeks have been enjoyable and educational, and I've managed to take a few photos that I genuinely like. I even printed the lead photo from my first post about the Theta, the one of the streetcars passing Honest Eds, for my critique group. The print was about 18" by 12", which worked out to just over 200dpi, which is the same as what I get from my second-smallest Ricoh, the GRDIV. That's enough, and the print was well received.

What's next for me?

Well, hopefully not another post about cameras, which is what I talk about when I don't have anything more useful to say. Even though it doesn't show, I've been thinking through some issues around life and art, and will be getting to those Real Soon Now™.

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