Malcolm pulls up a video on his smartphone he recently
shot at Disneyland.
first, it looks like a typical family vacation video: We
see a ride from Jim’s point of view as a carriage
whooshes into tunnels and back out again.
a swipe of his finger, the camera spins around and we
see Jim’s face — same ride, different angle.
puts his finger on the phone’s screen and drags it
down, and now we can see his kids sitting behind him on
the ride, broad grins as the wind laps against their
didn’t use a traditional camera to shoot the footage
— that would have required too much turning back and
stick? Disneyland banned those.
$15,000 360-degree camera array with 16 GoPro cameras
mounted onto a tripod? Uh, no.
was all I used," he said, holding a slender device
that looked like a cross between a voice recorder and a
chubby Apple TV remote. "A lot of cameras can do
360-degree video in one direction but not all
directions," he said, referring to cameras that
capture images only on the horizontal plane, leaving out
anything above or below the camera (the
"doughnut" effect). "This gets it from
all directions. This camera leaves nothing out."
might expect Malcolm to be all excited by the camera. He
is president of the American arm of Ricoh Imaging, the
electronics company historically known for projectors,
printers and, after its acquisition of Pentax in 2011,
film and digital cameras. The device in his hand is the
Ricoh Theta S, a camera with two lenses that captures
images and video in 360 degrees. It is slated to launch
in November at $349.99, making it one of the first
360-degree consumer cameras.
whatever the merits of this particular camera, any
objective observer would have to agree that the video is
demonstrates how he recorded the footage, holding the
Theta S slightly above his head.
has a six-way accelerometer and compass," he said,
moving the camera through the air like a magic wand.
"So not only do we know data from the location of
the camera, we also know orientation and direction of
is, as he says, consumer-friendly. Just stick the camera
out, push a button, and it captures everything.
elaborate 360-degree camera rigs such as the GoPro Array
are on the cutting edge of video technology, then
consumer versions are on the edge of even that.
movie studios and other professional content creators
can afford $15,000 camera rigs, the average consumer
cannot. Although professional content creators might
have the infrastructure and patience to use a rig that
consists of 16 cameras, average consumers do not. And if
the success of past consumer cameras is anything to go
by, in addition to being affordable and portable, they
also have to be easy to use and easy to share.
are some of the challenges 360-degree camera makers
face. And these are the challenges they’re starting to
keep the camera small, Ricoh uses two lenses in the
Theta S, each capable of seeing 190 degrees. To keep it
thin, Ricoh created a "folded optical path"
using an optical prism, enabling the image to travel
into the lens, turn a corner and hit the camera’s
sensors that are built into the side of the device.
folding the optical path, we’re making it optically
longer without having to make the camera bigger,"
consumer camera makers are also giving it a shot.
360fly, a black, orb-like camera, went on sale at Best
Buy last month. It also captures video footage at all
angles but uses only a single lens and, unlike the Theta
S, is waterproof. The 360fly is selling for $399.99.
is another 360-degree, ball-shaped camera with multiple
lenses slated to launch this year for $799.
there’s Giroptic’s palm-size 360-degree camera that
resembles a children’s toy with three eye-like lenses.
It’s available for pre-order at $499. A launch date
has not been announced.
none of the cameras can shoot at the quality of devices
used by companies such as NextVR, which uses multiple
Red cameras to live-stream 360-degree video (Red cameras
start at $5,000 and can go up to $50,000), the Theta S
and the Giroptic can capture in high definition. The
360fly can hit nearly 30 frames per second, which is not
too shabby for something that fits in your pocket.
according to analysts, the biggest hurdle camera makers
have to overcome isn’t on the hardware side; it’s on
the software and people side.
device that uses multiple cameras needs software that
can seamlessly stitch the images together. And once the
images are created, there needs to be a way to view and
of the problem with 360-degree cameras is there’s not
an easy way to view or experience the content either in
virtual reality or outside of it," said Brian Blau,
an analyst at research firm Gartner. "And that’s
because it’s so new, there aren’t a lot of standards
in software and there isn’t a lot of infrastructure
recently, even if someone put together a home-brewed rig
with multiple cameras and managed to stitch it together,
there was no way to offer that 360-degree viewing
experience on popular social media platforms. Facebook
doesn’t support 360-degree photos or videos yet. Nor
do photo sharing sites such as Flickr. If someone were
to post a 360-degree video to either platform, it would
appear as a flat, non-interactive image.
the tide is turning. YouTube recently announced its
support of 360-degree videos, and camera makers are
letting people upload their 360-degree photos and videos
to their own websites.
is shipping its cameras with Google Cardboard
other challenge is in getting people to use the cameras.
185 years, people have looked through a viewfinder to
take photos and video," Blau said. "They’ve
been doing the lighting and thinking about exposure and
aperture, and you have some of those controls with the
Theta S, but the one thing missing from that is
composition. There is no composition."
said that when consumers moved from film to digital
cameras, it was a big technological leap, but it wasn’t
a big mental leap. Taking a photo still required looking
through a viewfinder of some sort, and the resulting
images were still square or rectangular.
people to feel comfortable using a tiny device with no
viewfinder (unless they want to connect the Theta S or
360fly to their phone and use the phone’s screen as a
viewfinder) will be a challenge.
knows it won’t be easy. The technology is in its
infancy, and changing consumer behavior is half the
work. That doesn’t stop him from believing 360-degree
cameras could eventually become the dominant form of
consumer camera. "A lot of cameras can do
360-degree video in one direction but not all
look at this," he said, pulling up another video on
one was of a father bouncing on a trampoline with his
toddlers. They tumble and giggle while Malcolm swipes
the screen to show how the Theta S captures in every
doesn’t have to worry about framing, he doesn’t have
to worry about whether he’ll hit himself in the face
with the camera, he can just be there in the moment with
his kids and still capture everything," Malcolm
said. "If you can capture everything, why do you
need anything else?"