360 Videos Are The Latest Craze, And They’re Here To Stay

Took a 360 camera for a spin this weekend. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

I took this 360 photo over the weekend with the latest 360 camera made by Ricoh. To manually look around, click inside the image and move your cursor. (See below for some 360 videos)

by Mark Micheli
Co-founder, Reel Partners Media

If you haven’t heard of 360 photo and video cameras yet, wait a minute. You will.

All the cool kids are playing with them. Drone cameras are so 2015.

360 cameras have more staying power than drones because they open up endless possibilities in the do-it-yourself, virtual reality space.

Camera companies are cranking them out, all hoping to corner this new market. Several companies showed off their latest 360 cameras at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month where virtual reality was king. The cameras are very different in their approach to 360 and in price, with some costing thousands of dollars. The Ricoh Theta S is one of the cheapest at just $347 (an earlier model sells for $299).

The Theta S is small but powerful with full HD.

The Theta S camera.

I had the pleasure of taking this camera for a spin over the weekend, having borrowed it from Emerson College in Boston where I’m an adjunct multimedia journalism professor. The camera is small (about five-inches long and about 2-inches wide) and simple to use. You turn it on and press a button to take a still photo or to start recording a video. Getting the still photos out of the camera so you can share them on social media or embed them to a website is pretty easy but doing the same with videos is much more complicated (more about that later).

Here’s a video I took of a jazz band playing at my favorite restaurant, All Seasons Table in Malden. Click the play button and be sure to hit the unmute button on the bottom right corner.

Jazz at All Seasons Table, Malden, Mass. Jan. 2016 #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

As you can see, the video quality isn’t perfect but it’s pretty good. This was posted using embed code from the Theta360.com site where I posted the video. Although YouTube supports this technology, it compresses the file so much the image quality suffers and isn’t as good.

Here are five other tips I learned by playing around with the camera over the weekend:

  1. Download the Theta S smartphone app on your smartphone. You need it to see a shot before you take it and to get the images out of the camera so you can share them. You can also press and release the shutter button from the app.
  2. The camera has two fisheye lenses, one on each side so it can take an image of everything in sight, including you. Therefore, every shot is a selfie but there are ways to minimize your impact on the photo or video (read on).
  3. If you use the shutter button on the camera to take the shot, a large image of your hand will be in shot. And your hand will lead to a full shot of you. To avoid this, use the app on your smartphone to take the shot. Hold the camera at the very bottom in one hand and with your other hand press the shutter button on the app. It’s also best to look away from the camera and strike a nonchalant pose so you look like a random person who was captured in the photo or video.
  4. One online tutorial suggests using a monopod and holding the camera directly above your head to minimize the selfie image. If you do this, be sure to use a monopod with a small shoe area and hold the camera high, directly above your head. This will at least keep your fingers and hand out of the shot.
  5. It’s best to take the shot with a main subject just a few feet away. This is because the fisheye lens make things look further away than they are. The shots also look best if there is at least a few feet of space all around. Otherwise, a portion of your image will show a boring wall or whatever it is you’re standing near.

Here’s a video I took at Park Street Station in Boston, where I stood too close to a sign.

Park Street Station Jan. 15, 2015 #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Sharing 360 Images

Getting the still images out of the camera is pretty easy. You can share them in a number of different ways directly from the app but the video files, because of their size, require more work.

I had to transfer them to my Dropbox account via the app (a process that can take several minutes). From there I used the Theta 360 desktop app to upload the files to the Theta 360 site. You can then share the videos on social media or grab some embed code to post them on a website (as I did here).

The only problem with using the Theta 360 site to host your videos is that you can only post video files less than 5MB, which means only 10 seconds or so of video. The desktop app you use to post the videos there allows you start and stop the video where you like and features a meter that tells you the size of the file.

You can upload your full videos to YouTube, however YouTube compresses the file and you lose quality. I tried uploading a video file to Vimeo but so far Vimeo does not support the 360 format for this camera and the video ended up looking like a stretched out panoramic shot.

One more thing: If you have trouble viewing 360 photos or videos on this site or any site where they’re posted, try updating your browser. Only the latest browsers support this format.

Up Next: I’m looking for a way to view these videos with Google Cardboard for a virtual reality experience. I’m pretty sure if I upload them to YouTube I’ll be able to do that but I’m hoping there’s another option with better quality. I’ll let you know.

One more look at this amazing technology. Take it away, you jazz singer, you:

All Seasons Table, Malden, Mass. Jan. 16, 2016 #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Press the play button on the left and be sure to press the unmute button on the right.
You can also zoom in and out by clicking on the plus and minus signs.