As a trusted Google Street View photographer, we take the quality of our work seriously. For years, we’ve produced industry leading panoramic photography. Our methodology is to shoot RAW HDR photography using a Digital SLR Camera, a Fisheye Lens, and a panoramic tripod head (panohead). HDR photography generates a high-dynamic range — wherein the image contains details within dark and bright areas. We can adjust each scene to look gorgeous! Each image is shot at f/9.5 – an aperture ensures that each image has a great depth-of-field. This is very important when shooting rooms.
One of the challenges of offering high-quality panoramic photography is that it’s extremely time consuming to process the imagery, thus it demands a premium pricepoint.
Recently, Google began to promote the Ricoh Theta S as their featured camera for Google Streetview submissions. It’s fast and it’s easy to use. Google boasts that at the $350 pricepoint, you will be able to experience ‘Exceptional Quality’. You can even use their new Street View App to publish ‘Photospheres’
Our findings are that this neat device is the perfect opportunity for a new generation of lazy streetview photographers offering a subpar product.
Ten Reasons why Ricoh Theta S is a Bad Street View Camera:
- Quality is NOT Exceptional
In our recent tours, we actually found that the quality is quite low. Certain areas of the image were fuzzy due to lighting differences and the two cameras being unsuitable to the task.
- Image size is limited to 5376 x 2688.
Google Trusted Photographers must submit images at at least 6000px width. You are limited to using the Street View app to submit ‘photospheres’ or upscaling your images to proceed.
- Image Quality is Highly Compressed JPEG
Professional Photography demands RAW images. We shoot in HDR, which combines the data from 3 separate images with 24-bit image information. Theta shoots JPEG files that average 1MB each, contain JPEG artifacting, and the inflated megapixel count isn’t true 1:1 pixels. When editing, the image cannot be adjusted easily without exacerbating the flaws in the low image quality.
- GPS Data is stored, but is relative to your Phone
The promise of automatically stitching images shot with the Ricoh Theta S is decimated when the photographer realizes that the coordinates are relative to where they stood while taking images. Google attempts to automatically map the images, but the results are completely inaccurate and many images are automatically link-locked, forcing the photographer to strip the GPS information and reupload. It’s still necessary to set ‘North’ to on each image and manually link the tour.
- F/2.0 offers little Depth-of-Field
Any architectural photographer will tell you that you should set your camera to f/9 or higher to retain detail throughout the scene. Ricoh Theta S is limited to a f/2.0. Ricoh’s web based viewer massively distorts the images when displaying them as spherical projections, which warps the image in such a way that this isn’t noticeable. It is noticeable in street view.
- Ricoh Theta S is a 360 Selfie-Camera
Any event photographer will tell you that you should use a camera with a low aperture (f/stop) to capture faces and unfocus the background. As the Ricoh Theta S is limited to f/2.0, it’s perfect for capturing detail up close — not in the distance. Why do you think that the majority of the Ricoh Theta examples on their website are selfies?
- Ricoh Theta S creates a Market for Amateur Street View Photographers with Low Pricing
This camera opens the door wide to a new generation of photographers excited to jump on the Google Street View bandwagon. This is unfortunate as it will flood the market with competition that is not apples-to-apples. Low quality tours at low prices that confuse consumers and create distrust towards professional solutions.
- Google Street View App Doesn’t Post Trusted Street Views, is Unreliable and Lacks Features
The suggested workflow for the Ricoh Theta S is to shoot imagery, which is then directly sent to a phone to upload with the Google Streetview App. The streetview app does not take advantage of the ‘HDR’ mode available for the camera which offers a slightly better image (but not comparable to HDR on a Digital SLR). The Street View App also does not allow users to blur license plates or faces. The Street View App does not allow precision positioning of photospheres on Google Maps. Connecting scenes is easy, but one cannot set ‘North’. As GPS comes from the phone, not the camera, ‘North’ is often wrong and results in jumping between scenes also spinning the viewer around to face the wrong direction. Finally, attribution for the tours will be given to the Google Account that was used, not the Trusted Street View photographer, even if he/she is using the same Google Account. You cannot post directly to a ‘Look Inside’ tour either. Your tours just get added to the photo highlights. Not great for SEO.
- Proper Workflow is Silly
In order to not use the Google Street View App, a photographer will need to upscale their images to 6000px width and strip out GPS information in order to injest and then manipulate their tours with freedom. Upscaling images is rather gross and I frowned upon myself when doing it (so no need to frown on me). These steps are rather silly and are a ‘work-around’ that should not need to be experienced on a new piece of tech.
- You Look Silly using It.
If you’re a professional, you certainly want to look like one to your clients. Having a DSLR camera with a panohead looks rather authoratative. If you are have an IRIS360 device, you look like a Rock Star. If you have a little selfie stick on a tripod, it’s a little bit embarrassing.
Buyer beware! Ricoh Theta S is not a proper Street View Camera and should be avoided by professionals.
Compare Ricoh Theta S (with current firmware/HDR):
Nikon DSLR w/Fisheye Lens
Matterport Tour with Showcase Reel and 3D Dollhouse:
Our findings are that the Matterport Tour offers the best balance between user experience, mobile first design and marketing features such as the 3D Dollhouse, Floorplan view and Showcase Reel. For Google Street View, nothing compares to old-fashioned professional panoramic photography.
Ricoh Theta S wins for laziness.
I’m offering the group of clients who ‘beta tested’ this now retired service a credit towards an upgrade.