(R)evolution? New Ricoh Theta model S vs. m15: A comparative buyers guide.

Ricoh Theta Model S vs. m15 Header

Introduction

It’s already been a while since bitstars’ HoloBuilder.com platform was selected as Grand Prize Winner of the Ricoh Theta developer contest. But the following amazing and great consequences still keep coming:
The postman just delivered a brand new Theta Model S camera directly to our headquarter’s door, sponsored by Ricoh! Of course we captured the great unboxing moment in proper style in 360 degrees, using the Ricoh Theta S camera that came right out of the box:

In general, with the capability of shooting full 360-degree spherical panoramas in a single shot with almost no stitching errors and no manual stitching needs – the Ricoh Theta S camera (coming in all black color only) does things that almost no rival can manage. It not only shoots Full HD video but also lets you pan and zoom around the result as you watch, selecting the subjects you like. Apart from capturing high-resolution 360-degree panoramic photos, with a custom app you can also upload them easily to HoloBuilder.com, allowing you to share your creations with the world.

Because it is almost impossible to get your hands on a unit of the great piece of technology these days (due to overwhelming demand as we guess), it’s even more fantastic to be presented with this gift. And you benefit as well:
Due to being one of the first owners of a model S, today we are already in the position to provide a direct comparison to the old model m15. In this guide, we present all relevant aspects about both models and help you to decide if it is worth buying or upgrading to the new model.

Improvements and Technical Specifications

The new Theta S is a remarkable upgrade in terms of the image sensor as well as the video quality. Improving the video chops of previous model m15, the Theta S is capable of recording Full HD spherical video at 30 frames per second along with stereo sound for up to 25 minutes as well as capturing 14-megapixel stills. That is a major upgrade from the 6.4 megapixels on the m15. The two f2.0 lenses utilize folded optics allowing for a wider optical path while keeping the body small and making room for its twin 12-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch image sensors that provide the combined output of 14-megapixel spherical images.

Theta S is equipped with built-in 8GB internal storage, which is doubled as compared to m15. The storage allows approx. 65 minutes of total video, however, a single video is limited to 4GB or 25 minutes. On the other hand, it can store up to 1600 high-quality photos. Built in Lithium ion battery allows approximately 260 photos before depleting completely.

Like the previous models, the Theta S has built-in Wi-Fi, but it is upgraded from 2Mbps to 8Mbps for faster transfers. Wi-Fi is used to connect Theta S with smartphones by using an updated Theta S app (download for iOS/Android) for remote control of the camera and for transferring your photos for viewing or sharing. Theta S app also allows a live preview before capturing shots.

Theta S iOS App GUI with Live Preview

Theta S iOS App GUI with Live Preview

Furthermore, you can control camera settings via the app. The Auto Mode of the camera allows you to shoot with noise reduction for low-light shots, dynamic-range comprehension, and a later date, HDR. You can also adjust the sensor’s light sensitivity as well as white balance by using an ISO-priority mode. Shutter speed can be controlled by Shutter-priority option. Or you can set all three: white balance, ISO, and shutter speed in manual mode.

Videos are fully automatic, but the Micro-USB and Micro-HDMI ports on the bottom of the camera can be used for live streaming to an external display. The camera is charged via Micro-USB port and you can always connect Theta S to your computer to copy photos and videos for additional in-depth editing.

For the geeks we provide the full tech specs comparison as it can be found on the Ricoh product website:

specification/featureRICOH THETA SRICOH THETA M15
Object distanceApprox. 10cm - ∞ (from front of lens)Approx. 10cm - ∞ (from front of lens)
Shooting modeStill image: Auto, shutter priority, ISO priority,manual Video: AutoStill image: Auto, shutter priority, ISO priority, Video: Auto
Exposure control modeAutoAuto
Exposure compensationStill image: Manual compensation (-2.0 - +2.0EV, 1/3EV step)Still image: Manual compensation (-2.0 - +2.0EV, 1/3EV step)
ISO sensitivity (standard output sensitivity)Still image: ISO 100 to 1600, Video: ISO 100 to 1600, Live streaming: ISO100 - 1600Still image: ISO 100 to 1600, Video: ISO 100 to 400
White balance modeStill image: Auto, Outdoor, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent light 1, Incandescent light 2, Daylight color fluorescent light, Natural white fluorescent light, White fluorescent light, Light bulb color fluorescent light Video: Auto Live streaming: AutoStill image: Auto, outdoors, shade, cloudy, incandescent lamp 1, incandescent lamp 2,daylight color fluorescent lamp, natural white fluorescent lamp, white fluorescent lamp, light bulb color fluorescent lamp, Video: Auto
Shutter speedStill image: 1/6400 - 1/8 sec. (in auto, ISO priority or shutter priority modes), 1/6400 - 60 sec. (in manual mode) Video: 1/8000 - 1/30 sec. (in 1920 x 1080 video size), 1/8000 - 1/15 sec. (in 1280 x 720 video size) Live streaming: 1/8000 - 1/15 sec.Still image: 1/8000 sec. to 1/7.5 sec. Video: 1/8000 sec. to 1/15 sec.
Recording mediumInternal, approximately 8GBInternal, approximately 4GB
Number of photos that can be recorded, timeStill image: Approx. 1,600 images when image size is 5376 x 2688, approx. 9,000 images when image size is 2048 x 1024 Video (timer per recording): Max. 25 minutes or less than 4GB Video (total recording time): Approx. 65 minutes with 1920 x 1080 video size, approx. 175 minutes with 1280 x 720 video sizeStill image: Approx. 1200, Video (time per recording): Max. 5 minutes, Video (total recording time): Approx. 60 minutes.
Battery life, Power sourceApprox. 260 photos, Lithium ion battery (built in)Approx. 200 photos, Lithium ion battery (built in)
Image file formatStill image: JPEG (Exif Ver. 2.3), DCF2.0 compliant, Video: MP4 (Video: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, Audio: AAC)Still image: JPEG (Exif Ver. 2.3), DCF2.0 compliant, MOV (Video: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, Audio: LinearPCM)
External interfaceMicro USB terminal: USB 2.0 HDMI-Micro terminal (Type-D): HDMI 1.4microUSB: USB2.0
Exterior/external dimensions, Weight44 mm (W) x 130 mm (H) x 22.9 mm (17.9 mm) (D), Approx. 125g42mm (W) x 129mm (H) x 22.8mm (17.4 mm) (D), Approx. 95g
Usage temperature range, Usage humidity range, Storage temperature range0°C - 40°C, 90% or less, -20°C - 60°C0°C - 40°C, 90% or less, -20°C - 60°C

Image Quality and Demo Content

According to Imaging-Resource “This is a camera for the real world, not the lab.” Because we totally agree and definition, as well as the perception of “quality”, are very subjective matters, we think everybody should be enabled to make his own impression. Thus, we decided to provide some identical “real world” scenes, captured with both devices, instead of spending many words on image noise and such things.

Still images

Just have a look at the different slides, jump between the scenes captured with the two devices and decide for yourself if the improvement in image quality from m15 compared to model S is as impressive to you as it is to us (please use Google Chrome in Fullscreen mode fullscreen for the best viewing experience):

In our opinion, it is a huge step forwards, close to a revolution in image quality of still images. By the time, we will probably add more and more images to the #holo, so it might be worth coming back once in a while for some new impressions.

Videos

With the capability of recording Full HD spherical video at 30 frames per second along with stereo sound for up to 25 minutes, technically and theoretically the Theta S is predestined for video capturing. If reality can keep this promises you can see in the following video we captured with a Ricoh Theta S (on PC use Google Chrome for 360° view and make sure to select 1080s resolution):

To keep the comparative character, we provide the video captured with a Theta m15 as well:

Even though the Theta S video quality is not so overwhelming to us like the still image quality, the improvements from Theta m15 are obviously absolutely remarkable!

Conclusion and Buying

To conclude, we would like to present you with another video: Our review that summarizes our impressions of the direct comparison of both devices, the Ricoh Theta model S, and m15, in an immersive, multimedia-based format.

Expressed in written words, there is absolutely no doubt that the Ricoh Theta S camera is an awesome cutting-edge technology gadget. It enables the very easy creation of great 360° still-images, providing impressive quality with only a single shot. Videos are a little less formidable in quality, but still acceptable to us. All technical advancements in combination with the updated app make a huge step forward from m15 that is definitely worth buying in our opinion. Even though the Theta S is a bit more expensive than the previous model, there are more than enough good reasons to pay the additional charge. Numerical this means that it depends on your location how much you’ll have to pay:

As mentioned above, at the moment (October/November 2015) unfortunately the Theta S is out of stock in almost any US/European store, but we expect it to be available again very soon, maybe mid/end November if we should guess. When it is available again, to us it will be the better option for most of the people because you receive a more rounded total package, which delivers results that are worth every cent.

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