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Lifewire / Gannon Burgett
Easy to use
No add-on storage option
You won’t find a 360-degree camera that captures photos and videos as easily as the Theta SC2, especially at its price point.
We purchased the Ricoh Theta SC2 so our reviewer could put it to the test. Keep reading for the full product review.
As technology has improved, the price and size of 360-degree action cameras have dropped steadily over the years. So much so that companies such as Nikon and GoPro have even jumped onto the trend in an effort to help consumers capture more immersive photo and video content. One company that’s been at the forefront of this niche is Ricoh with its growing Theta lineup.
It’s a niche product in a niche market, but its ease of use and compact form factor makes it a joy to use.
For this review, we’ve taken the consumer-friendly Theta SC2 for a spin over the course of a few weeks to see what the experience and image quality looks like when using it on the day-to-day. From its design to its closest competition, all of it and more is summarized in the sections below.
If you didn’t know the Theta SC2 was a 360-degree camera, you might mistake it for a fancy-looking remote or—as was the case with my 18-month-old—a funky-looking smartphone. In fact, aside from the lenses on either side of the device, it doesn’t look like any camera I’ve ever seen.
If you didn’t know the Theta SC2 was a 360-degree camera, you might mistake it for a fancy-looking remote or—as was the case with my 18-month-old—a funky-looking smartphone.
One face of the device features nothing more than the ‘Theta’ branding while the other features a single button with a small pill-shaped OLED display for showing the shooting mode and battery life. Likewise, one side of the incredibly thin device lacks any buttons or ports while the other features only four buttons: Power, Wi-Fi, Mode, and Timer. The top of the device has four ports for the built-in stereo microphone and the bottom has a standard 0.25-inch-20 tripod mount and a micro USB port for charging and data transfer.
The Ricoh Theta SC2 can work independently from a smartphone, but to initially set it up and to eventually transfer content, you will need to pair it with an Android or iOS device. For this review, I will share my experience using the iOS app with an iPhone 11 Pro.
Previously, pairing Theta SC2 required you to go into the Wi-Fi settings of your smartphone, disconnect from whatever network you were currently on, reconnect to an ad-hoc wireless network the device created, then open the Theta app to complete the process. While not necessarily unusual for camera/smartphone pairing, the experience was a bit clunky and not always reliable.
However, as of a recent app update, the Theta app will now automatically find and connect to the ad-hoc network created by the Theta SC2 right within the app when you enter the serial number (found on the bottom of the device, next to the barcode). This solution is far more elegant and makes setup a breeze in comparison.
Once connected, there’s not much you need to do to get started with shooting, aside from granting the Theta app permission to access your image library to save photos and videos from the device and onto your smartphone.
The Theta SC2 uses a pair of 12-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensors with a seven-element F2 lens in front of both. Now, you might be thinking two 12-megapixel sensors should yield a 24-megapixel image when you press the shutter, but that’s not the case. Due to the excess image needed to capture a full 360-degree image from only two lenses, a lot of overlap and distortion correction is needed. As such, a final still image from the Theta SC2 is only 14.5-megapixels.
On the video front, the final stitched video comes in at 4K (3840x1920 pixel) resolution recorded at 30 frames per second (fps) in the MP4 format. It’s worth noting though that while the final video is technically 4K in terms of resolution when viewed using some kind of virtual reality or 360-degree video viewer, the footage won’t appear as crisp as the 4K video you might be familiar seeing from your smartphone. That’s because the pixels are stretched to fit a simulated globe of sorts.
Overall, both the still image and video quality of the SC2 is decent. The dynamic range isn’t going to ‘wow’ you and the video will inevitably be grainy in areas, but considering the amount of dynamic range the smaller sensors need to collect in order to create a pleasant final image, a lot of post-processing is needed on the software side of things, which tends to degrade image quality.
The Theta SC2 uses a pair of 12-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensors with a seven-element F2 lens in front of both.
It’s likely you could extract better quality from the data captured with the sensors if you used more powerful desktop software to process the files. However, Ricoh’s goal with the Theta SC2 is simplicity, and doing all the image processing in-camera makes it easy to quickly share content with friends and family and post it to social media. So, with its use-case in mind, I’d say the quality of both the still images and video are acceptable.
As tends to be the case for nearly all compact camera systems, the built-in audio isn’t anything special. The device uses multiple microphones to capture what Ricoh refers to as “360-degree spatial audio.” You won’t notice the effect when playing the footage back using the speaker built into your mobile device, but if viewing the video in a dedicated 360-degree media player with stereo headphones, you’ll hear the audio will be locked into place with the video.
So, for example, when you hear a dog barking or a car driving by, the noise will move accordingly as the subject moves within the scene and you rotate the viewing direction of the video.
The Ricoh Theta SC2 comes in at $297. This is incredibly well-priced based on the specifications and experience the camera has to offer and easily makes it the best value in what is certainly a niche market.
Finding another 360-degree camera under $500 isn’t easy, but one device that does fit the bill is the Yi 360 VR camera. The device retails for $349, making it $50 more expensive than the Theta SC2.
The device is much larger than the SC2, but in exchange for the higher price and larger size, you have the option of recording unstitched 5.7K video, whereas the SC2 limits you to pre-stitched 4K video. Yi’s 360 app is less elegant than the Theta app but does let you browse through still images and videos captured with the 360 VR camera. It also features a built-in streaming option, so you can livestream 360-degree video directly to Facebook or YouTube, which is a nice feature to have.
The overall experience might be a little clunkier with the Yi 360 VR camera, but it does allow for better image quality if you don’t mind using desktop software to stitch together the 5.7K video footage. And at only $50 more, it might not be a bad option if that extra flexibility matters.
Well worth it for photo and video.
The Ricoh Theta SC2 manages to make 360-degree photography and video capture as easy as nearly any standard point-and-shoot camera. That’s no easy feat considering the amount of processing power and software needed to turn 360-degree media into a format that’s easy to view and share. It’s a niche product in a niche market, but its ease of use and compact form factor makes it a joy to use.
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