Warren
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Whilst I stop whenever I can to take photos sometimes it’s not feasible or the view from the bike deserves it’s own photo.

On bike photos became a hobby of mine and I have tried various devices. You can read about my efforts with action cams and lens only cameras elsewhere in the blog. However my success rate has been low.

It’s easy enough to shoot the road ahead but I find that POV boring – like Youtube helmet videos. But trying to frame scenery shooting blind with a hand held camera I miss nearly every time.

The difference with a 360 cam is I can frame the shot after taking it. Being two 180 degree lenses everything is captured and with the Ricoh cams you can rotate the spherical image in their software and choose where to frame your photo.

Theta cams are also photographer friendly in that they don’t default to video when turned on like every action cam thus requiring changing settings to take a photo which renders them useless for my task. The Theta remembers what mode you last used and powers up to that including any custom settings.

I think the shape works well also compared to little boxy things but the image quality with the standard model was lacking.

The Z1 and my old SC at rear

Theta Z1

I knew of this camera since release and thought it might deliver what I wanted but the price was eye watering. However watching the net for a year I found a display model with full warranty selling at lower price.

This is Ricoh’s semi professional cam made for real estate virtual tours. It uses 1 inch sensor which is unique in a 360 camera. Further more it can capture in raw mode and even HDR DNG files so there are possibilities for better dynamic range.

It captures images at 23MP 7K which is currently the best in portable 360 cameras. (I tried the Qoocam 8K and it was unable to deliver as advertised and returned for refund) The Z1 also claims to have superior optics optimized to reduce lens flare.

The Z1 runs on Android and has custom user modes to expand how you use the device.

Theta SC Vs Theta Z1

Above from the SC back in 2018 and below from the Z1 in 2021.

My experience so far is the Z1 handles bright skies better but shadows about the same as the SC. I can recover a little extra from the Z1’s raw file but it’s a small gain. Images are a modest improvement in dynamic range from the older model cam and I feel the quality could be a little better.

The SC images were always soft which I thought was it’s resolution thus was expecting much from the Z1 however it is also soft. Compounding this is Topaz Sharpen software worked wonders with SC files but cannot get the Z1 images to improve as much.

The Z1 has IBIS and seems to be choosing fast shutter. It’s smallest aperture is only f5.6 which might be part of issue however it’s soft in foreground not just distance. Off the bike standing still the photos often appear even more soft and have hard join line which the SC never had.

I can’t help but think the device is let down by it’s software – Japan values hardware development not software which is why cameras are so far behind phones and many things in the country are stuck in the 90’s.

Above from the Z1 is worse than the SC and has a join line that should not exist. I find most scenes I take on selfie stick using self timer turn out poor like this.

No info on it’s video – zero interest in that format but I suggest you want a Insta360.

Ricoh Theta Z1 Vs Casio EXILM FR100

The previous winner with my on bike photos was the EXILM FR100, an obscure camera released back in 2016 I picked up for next to nothing.

The FR100 in some way seems ideal. Small, waterproof it can sit on standby all day then instantly awake while the Z1 takes a while to boot. The FR blows out bright skies and is affected by lens flare but it takes a much sharper photo than the Z1 despite a small sensor with half the pixels.

The 140 degree lens of the FR100 is a better perspective for shooting scenery. The Z1 180 degrees lenses push everything far away. However getting a scene correctly framed while riding with the FR100 is a lottery.

I shot the lake above with both cams, riding the same road twice and I could have posted 4 or 5 different locations from the Z1 as all were useable while none of the FR100 shots were framed well enough.

The Z1 should be the winner here due to it’s success rate but every now and then I get the scene framed right with the FR100 and bam! a sharp image is everything – it’s the reason I sold my Lumix LX100M2 which otherwise was the perfect camera for me.

Conclusion

Despite higher resolution and bigger sensor the Theta Z1 images are only a modest improvement. No doubt it has more potential than I am accessing (like every camera I use) but so far I am not convinced it can produce a truly sharp photo.

For me the Z1 is hard to justify keeping however there is nothing else trying to provide quality 360 photography so I am grateful Ricoh even makes such a device. I continue to resist doing video as I prefer the format of blogging and still images but while this pleases me it clearly limits what I present.


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