The Complete Theta Tutorial

The Ricoh Theta was designed as a still camera, but it’s still the best consumer product on the market for making spherical video. We want to make sure anyone can learn!

So here’s shooting, stitching, editing, and viewing 360 video using the Ricoh Theta camera, all in one complete tutorial. Video above and text below cover the same content, basically, so take your pick.

Update: the new Ricoh Theta S (the black one) is now available and has better resolution and some slightly different fuctionality. The above video covers only the Ricoh Theta m15 (the one that comes in colors). Tutorial below will cover differences.

Shooting

1. Turn on the camera in video mode

For the Ricoh Theta S: It’s easy, just turn on the camera and switch between video and photo mode by pressing the button on the side with the camera/video icon. An indicator light on the front will show which mode you’re in.

For the Ricoh Theta m15: Start with the camera off. Hold down the wifi button and keep it held down while you press the power button once. Wait until you see that the power indicator light is blinking slowly in blue. Then let go of the wifi button.

Always check that it’s actually in video mode! We’ve all messed that up at some point, and came home from our shoot with just a pile of photos. If it’s not in video mode, turn it off and try again.

2. Start/stop recording

The big button on the front of the camera starts recording.

There’s an indicator light above it that will be blue when it is not recording, and turn off when it starts recording (counterintuitive, but keeps the light from showing up in the video). The Ricoh Theta S also has a red blinking light closer to the bottom of the camera that comes on when recording.

There’s two ways to stop recording: press the button again, or wait until it stops automatically. There’s a three minute limit on the original m15, after which the camera will quietly stop recording and the light will come back on. With a firmware update (which it might come with now), the limit is 5 minutes. For the Ricoh Theta S, the limit is around 20-25 minutes.

3. Stitching line

The camera records a full sphere, with the view of the two lenses overlapping. The stitching of the two halves can be quite good, especially if the exposure is even and everything on the overlap is far away. But you probably want to orient the camera so the important stuff is in full view of just one lens.

Right now, the stitched footage puts the seam of the equirectangular video right down the middle of the front-facing lens (the one with the button), which is not ideal for certain players that don’t wrap perfectly or that process the video. So consider either offsetting during editing, or just face the opposite lens towards the subject of your video to get it to be in the center.

4. Gyroscope

The Theta has an internal gyroscope that tells it which way is down. So if you mount the camera upside-down, or hold it sideways, your stitched video will still come out with the horizon where it should be! You can even move and rotate the camera mid-shoot, but be aware the gyroscope can be slow to catch up, so don’t reorient the camera too quickly.

5. Exposure

Try to get even exposure on the two lenses. If there’s a bright source of light like a window, don’t face one lens towards the window and one towards the dark of the room; turn it sideways so both lenses get a bit of each.

6. Sound

The microphone on the m15 camera isn’t great, and tends to click and pop and do weird stuff especially in noisy situations. If you have anything beyond just talking in a low-noise environment where sound is important, I recommend recording sound externally with a different device.

The S has a better mic, though as with any small recording device, for more professional applications an external mic is better. It’s useable, though!

7. Storage and Battery life

The Theta has internal memory only. For the m15, you can get maybe 40 minutes of footage in the original settings, and up to 65 with the firmware update (which it will probably come with if you bought one in the last year). The battery life is much longer than the potential shooting time. For the S, it’s about 65 minutes in high resolution, or with lower resolution settings can store almost 3 hours worth of footage.

8. Troubleshooting

If the front light is red, it probably means the camera is processing. If it doesn’t switch back immediately on its own, turn the camera off and on again.

Other patterns involving red lights on the front and power buttons can mean that it’s out of space or out of battery. If it doesn’t start working again after turning the camera off and on again, chances are you need to charge up and empty out your footage.

Stitching

1. Get your footage on to your computer!

PC: Connect via USB and use like any other external drive. If it’s not showing up, try switching to a USB port on the motherboard, rather than an external USB hub or front-facing fancy USB thingy.

Mac: “iPhoto” or internal “Photo” app. Import and check “delete after import” (there’s no other way to empty space on the camera). Some versions will let you drag your videos out of your iPhoto library into a more reasonable location, but in Yosemite you’ll have to go to “Pictures”, right click on “Photos Library.photoslibrary” and select “Show Package Contents” to start seeing the folders inside it. Somewhere in there, arranged by date, will be your videos in a folder.

After importing with “Photo” you can also right click on the video and choose “get info” to get the file name, and then search for it in an app like “EasyFinder” that will let you search through hidden folders and packaged content to find where your Mac is hiding your files, and then drag it out of there.

Alternatively, you can use the “Image Capture” app to browse and select single or multiple images and videos stored in your Theta and import them to a folder of your choice. You can delete items on your Theta from here too.

2. Stitch with Ricoh app

This is the easiest part. Just drag your raw .mov videos into the app and press convert. It will stitch automatically, and can even do large batches of files.

Download the app off their website: https://theta360.com/en/support/download/

Your videos will come out in equirectangular format, as mp4s. At this point, they are playable as 360 videos in the Theta app or the eleVR player, and can be uploaded to YouTube and will show up there as spherical videos as well.

Or maybe, you want to…

Edit

1. Make sure your sequence settings are right

In Premiere: when you drag your footage into your sequence, let the sequence take its settings from your footage (this will work if your Theta footage is the first thing you drag into your sequence). This will either happen automatically or there will be a dialog box asking if you want it to change settings to match your footage (you do).

In iMovie: As long as your Theta footage is the first thing you use, it should match settings.

2. Edit basically as normal

You can hard-cut, cross-fade, change exposure, basically do almost everything you do when editing flat video. Just don’t crop and resize your video to zoom in, or move your spherical footage vertically up and down.

The most useful tool to know about in Premiere is “offset”, which lets you rotate the sphere of footage, wrapping around from one side to the other. Use it to keep things oriented about the same way from one shot to another, to center points of interest, and to create visual continuity between objects in one shot and objects in the next.

3. Compositing and Titles

If you want to get fancier, you can do some amount of compositing, though right now no video editing software understands how to warp things to work in equirectangular format. The best way is to take things already in equirectangular format and composite pieces of those, without moving anything vertically up or down.

Perfect equirectangular images can be created from other programs such as Maya, ready to layer on to your video. Or, you can record footage of the thing you want in the proper place, layer it on, and cut out the rest.

If you layer a regular image or title onto the equirectangular video near the middle, it will look ok. As you move up or down it gets more and more warped. Also be aware that things layered onto the middle of the video tend to appear larger than you expect them to. Your title may look tiny when layered on to the equirectangular format video, but when it’s wrapped back into a sphere it might be too big to read. Experiment!

4. Export

In Premiere: Uncheck “match sequence settings”. Use H.264 encoding, and try “match source”. Make sure the output settings match the source settings, with a ratio of 1 by 2 (no black bars!). If they don’t match, go to the Video tab and change stuff ’til it does.

In iMovie and Final Cut: The default settings when you “share” as a file should work. Don’t use the YouTube option even if you want to put your video on YouTube, because we need to add metadata to our file before uploading.

Special YouTube Instructions

1. Metadata

Right now, YouTube has no user-accessible checkbox or setting on its platform to let it know that your video is spherical. So if you want it to show up in the spherical player, you have to tell it “I’m spherical!” by adding some metadata to the video file itself.

You’ll have to download the special 360 metadata app. When you open it, a window to select your video will open automatically. Select, then hit “inject and save.” We recommend naming it something specific with “data” or “metadata” in the name, so as not to confuse it with the original. The app will then create a new file almost instantly, that is the same as the old one except for the metadata and name.

Follow the instructions here: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/6178631?hl=en

They also provide a python script that supposedly inserts the metadata, but that hasn’t worked for us on either mac or windows.

2. Upload and wait

Upload your metadata-injected video as normal.

Unfortunately, YouTube can take a while to put it in spherical mode, with it just showing up and going out to subscribers as a squished equirectangular video for a while first. Make your video private and wait to share it until you can confirm it is working in the spherical player, if you care about that kind of thing. Also don’t use any of the fancy YouTube tools that change the video after it’s already uploaded.

View Your Video

1. YouTube on Desktop

Click and drag, click on the grey circle with arrows in the upper left corner, or use the WASD keys. Note that you’ll have to click in the video for WASD to work.

2. YouTube app on Phones

Physically look around using the native YouTube app on modern smartphones. Android phones may have a google cardboard option to see it in VR.

3. Ricoh Theta App

The arrow key controls are nice for looking around your video. No VR options, but good for a quick check of what things look like, as long as it’s already open from stitching.

4. eleVR Player

For viewing in VR on a computer with a headset like the Oculus Rift, use player.elevr.com in a webVR browser (see http://mozvr.com/downloads/ if you have a Rift but no webVR).

Also works with stereo video in VR, or without a headset in a normal browser, no need to download any special viewing app. Just go to the link and click on the folder icon in the bottom right to pick your video, then use WASD to move your view and E/Q to rotate.

Conclusion

Make and share many spherical videos! There’s so much ground to cover and so many things to try. Anything you do will add to the creation of this new medium, whether it works or not, so go ahead and experiment and share your results.

Examples of our own Theta results can be found in our vlog playlist on YouTube, or on our Downloads Page.

THE END

Vi