RICOH THETA, the 360-degree camera that was first released in Europe in October 2013, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The camera was innovative in terms of its design, shape and ability to be held and activated in one hand. THETA attracted a great deal of attention globally because it was the world’s first 360-degree camera for consumer use at the time. We have brought together the people who played a vital role in the planning, design, development, sale, and marketing of THETA to look back on THETA’s creation and future.

How THETA was created

Masato Takada, Planning:

We started considering the concept of a 360-degree camera around 2009. The company president at the time asked us, “How can we grow the digital camera business?” We considered how to answer this question as part of the camera long-term management plan. Two project teams were formed to work on growing the digital camera business. One team worked on how to simply growing the digital camera business at that time, while the other team worked on creating a new camera with a completely different approach. The latter team concepted and then created the THETA camera. To consider the creation of a new camera from an approach that is completely different from conventional cameras, we needed a fresh perspective. To form the project team, we gathered together junior employees with minimal experience in the camera business.


Shigeki Takeuchi, Sales and Marketing:

At that time, the functionality of cameras on smartphones was starting to improve, which led to lower sales of conventional cameras. Taking photos with a smartphone and sharing them on social media started to become popular.


Masato Takada, Planning:

That’s right. Twitter and Facebook were already established. But there was no Instagram yet. At the time, it became easy for people to take photos of a location and share them on social – this style of camera use was becoming widespread. People wanted to show others what they were doing, along with scenery. So we considered a camera that would allow people to capture an entire location and share it. In September 2010, we reported our findings to the company president about a camera that has the features of a photographic field in which the entire scene can be recorded in a single shot, instant shooting that never misses a moment, and the ability to share photos on social media. The company president approved our concept, so we started a project to investigate the feasibility of creating this type of camera.

Masato Takada, Planning

At the beginning, we were a small team made up of three project managers and around ten developers, who came together through in-house and outside recruitment systems.  I heard that Ricoh was going to start recruiting from within the company for this project before the recruitment process began, and I decided to apply at that time for a project manager role. The original members changed over time but the team has grown into a large organization as new members joined.


Junichi Shinohara, Design and Development:

I was not deeply involved in the project during the early stages of development, so most of what I am about to share was heard through the grapevine. However, after the project began, I heard that it took from around 6 months to a year to answer the question, “What kind of camera build would shoot the clearest spherical image?” The team then moved forward with the design and development process and experimented with several different prototypes with different lens configurations. The number of lenses was reduced as much as possible to decrease the time required for image processing. Finally, based on all of these factors, it was decided to create a “twin lens” camera.


The team also focused on making the camera compact enough to fit in your pocket and achieve quick and easy capture. This was accomplished using a method called folded optics. This type of optics enabled us to position both lenses close together within a space of 20 mm.

However, this technology requires strict parallax matching so even though the camera could be designed, it was not suitable for mass production because it also required a curved part (a prism) that increased the cost. To reliably mass produce the camera with a high level of quality, we moved forward with development while being prepared for any possible risks involved. The original development team was made up of members who worked as engineers on copy machines and audio equipment and they were free from the normal conventional thinking associated with people who make cameras. I believe this is why they were able to overcome that challenge.

Ricoh’s proprietary folded optics system

Junichi Shinohara, Design and Development:

THETA’s folded optics system is an optical structure that bends light entering the lens to the left and right through a prism so that the light hits the CMOS sensor. Many problems arise when attempting to reliably manufacture an optical unit that achieves an ultra-wide angle optical system to capture hemispheres with a folded optics system, and it seems that this was the most difficult aspect. At the time of launching the first model of THETA, members involved in the optical design often traveled to and from our development site in Yokohama and the manufacturing plant in Hanamaki City, Iwate Prefecture over a period of around6 months. Various innovations were created, such as developing a dedicated new jig tool to adjust the optics of this prism and developing a proprietary algorithm to stitch images.

The manufacturing site also experienced challenges, and many people were needed to put manufacturing back on track. Due to these, circumstances we built the camera through trial and error. Since THETA was a new concept product, people in the company questioned whether it would sell, while others thought it was very interesting. I recall that the encouragement from the second group of people, which gave me the strength to continue with the project.

Junichi Shinohara, Design and Development

Toshihiko Kawa, Design:

The design layout presented a challenge, and to solve this, we held an internal design competition in July 2012. About 20 people participated in the competition, of which only four remained in the final stage. My design was the one that was adopted – No. 1 in the photo below.

The four camera designs that made it to the final selection stage

Toshihiko Kawa, Design:

The design aspect that I wanted to focus on was making the camera memorable because THETA would create a completely new category. Since there are two lenses with a view angle of over 180-degrees arranged on both sides of the camera body, and to ensure that the exterior around the lenses is not captured in the shot, I had to control how the case surface fitted to the camera body while keeping the shape simple. I also focused on usability to ensure that when you hold the camera in your hand, your thumb will naturally come to rest on the shutter button.

THETA prototype model

Masato Takada, Planning:

This prototype model (photo below) was the camera that I used when I interviewed a number of experts.

Many people were unable to visualize 360-degree images by just listening to an explanation of the concept. Therefore, I connected the prototype to a PC with a cable and sent images taken by THETA to the PC. The images were processed on the PC and then sent over Wi-Fi to a smartphone. This enabled me to create the experience of viewing 360-degree images on a smartphone after capturing them with the THETA camera.

I spoke to dozens of people such as video creators, experts in the field of extreme sports who are familiar with the GoPro camera, wedding photographers, real estate professionals and travel agents. When I first heard about the THETA concept, I knew that it was a product that would sell – I became even more convinced of this fact while interviewing these people.

Shigeki Takeuchi, Sales and Marketing:

We had a clear idea about the design concept and decided on a specific design, so finally we were able to speed up the process to commercialize the camera. In2012, we started a department called Consumer Business Preparation Office. Ricoh was mostly focused on developing its copy machine business for enterprise customers so it was necessary to independently launch distribution channels, logistics, sales channels and product websites to sell THETA to consumers. It was a difficult time because everything was new to us. Given THETA was the world’s first 360-degree camera for consumers, I believed that the people who would prefer to use this type of product would be those who love gadgets and advanced technology, as well as creative types. Therefore, we set the target user to be “Creative Advanced Digital User” and decided to first release the camera to the European and US markets. Then about a year before THETA was officially announced, we showcased THETA concept models at several exhibitions held overseas to verify consumer feedback. The concept models were built with a wide space between the two lenses to hide the fact that a folded optics system was used to make the camera compact.

Concept models that were displayed at the first exhibitions

Then the press event for the sales launch of THETA was held at the IFA, a global tradeshow in Berlin, Germany. I remember THETA being very well received at the event. We received messages from people saying that they wanted us to release the camera to the Japanese market, so several months later we decided to release it in Japan as well.

Thus, the world’s first THETA became a reality. Next, a look at THETA’s next evolution: the THETA S.

The starting point of business growth: THETA S (released in October 2015)

Masato Takada, Planning:

When thinking of a camera model that brings back a lot of memories, it is the 3rdgeneration model, the THETA S. While interviewing various experts prior to the release of THETA, we received some criticism from wedding photographers who shared that photos taken in dark rooms were of a poor quality. In response to these requests concerning image quality, we decided to use a better sensor on the THETA S and added a long-second exposure function to achieve higher image quality in dark locations. I remember the quality improving greatly.


Shigeki Takeuchi, Sales and Marketing:

THETA S is a very memorable model for me as well. It was just around the time when360-degree images were being supported all over the world. In terms of social media, Facebook and YouTube supported the display of 360-degree images. Also, new head-mounted displays were starting to be released, creating the environment to enjoy 360-degree cameras. The feedback we received about the first THETA camera model and the second generation m15, was that it was interesting, but people were unsure how to use it. However, with the THETA S, I got the impression that there was a visible change in how customers were responding to it because there were now more ways to enjoy 360-degree images, the image quality was much better, and it was also possible to record video. There were more ways to use THETA and this enabled us to work on various promotions.

Shigeki Takeuchi, Sales and Marketing

Next, up: THETA V. THETA V provided greater range for360-degree applications because it supported video, 360-degree spatial audio, and used plug-ins that add apps developed by users on Android OS.

Expanded range of application: THETA V (released in September 2017)

Masato Takada, Planning:

The “top/bottom correction” function affecting other functions was something that we struggled with during the planning phase. The value of THETA is that it provides instant shooting that records the moment you want to capture, so it was not made with the idea of taking a photo of a subject while securely fixing the camera in place similar to a standard camera. It was made for quickly taking out of your pocket and “instantly shooting” so the camera automatically corrects the top/bottom and records the image no matter what angle the camera is held while shooting. This top/bottom correction affects the specifications of other functions, so it created a lot of trouble. For example, with the spatial audio function equipped on the THETA V, the audio had to also be corrected together with the top/bottom corrected image. Also, acceleration information is used for top/bottom correction but, for example, when riding in a car and capturing images, acceleration is applied to the camera causing it to tilt, which also affects top/bottom correction. Also, interval shooting (in which you walk while shooting images every 5 seconds and then a single video is created by connecting each image), produced a swinging and shaky video, so in some situations, it is best not to use top/bottom correction. In this way, there are times when it is best to tilt the camera or not tilt the camera depending on the situation in which the camera is used, so it was quite a struggle to make this decision and factor it into the specifications.

Junichi Shinohara, Design and Development:

In terms of development, we struggled with blur correction. From around the fifth generation camera THETA V, more people were using the camera for video and our competitors were releasing their cameras that performed well, so requests for camera blur correction increased. THETA V also supported plug-ins to increase its expandability. However, because Android was used for the OS, it made the startup time longer, which conflicted with THETA’s value of “instant shooting ”so we also faced the problem of reducing the camera startup time.


Toshihiko Kawa, Design:

Each time a new THETA model was released, we received major design awards both in Japan and overseas, and received high praise for the design. During this time, a very memorable moment for me was receiving the Commissioner of the Patent Office Award as part of the Kanto Local Commendation for Invention in 2018after THETA V was released. I heard that the Commissioner of the Patent Office Award was not often given for external appearance and design, and this was the first time Ricoh had received the award.

Conventionally, cameras are considered to be black in color but since THETA was a new category of camera, we decided to make the exterior of the first THETA model white, and keep the camera simple with fewer buttons and no screen. Such functions were added to later models as it became necessary to provide more details about the camera status on a display. However, to stick to the concept of keeping the camera simple with a simple button configuration, we used in-mold molding for the buttons so that when the power is turned on, the icons glow and appear to be raised off of the camera body.

In this way, we kept the design look consistent with the first THETA model, while continuing to pass on this design to other future models of THETA. I think that this has resulted in everyone recognizing this shape as a 360-degree camera when they talk about 360-degree cameras. A different designer was put in charge for each THETA camera model, but the look of the camera remained consistent and retained the core features. I believe this had led to receiving awards for the design.

Toshihiko Kawa, Design

THETA has provided new value with each new model, and THETA Z1 was a significant leap forward as the flagship model. We rose to the challenge of creating a new optical system to deliver even higher image quality.

Ricoh’s combined technological effort: THETA Z1 (released in May 2019)

Masato Takada, Planning:

Since began planning the first THETA model, we often discussed whether to use a large image sensor in the camera. However, we did not move forward with using a large image sensor because we wanted to keep the size compact. While considering the sixth generationZ1 camera, our optical and mechanical designers pooled all of their wisdom and innovative skills to discover a breakthrough that would allow us to proceed with a THETA camera equipped with a large image sensor.


Junichi Shinohara, Design and Development:

We experienced many challenges with the THETA Z1 optical system. A 1-inch sensor was adopted for the Z1 with the aim of achieving even higher image quality, which increased the thickness of the camera body. We had to come up with a way to make it thinner. We decided to use not one folded optics systems, but three of them on the Z1. Increasing the number of optical folds dramatically increases the difficulty of aligning the optical axes. However, we had team members join us who were involved in the process from the original design stage to production and manufacturing. This allowed us to bring together Ricoh’s various technological strengths in the areas of precise optical design to make full use of the benefits of using a 1-inch sensor, designing a barrel structure to hold the optical system with high accuracy, complex adjustment processes to absorb any variation in components, and preparing highly accurate jig tools to achieve this adjustment. I believe that the Z1 is the only camera in the world that uses a tri-fold optical system.

Z1’s tri-fold optical system

A well-balanced camera: THETASC2 (released in December 2019)

Toshihiko Kawa, Design:

The seventh generation SC2 camera was marketed to consumers who like to travel and share the experiences and memories created. Therefore, we focused on a design that would make consumers want to carry it with them wherever they went. We held many interviews with the target group, and as a result, created a large number of painted samples in a variety of colors based on current trends. Single-tone colors were becoming a design trend at that time so we made the entire camera one color, which made it resemble a toy but it was sleek and popular.

Design models in a variety of colors that were considered for THETA SC2

Masato Takada, Planning:

The SC2 turned out to be a completely well-balanced camera model because of how compact it was, its functionality that includes image quality, the user interface, and affordable pricing. Around this time, THETA’s use in business increased, so we started plans to make a derivative model, the RICOH THETA SC2 for Business. Since this camera was often used for shooting real estate properties and car interiors, we provided the camera with a preset function called “ROOM,” which enables the photographer to shoot clear images in areas where there are varying brightness levels.

Adopting a large screen display: THETA X (released in May 2022)

Masato Takada, Planning:

The eighth generation model X was a major turning point in the history of THETA. Until this point, we designed the THETA on the premise that it would be used by being connected to a smartphone. However, there were challenges involved in wireless connection that the Ricoh Design Department could not resolve alone. At this point, we reviewed our principles concerning the camera in the past, and moved forward with plans to make a camera model equipped with a large display so that THETA could be fully operated as a stand-alone camera, enable shooting settings to be adjusted, and allow the user to check recorded images on the camera itself. Therefore, we now needed to consider aspects such as icons displayed on the screen and user operability from scratch because these factors were of no concern on older THETA models. The Planning Manager held numerous discussions with design members while drawing detailed user interface illustrations and associated flow diagrams.


Shigeki Takeuchi, Sales and Marketing:

The fact that X was now equipped with a display made a significant impact, but it was also now possible to replace the memory card and battery, so a USB-C port was added on the side of the camera, which enabled it to shoot images while being charged. While these don’t seem to be very exciting features, they provided a significant improvement over older models. The camera also supported built-in GPS and A-GPS functions, enabling users to acquire position information with the camera alone. This allowed the THETA X to be used over a greater range both for consumer use and in business.

The future of THETA

Junichi Shinohara, Design and Development:

Of course, we want to focus on image quality in the future. Improving image quality comes first for THETA as a capturing device that digitally transforms the work site. The other thing we want to focus on is durability. Since there are situations when THETA is used in places outdoors in different temperatures, we would like to improve the camera’s durability so that it is less affected by the environment and can be used in any condition.


Masato Takada, Planning:

THETA was originally sold as a camera for consumers to create unique image content and record memories. However, due to the growing market for its application in the business sector, particularly during COVID-19, we are attempting to strengthen the application of 360-degree images in such areas as the construction and real estate industries to contribute towards resolving today’s challenges. I would like us to grow the business where people can rely on us and think of Ricoh has the leader in 360-degree images.


Shigeki Takeuchi, Sales and Marketing:

THETA has been supported by many people since its release. We were able to create a 360-degree camera, but this didn’t mean that we fully understood how people would use it or enjoy it at the time. Much of the work was left in the hands of our customers. I think the reason we were able to make it to this 10-year mark is because of all the help we received from people throughout the world, such as global services including Google and Facebook supporting the display of 360-degree images, which led to an expansion in the THETA market. This is the same for business applications. Ricoh worked with customers to come up with ideas about how THETA could be used to optimize workflows and make the work site safe and secure, and we implemented these ideas to quickly expand THETA’s potential. I would like to create value together with customers who will continue to use THETA into the future, and will continue to place a great deal of importance on this type of relationship.


Toshihiko Kawa, Design:

THETA was originally developed for consumer use, but in recent years this has shifted towards business. The requirements for the camera are also changing. While keeping the simple shooting experience developed from the beginning, I would like to design the camera while keeping in mind the ideas that connect it with past camera models so that people can use the camera comfortably in their business.

From left, Masato Takada, Planning: Shigeki Takeuchi, Sales and Marketing: Junichi Shinohara, Design and Development: Toshihiko Kawa, Design

Editor’s postscript

10 years have passed since the 360-degree camera, a new concept product, was released to the market. In addition to its use by consumers, it has expanded on its range of use for business applications where it is currently used to introduce real estate properties and manage work sites.

Ricoh is dedicated to providing valued and quality products for in the future.