Aerial Stereoscopic 360 Video And Images For True Live-Action Virtual Reality (Part 1 of 3)

In a previous post, I described in a 3 part series the research project that we did a few years ago (2011) to capture stereoscopic 3D video at A2Zlogix.  Over at GemVR we’ve been experimenting with 360 degree video (including stereoscopic) using camera systems such as the Ricoh Theta S, and marrying them to drone platforms for aerial stereoscopic 360 degree video experiences worthy of viewing on today’s best VR viewing platforms.  At only around $350, even using two of the Ricoh Thetas for stereoscopic capture is now approachable, if only you could get the stereoscopic part to work well.  In this first of the series, we’ll talk about the Ricoh Theta camera that we’re using, it’s strong points, and some of its quirks.

To cut to the chase, if you have a Google Cardboard (or Oculus Rift or similar) you can experience acrophobia below — my first time viewing this, I had to grab onto a table.  We may be the first company to achieve aerial full stereoscopic live-action 360 degree video — this is harder than it sounds.  When your stereoscopic VR rig weighs 50 kg, you need a Sikorski Helicoper, not a drone.  We did this with a DJI Inspire 1 Raw with two Ricoh Theta S’s, with mounting plate around 325 grams in total. You can see the result here:

This was just a first aerodynamic and load/moment test to make sure that the Theta S’s “bunny ears”


didn’t unduly affect the control dynamics of the aircraft, so forgive the eye-rips if you view this with an Oculus Rift or a Google Cardboard. It’s also not full action video, we had the cameras set to interval recording mode every 8 seconds, but it gives you time to look around a bit before the frame changes.

But first let’s go over the basic camera system in this Part 1 of 3.

The Ricoh Theta S is a pretty nifty little camera, smaller than an iPhone 5, and capable of shooting 360 degree photos and videos. To do so it employs two fisheye lenses on opposite sides of the camera body, with each shooting a hemispherical fisheye image more than 180 degrees field-of-view.  The camera is also brain-dead simple to use, as it stitches its own images, which is normally the hardest challenge with 360 video or photography, normally requiring expensive software, or in the case of free software, a good deal of finesse and expertise in the subject to create a worthy final result.

For conducting shoots like for virtual tours, it’s very well thought out since the camera control is almost completely controlled via its own WiFi access point.  This means that you can set the camera up on a selfie stick or monopod, duck behind a bush (or door in a different room), and push the shutter button in the app on your phone — ensuring that you’re not obstructing the shot. Since the camera captures the whole environment, one has to be mindful of the photographer themselves being in the shot!  The WiFi control effectively alleviates the problem in many situations. Very clever.

The camera is very small and I’ve found the most flexible and convenient platform for mounting is a Smatree® SmaPole Q3 monopod with the accompanying micro-tripod (some these days would call it a selfie-stick with a kickstand) seen here:


A quick turn of the telescoping rod allows the monopole to be extended to eye-height, which is usually the ideal shooting position.  This very simple setup allows for some pretty cool 360 photography at 12 megapixels (final images are 5376×2688).  Still images are stored as equirectangular, stictched automatically by the camera.  Here’s an example:


This image points out another feature of the camera:  it can shoot HDR images, or to be very precise, auttomatically shoot bracketed-iris images.  Meantime you can let the camera select it’s own shutter speed or provide your own.  To get a good sky exposure I used a shutter speed of 60 seconds to capture the above image.  The main ISO ended up being 1600.  For indoor photographs this is pretty important, since it’s common to have a dark side of the room, and an outside window or windows that typically would be competely blown-out/overexposed without a bracketed shot.

Once you’ve taken the shot, it’s pretty much ready to upload to your Facebook timeline, or other platform that supports 360.  Ricoh provides a free flickr-like service called which can host the images (or video).  This brings us to an important matter — playback and reconstruction.  Shooting 360 is all well and good, but how do you show it?

There are many ways to do this, but Facebook has a pretty clean workflow for it.  All you have to do is upload the 360 photo to your timeline — the metadata in the photo tells Facebook that it’s a 360 equirectangual image, and it knows to embed the right kind of javascript player to render it.

You can see a less over-exposed playback of the image above here, hosted on (be sure to look up!):

Milky Way nightshot, 360 degrees. ISO 1600, shutter speed 60 seconds. Liking this camera more and more… #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

We’ll go over combining two Theta S’s on a Fairburn Multiplate in Part 2.


~ by opticalflow on July 16, 2016.

One Response to “Aerial Stereoscopic 360 Video And Images For True Live-Action Virtual Reality (Part 1 of 3)”

  1. […] continue this three part series, where in the first part we covered the Ricoh Theta S camera system, in this second part of the series we’ll show how […]

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