6 months on, Theta Z1 review

The Theta z1 is an incredible piece of technology, made even more impressive by the size. For something that fits into the palm of your hand, it packs a punch. In the post, I’m going to break down my experiences over the last 6 months with the Theta z1, both good and bad.

The first impressions of the camera are just how small it is. When I’m talking about the Theta z1 and I get it out, it’s the first thing people mention. They expect it to be the size of a DSLR with a lens attached to it. In reality, the Theta z1 can fit into the palm of your hand and slide into your pocket when you’re not using it. The discreet nature of the camera is fantastic if you’re taking photos where it’s prohibited to do so, it doesn’t look like anything else, so people are usually confused by it and think it’s some kind of selfie camera. Oh how wrong they are…

Design

The body is a magnesium alloy, lending itself to a sleek matt look which, in my opinion, makes the theta z1 look like a luxury item and lends to the professional build. The body itself is a mere 24mm thick, with the lenses adding a few mm on either side of that. A small screen on the front of the camera gives you all the information you need to shoot, battery life, self timer, how many shots left and some other tidbits of info. The screen is small and is made up of tiny block, menaing you can’t preivew your photos without use of the app, something that some people will find annoying, but I don’t mind. Adding a preiview screen would mean more battery life consumed, less room for the tech that matter inside and would probably make the camera bigger and heavier too.
The lenses on either side offer a wide viewing angle which captures full 360. They protrude out from the camera body so extra care needs to be taken when handling the device, no putting it down on the side where the lenses will easily be scratched. I’ve heard a few horror stories where people have dropped or scratched their Theta z1 and have had to get replacement lenses or buy a new camera. Not ideal, and although accidents happen, there are ways to reduce the chances. Admittedly, I’m slightly clumsy and take extra, extra care when using my Theta z1.

The four buttons on the side of the camera feel robust and you can feel them once you’ve pushed them in. This makes a big difference over touch screen buttons as you can easily use the camera with touch alone. The buttons include the power button, a function button, a connectivity button and a mode button.
The function button allows you switch between downloaded plugins, regular shooting and self timed shooting, and allows you to control the sound. The connectivity button lets you toggle the bluetooth and the wifi on and off, and the mode button switches between 4k video recording and shooting modes.
The bottom of the camera features a screw for a tripod (no tripod feet needed, just spin it carefully straight onto the tripod) and a USB C connectivity slot. The USB C allows for faster data transfer and quicker charging too.
Holding the Theta z1, you can tell its a premium device, it has weight to it, although not too heavy, the cold metal body feels robust and expensive and it looks amazing.

The Tech

The Theta z1 has some of the most impressive tech I’ve seen inside a camera. Seriously, it has no right to be this small and this powerful. The two lenses on either side capture still images of 24MP each, they have the stops, F2.1, F3,5 and F5.6. The camera does an amazing job shooting on the automatic settings, allowing you to easily shoot indoors and outdoors when the light can be difficult. You can choose to save in RAW and in JPEG which allows you to have full control over your image, just like a DSLR camera would allow you. The image sensors, one for each lens, are 1 inch square. This means that colour and detail can be captured that just isn’t possible with the competitors of this device, and something that still amazes me. The one inch sensor allows the camera to perform in low light so well, that I’ve never had a underexposed shot. As you’d expect with most cameras, you can choose to set the Theta z1 to aperture priority, shutter priority, ISO priority or choose to go manual and have full control, although the app will be needed for this.
As well as capturing high definiton images, the camera shoots 4k and 30fps, I wasn’t kidding when I said this camera was good! The 4 channel audio captures audio from all directions meaning a fully immersive VR experience can be had once the video has been processed.

App and Plugins

Gone are the days where you can expect a fully functional piece of tech without needing an additional app to use it to its full potential, as is the story here. To unleash the full potential of the Theta z1, the theta app is needed. You can download it for free on the google play store or get it on the apple store.
The theta app has been my biggest gripe with using the camera. I remember my first trip out, trying for half an hour to get my phone to talk to the camera, and when it did, I took one photo and then it disconnected. I thought it was all over and that I’d never be able to capture photos with the device until I started doing some research and found the plethora of plugins available on the theta store. Seriously, in the early days, these plug ins saved me. The problem with the app wasn’t only happened on my device, the forums were full of people complaining and experiencing different problems with it. Really frustrating for a camera that cost £1000! Recently though, there has been major updates for the app and I’ve not been experiencing any problems. The app allows you to have full control over everything, allowing you to shoot creativly and realise whatever vision it is you have. I’ve been having so much fun with the camera since the update came out, the connetion is stable and it stays connected even after a photo has been taken. The phone and the camera link with each other via wifi, meaning you can’t browse the web whilst the camera is connected, something I don’t mind but other people might.
The live preview of what you’re shooting is obvioulsy a big plus to using the app, allowing you to frame your shot properly and takes so much of the guess work out.
The app also allows you to view and manage the data on the Theta z1, which has been a lifesaver when I realised the internal memory on the camera was full and I was out shooting!
The live preview is super cool when using it, it gives you a full 360 view that you can spin around, zoom in onto someones face, or zoom out to give a small planet effect. I love it!

The plugins have been and still are, in my opinion, one of the most impressive features of the camera. To activate a plugin, you first must go to the Theta store, pick the plugins you want to install, download them to your computer and then upload them via USB C to the Theta z1 using the Theta app for mac or windows. You can have three installed at any time on the camera, so pick carefully! The three I currently have are the Dual Fish eye, Time Shift Shooting and Instant Night Snap. I’ll only talk about the Dual Fish Eye here though as I feel it unlocks the potential of the Theta Z1 like no other pluging

Once the plug in of your choice has been uploaded to the camera, you have to select it. Do this by holding down the fn button until the plugin screen comes up, scroll using the fn button again and then click the shutter button to choose the plugin. Note, the app doesn’t work when plugins are activated, which is great for times when the app and the camera don’t want to play nice with each other.

The Dual Fish Eye plugin was my saviour in the early days and I still use it more often than not. There are several setting within the plugin which allow you to choose file format, jpg or hdr or both, allows you to pick how many shots you want (each bracketed by 0.5 exposure and up to 9 shots), allows you to choose whether you want a HDR image and also gives you the option to set a 10 second self timer. Made by a third party developer which gives support, it’s truly an incredible plug in. I set it up to take 9 HDR-DNG shots with the 10 second self timer to allow me to run out the shot (if this isn’t possible, I take two shots and move each side of the camera and then do some magic in post to erase myself). It takes about 30 seconds to take 9 shots, process them and then stack them into one image. When I download it on my computer and look at it in lightroom, I have such a wide amount of dynamic range that allows me to push the limits of the image. I’ve never seen any camera that does all of this at a push of one button and I know I’m going on now, but it really is a feat of technology, for something so small too! Big shoutout to Hirota for this! https://sites.google.com/view/h360/top

Image Quality

If you want to compare the Theta z1 with a high end DLSR, it’s obvious who’s going to come out on top. But I still think the theta Z1 punches above its weight. The images are sharp, even at stitch lines, have great colour and the automatic settings ensure (as best as the camera is able to) that over exposed areas are pulled down so the data in the image isn’t lost. There are some instances of purple fringing, especialy around trees and windows that can be fixed in post, but it would be great if these things didn’t exist in the first place. I have heard in the forums that this is dependant on your camera as some people suffer from it more than others. The 4k video is a little fuzzy at times, but I can’t really complain as I’m using it mostly for photographs although I have started to use the video feature more and more. The audio is really impressive and I was surprised just how sensitive the microphones were. Having 4 channels means that the audio is directional, so when viewed in VR with some headphones, you get a real sense of the environment.
I use several pieces of software in post to get the most out of the images. Sharpen AI, Noise Reduction AI and Gigapixel AI, whilst they aren’t perfect, they do manage to make the image higher quality and Gigapixel increases the size of the image by 600% without any loss of quality. This is really great for viewing in VR as ideally, you want the image to be the highest quality possible. I’ll do a seperate post for post (production) to better explain how I get from shooting to the finished product at some point.

Verdict

If you’re thinking of buying a Theta Z1, there are some things to consider. It’s one of the highest end models on the market right now and is in high demand, meaning that it will set you back. £1000 for a brand new model, although I paid under half of that for a fully refurbished ex display model that I haven’t had any problems with, so it’s worth looking around.
After 6 months, I find myself using the Theta z1 more and more, even surpassing the use of my DLSR. I love the fact that the image is now immersive and can be explored in many ways, rather than being a static image, it’s now something you can be engaged with.
The Z1 is a compact piece of kit that pulls well above its weight when it comes to tech. The app issues seems to have been fixed and the fringing is no big deal if you know how to fix it. Holding it in the hand, you can feel that it’s a special piece of tech and everyone I show it to are impressed and curios about it.
The thing that I’d like to see more of is official merch for it. While the theta z1 comes with a softcase, a hardcase would be great. I’m currently using the softcase and an old glasses case to keep it safe from knocks and bumps whilst i wait for a case from china. There’s an underwater case you can buy which would be pretty cool to have if that’s  your thing.

All in all, I couldn’t be more impressed with this little camera. It does everything you expect it to and more. The 4 channel spatial audio was a nice surprise as well as the extra functionality that the plug ins enable you to have.
10/10 would buy again



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