IV: Ricoh Theta S – The Imperfect Blossom

There is a line from the movie “The Last Sumarai,” in which Katsumoto states “The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.” I find myself thinking about how that applies to photography as well. 

Walking around with camera in-hand, I get lost in thought trying to compose the best shot, taking into account the lighting, foreground, aperture and other parameters. Most recently, I went to The Badlands in South Dakota with my family and at times wished I was alone, allowing me as much time as I wanted to get that perfect shot. It was perfect: overcast, misty and the park was deserted, with perhaps two other cars in the entire park. Instead, I felt rushed, my family was somewhat bored, preventing me from finding “the perfect blossom.” I took a number of stills and several panoramas with both my Google Pixel XL and my Sony a6000 and couldn’t wait to get home and view them in Google Daydream.

Departing The Badlands, I had a six-hour drive to our next stop in Rochester, MN. The trip was coming to an end. During the drive, I began thinking about the panoramas and the fact that photo spheres would be much more interesting. I had viewed a few in Daydream and they are immersive. I also thought about how two years ago my parents moved out of my boyhood home and how nice it would be to walk through that house again, experiencing life as it was through a virtual tour. But alas, that isn’t possible. As Thomas Wolfe points out, you can never go home again. The new tenants have different furniture, photos of other people adorning the walls and perhaps the rooms are painted differently. If only I had a photo sphere camera before they moved out; that truly would “allow me to go home.”

I resolved to put that to an end and have the ability to stop time in an immersive fashion. Shortly are arriving home in Illinois, I began researching photo sphere cameras and quickly narrowed it down to the Ricoh Theta S. While the reviews were more than positive, time and again it was pointed out that the pictures, when stretched out across the sphere, aren’t true 1080. So the blossom question arose: do I continue to wait for the perfect camera, or settle on what’s out there now. With Easter one week away and family coming over, as well as the Holland (Michigan) Tulip Festival quickly approaching, I purchased the Theta S.

My experience is mixed; the photo quality is not that great, however I didn’t know when my siblings, father and my kids would be together again so I needed something to create that immersive, family moment. The image above certainly does, not so much in a blog post but certainly in Google Daydream. Of course one week after purchasing the Theta S, GoPro announces their 5.2k Fusion and Ricoh is set this week to announce a 4k version of the Theta at NAB Shot in Las Vegas! Oh well, neither are available now and I would have missed the Easter dinner moment.

One final note on the picture. You’ll notice an empty setting at the table, as my wife and I miscounted the number of people who were coming for dinner. When composing the picture, I wondered whether I should remove it or have one of my sisters at the end move to that empty spot. Instead, I left it as is. One of my sons was working that day, one of my sisters was in Colorado, a few nieces and nephews were unable to attend, while my Mother passed away in January. I liked the empty spot in the photo because in my mind, it represents the person who couldn’t make it and was missed. In the end, this is the blossom I chose, even if it isn’t perfect.

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