360 Camera Reviews Virtual Tour Cameras & Lenses

Ricoh Theta Z1 long term review, features, FAQ, sample photos and videos (updated June 11, 2020)

Ricoh Theta Z1 Review and Comparison

Ricoh Theta Z1 is Ricoh’s flagship 360 camera, the first consumer 360 camera to feature 1-inch sensors, along with other groundbreaking features.  I have been using it since April 2019 and have found it to be the best overall 360 camera for virtual tours as of June 2020.  In this long term hands-on review, I discuss its specifications, features, image quality compared to other 360 cameras, as well as price and availability.  This post will be continuously updated as new features are added or new information becomes available.

Executive summary (updated: May 25, 2020)
Specifications and comparison with Theta V
Features (updated: June 12, 2019)
Why is sensor size important
Sample PHOTOS – view and download (updated: April 20, 2019)
Theta Z1 image quality analysis (updated: May 8, 2019)
video quality analysis
Spatial audio sample and workflow (added: April 23, 2019)
LOW LIGHT sample photos and videos (added April 17, 2019)
Theta Z1 Raw DNG WORKFLOW for Lightroom, PTGui or mobile (updated: June 11, 2020)
Raw mobile workflow (updated August 15, 2019).
Dual Fisheye plugin (updated June 11, 2020)

Conclusion (added May 25, 2020)
Price and availability
FAQ (added May 3, 2019)

Ricoh Theta Z1 low light sample photos and videos
Ricoh Theta Z1 low light sample photos and videos
Theta Z1 dynamic range
Theta Z1 dynamic range
Theta Z1 HDR vs Non-HDR comparison
Theta Z1 HDR vs Non-HDR comparison


Executive Summary

The Ricoh Theta Z1 is a 360 camera with two 1-inch sensors, the largest sensors among 360 cameras under $2000.  It uses an advanced optical design to achieve a remarkably slim profile despite its large sensors and lenses.  Because of its large sensors and sharp lenses, it has very good dynamic range and detail, second only to the XPhase, which requires much more editing skill to get good quality (see my virtual tour camera comparison). For video, the quality is a bit mediocre other than in low light.  Because of its excellent photo quality and ease of use, it is my recommendation for the best virtual tour camera for most people.

Here is a two-part in-depth look at the Ricoh Theta Z1.  In Part 1 of this video, I discuss the Theta Z1’s features for image quality and workflow.  Then I compared the Z1 to popular 360 cameras for virtual tours including Insta360 One X and Ricoh Theta V:

Part 2 discusses dynamic range, low light performance, minimum stitching distance, and ISO invariance. I also discuss why those capabilities are important for virtual tours.

Here is a tutorial:

With the Theta Z1 side by side with the Theta V, we can see just how incredibly compact the Theta Z1 is for a camera with not one but two 1-inch sensors.

Ricoh Theta Z1 Specifications and Comparison with Ricoh Theta V

Here are the specifications of the Z1, in comparison to the Theta V.  I highlighted improvements in the Z1.

Ricoh Theta Z1Ricoh Theta V
Lens typeTwo fisheye lenses
14 elements in 10 groups
2.57mm focal length
Two fisheye lenses
7 elements in 6 groups
Field of viewFully sphericalFully spherical
Aperturef/2.1, f/3.5, f/5.6f/2.0
Minimum distance40cm to infinity10cm to infinity
SensorsTwo 1-inch BSI-CMOS sensors, 20mp eachTwo 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensors, 12mp each
Photo resolution7296 x 3648 (26.6 mp in DNG Raw)
6720 x 3360 (22.6 mp in JPG)
5376 x 2688 (14.5mp)
Video resolution: 3840 x 1920 @ 29.97fps 56 mbps bitrate (H.264)3840 x 1920 @ 29.97fps 56 mbps bitrate (H.264)
Live stream resolutionTBA3840 x 1920 @ 29.97fps 120 mbps bitrate
ISO (photo)80 to 6400 (ISO priority mode)64 to 3200 (ISO priority mode)
ISO (video)80 to 6400 (ISO priority mode)64 to 6400
Shutter speed (photo)1/25,000 to 60 secs1/25,000 to 60 secs
Shutter speed (video)1/25,000 to 1/30 sec.1/25,000 to 1/30 sec.
Exposure modesAperture priority
- Noise reduction
- DR compensation
- HDR rendering
Shutter priority
ISO priority
- Noise reduction
- DR compensation
- HDR rendering
Shutter priority
ISO priority
Image stabilizationYes (gyro sensor, accelerometer)Yes (gyro sensor, accelerometer)
MicrophoneSpatial audioSpatial audio
Microphone input
Spatial mic accessory
Waterproof?No as of Feb. 2019Dedicated waterproof case
Connectivity20mbps (2.4gh) or 50mbps (5ghz)
USB Type C 3.0
Wi-Fi 20mbps (2.4gh) or 50mbps (5ghz)
Micro USB 2.0
Storage19 GB internal (around 40 mins. of 4K video, or 2400 photos)19 GB internal (around 40 mins. of 4K video, or 4800 photos)
Batterynonremovable Li-ionnonremovable Li-ion (260 photos or 65 mins. video)
Weight182 grams121 grams
Dimensions48.2mm x 132.5mm x 29.7mm (24mm)45.2mm x 130.6mm x 22.9mm (17.9mm)
Price and availability$999.95$399
launched September 24, 2017

Features (updated June 12, 2019)

1. 1-inch BSI-CMOS sensors (New! First among consumer 360 cameras)

The Theta Z1’s key feature is its large 1-inch sensors, which are around 4.3x larger than the 1/2.3 inch sensors typically used in consumer 360 cameras.  The Z1’s sensor is actually more than half the size of a Micro Four Thirds sensor, and as much as 1/3 the size of an APS-C size sensor.

All other factors being equal, larger sensors have higher image quality than smaller sensors: greater bit depth, wider dynamic range, and better low light performance.  See below.

2. Compact size; low parallax stitching error (Improved)

The Theta Z1 is remarkable not only for its large sensors but also for its incredibly compact design, which is barely larger than the Theta V, and indeed thinner than most 360 cameras that have smaller sensors. The relatively small distance between lenses means that it has less parallax stitching error, and with its optical flow stitching, should have smooth stitching.

Theta Z1 triple folded optical path
Theta Z1 triple folded optical path

Ricoh was able to achieve this through a folded optical path. In conventional designs, the sensors are directly behind the lens, which would have made the camera thicker.  The original Theta innovated with the folded optical system.  As light enters through its lenses, light is reflected 90 degrees to either side of the camera, where the sensors are.  By placing the sensors on the sides of the camera, Ricoh was able to move the lenses closer to each other.  With the Z1, took this design even further by creating a new triple folded optical path that uses not one but three prisms in a remarkable feat of engineering and manufacturing.

3. Variable aperture (New! First among consumer 360 cameras)

The Z1 has a variable aperture, the first consumer 360 camera to have such a feature.  It appears to be a true physically variable aperture, not just a digital ND filter because Ricoh states that the image will be sharper with the smaller apertures.   The smaller apertures also enable longer exposures, up to 3 stops longer than the Theta V.

4. Raw DNG mode with Adobe Lightroom stitching (New! First consumer 360 camera with Lightroom stitching)

The Theta Z1 can not only shoot in DNG Raw mode but Ricoh has created a special plug-in for Adobe Lightroom Classic called Ricoh Stitcher, which for the first time will enable users to edit photos in Lightroom and then stitch them on export, with adjustments for zenith, horizon, and stitching distance.  See workflow below.

5. Improved lens design (New!)

Ricoh stated that the Theta Z1 has a new lens design and has an improved IR Cut filter to reduce ghosts, flares, and purple fringing.  See sample photos and image quality analysis below.

6. OLED display and Fn button (New!)

The Theta Z1 has an OLED display and a new Fn button, which enables the user to switch between normal shooting and self-timer shooting without having to use a smartphone.  You’ll also be able to switch between three plug-ins, or turn off the OLED display or mute the Z1.  You can also access custom settings (one for still images and one for videos).  These controls enable faster shooting with the Z1 compared to previous Thetas.

7. Android plugins; remote playback (Improved!)

Upcoming Theta Z1 plugins
Upcoming Theta Z1 plugins

Like the Theta V, the Theta Z1 can use Android plugins.  It can accommodate up to 3 plugins at any given time, which are accessible through the in-camera menu.  By default, it includes the remote playback plug-in to enable photos and videos to be played wirelessly on compatible devices, and the USB transfer plugin for transferring data to a USB stick.  Other plugins include:
– Time Shift Shooting: the user can take two photos, one lens at a time, so that the photographer can move out of the way and be invisible in the stitched photo.
– Single Lens Shooting: enables the Z1 to shoot with the front lens only for 180 photos.
– VR Media Connection: enables a direct VR viewing with VR headsets such as Oculus Go (reviewed here).

Check the Ricoh Plugin Store for the latest plugins.

8. More durable (New!)

The Theta Z1 has a tougher build quality with a magnesium body and a metal tripod hole, unlike the plastic body and plastic tripod hole of the Theta V.

9. Exposure modes

The Theta Z1 features a new aperture priority mode, and has a multi-bracket shooting with up to 19 photos, with user-customizable exposure settings for each of the bracketed photos.  The Z1 also has the same exposure features as the Theta V, including DR compensation, HDR rendering, interval composite for star trails.

10.  4-channel Spatial audio

The Theta Z1 has 4-channel spatial audio.  It is able to record both horizontal and vertical direction of sounds.  In a 360 video, the sound will change accordingly, depending on which direction the user is viewing, thus increasing the immersiveness of the video.  However, unlike the Theta V, the Z1 does not have a microphone input and cannot use the optional TA-1 microphone of the Theta V.

11. GPS and Street View

The Theta Z1 can geotag 360 photos if you take a photo with a GPS-enabled smartphone.  The Z1 is compatible with the Street View app, which can be used to control the Z1 to take geotagged photos one at a time, or in intervals.  However, as of April 9, 2019, Z1 videos cannot be uploaded to Street View yet.

12. Stabilization (new!)

The Theta Z1’s video is completely stabilized in all three axes, which makes the video appear level regardless of the camera’s direction.  Not only does this make the Theta’s video smoother, but when the Theta Z1 is attached to a monopod, it can be made to appear as an invisible third person view camera.  To see a stabilization comparison, see video quality below.


Why is sensor size important?

All other factors being equal, a camera with a larger sensor will have better image quality.  Indeed, sensor size is one of the most important factors for imaqe quality.  Sensor size will affect bit depth, dynamic range, signal to noise ratio (low light performance), and other factors.

It is true that the Theta Z1’s resolution is modest at around 23mp.  However, you can see in my comparison below that it has more detail than most other 360 cameras, even those that have nominally higher resolution.  It also has exceptional dynamic range and shadow recovery (see below).

Theta Z1 Sample photos (updated April 19, 2019)

Download sample files here

You can download sample JPG, DNG and Raw files here.  You can download the official samples here.  Check back for more samples.

Here is a sample Theta Z1 photo with minor editing, using the new Dual Fisheye plugin.

Theta Z1 HDR vs. Non-HDR

For those who prefer not to edit their photos, the Z1 also has an excellent built-in HDR mode hat requires no stitching or HDR fusion.  The HDR image is ready to use straight out of the camera. 

Theta Z1 Image Quality

Theta Z1 Resolution

The Theta Z1’s nominal resolution is not impressive at around 24mp.  However, for 360 cameras, specifications are seldom an accurate indicator of actual image quality.  There are many examples of 360 cameras with lower specifications that outperform 360 cameras with supposedly higher specifications.

Here are comparisons of crops from the photos above.

Theta Z1 dynamic range, exposure latitude, shadow recovery

The Theta Z1 has amazing dynamic range, especially its shadow range.   It also has exceptional exposure latitude and shadow recovery capabilities:

Theta Z1 has exceptional shadow recovery capabilities
Theta Z1 has exceptional shadow recovery capabilities

In the photo above, I underexposed by almost 5 stops to preserve the highlights, and in Lightroom, I pushed the exposure +4.61EV and pulled back the highlights -55.  Even without any noise reduction or other edits, the recovered photo looks remarkably clean even with such extreme adjustments (there is chroma noise that can be mitigated in post).

Theta Z1 shadow recovery
Theta Z1 shadow recovery

To use the Z1’s shadow range to the fullest, I typically expose for the highlights, and normalized the exposure in postprocessing.  The result is HDR-like dynamic range (even including the scene outside the window).

ISO Invariance (New!).  With sufficient light, the Theta Z1 is ISO invariant, which means that shooting a photo at the same aperture and shutter speed will appear almost identical regardless of whether it is shot at a higher ISO, or if it is shot at base ISO and then exposure is pushed in postprocessing.  However, in shadow areas, the Z1 is not ISO invariant.  By using the base ISO, the highlight range can be extended by as much as 5 stops, and as I explained in Part 2 of my review, effectively enables the user to use different ISOs for different parts of the image.

Stitching quality and minimum stitching distance (New!).  Due to the Z1’s larger sensors, it has a larger distance between its lenses compared to the Theta V, which means there is greater parallax stitching error.  I found that the Z1 is able to stitch automatically until around 3 feet.  At closer distances, automatic stitching becomes unreliable.  However, if you shoot in Raw DNG format, it is possible to adjust the stitching manually using Ricoh Stitcher.  When adjusting the stitching, it is possible to stitch as close as 1 foot.

Top: before and after stitching distance adjustment Bottom: stitching at 1 foot
Top: before and after stitching distance adjustment
Bottom: stitching at 1 foot

Flare resistance of the Z1 appears excellent.  Many 360 cameras have difficulty dealing with flare, with the side of the camera facing the key light often seemingly “brighter” than the other side (in fact, what viewers are seeing is flare).  The Theta Z1 however, seems to have very strong flare resistance.  Many of the samples show a bright light source against a dark background, but no flare is visible in any of the photos.  Moreover, I saw no evidence of the “red dot flare” that plagued the Z1’s predecessors.

Theta Z1 flare resistance
Theta Z1 flare resistance

Stitching on these sample photos looks very smooth, and although there is a drop in sharpness very close to the stitch line, it has far better consistency of sharpness compared to the Theta V or previous Thetas which had a noticeable decrease toward the stitch line.  In this crop from the beach shot, we can see that the stitching is not only smooth, but that you can see fine details such as the threads on the beach towel, even at the stitch line.

The nadir of the beach photo shows excellent stitching
The nadir of the beach photo shows excellent stitching and detail

In July 2019, Ricoh updated the firmware and app to add two options for stitching.  The first stitching option makes the monopod less visible.  The second stitching option results in less distortion at the nadir.  This photo by Naoto Somese shows the difference between the two options.

Theta Z1 nadir option. Comparison photo by NAOTO SOMESE
Theta Z1 nadir option. Comparison photo by NAOTO SOMESE

Chromatic aberration:  one of the previous Thetas’ weaknesses is chromatic aberration (although it is mitigated to some extent by software).  The Z1 has improved optics and IR filter, which Ricoh says reduces fringing and aberrations.  The Z1 still shows some chromatic aberration, but it seems much more controlled than on previous Thetas.

Theta Z1 chromatic aberration
Theta Z1 chromatic aberration

Theta Z1 Sample videos; video quality

Here are sample 360 videos in 4K (this sample was before the July 2019 stabilization update):

The video quality on the samples seems to be underwhelming.  The detail level is noticeably lower compared to 5.7K cameras in 2019.  The contrast is also quite high, with very deep shadows.  I took test shots in brighter light conditions which did not materially change the appearance of the videos.  On the positive side, the videos can be edited to reduce contrast, which reveals a little more detail in shadows.  However, see below re its low light video quality.

Theta Z1 Video Stabilization

In July 2019, Ricoh updated the desktop software to improve the Theta Z1’s video stabilization.  Here is a comparison by Naoto Somese that shows the dramatic improvement in stabilization performance:

Spatial audio sample and workflow

The Theta Z1 has spatial audio but it is susceptible to wind noise, and the workflow for spatial audio takes several steps. Here is a spatial audio sample:

To hear the spatial audio effect, you’ll need earphones. You’ll notice that the sound changes as you rotate the video.

The Z1 uses the same spatial audio workflow as the Theta V. Here is how to use spatial audio:
1. Download and install Theta Movie Converter.
2. Drag the stitched video over the Theta Movie Converter icon. The app will generate a new video file with spatial audio, and with a .mov extension.  If you upload this video directly to YouTube, it will have spatial audio.
3. If you would like to edit the video in Premiere CC 2019, go to Edit… Preferences… Timeline… and under Default Audio Tracks, look for Multichannel Mono Media, and change “Use File” to “Adaptive.” You’ll see that when you import the Theta Z1 .mov file, it will have 4 tracks within 1 audio track.
4. When exporting the Premiere project, make sure that it is in VR, and that audio is set to ambisonic:
– In the video tab of the export dialogue box, check the box for VR, and choose monoscopic 360 horizontal, 180 vertical.
– In the audio tab, use AAC, and under channels, choose 4.0. Then scroll down and check the box for ambisonic.

Theta Z1 Low Light Sample Photos and Videos

One of the benefits of a larger sensor is better low light performance.  Here are low light sample photos and videos from the Z1.  First, here are low light photos:

The photos at base ISO show excellent dynamic range and are able to capture details even in shadows, such as the distant buildings in the background.  However, there is some noise in shadows (which can be cleaned in post).  Please note the slight banding in the sky is primarily due to re-compression when I uploaded the photos to Kuula.

As I mentioned above, the Z1’s 360 video quality has too low of a resolution to be competitive with other leading 360 cameras in 2019.  However, in low light, the Z1’s video quality makes it useful even with lower resolution.

Theta Z1 Raw DNG Workflow (Lightroom, PTGui or mobile)

The Theta Z1 can shoot Raw+DNG.  The DNG photos are saved as double circular fisheye photos.  There are three ways the unstitched DNG photos can be stitched: (i) Lightroom and the Ricoh Stitcher plugin, the first of its kind in the 360 camera industry; (ii) PTGui version 11.3 or later, and (iii) the Theta Stitcher mobile workflow.  These options are discussed below.  You can try the options with the sample files above.

Lightroom workflow in 3 Steps

The Ricoh Stitcher plugin works with Lightroom Classic CC (not Lightroom CC), and works by using Ricoh Stitcher for roundtrip editing.   The benefit of this workflow is that it allows the user greater flexibility in editing the photos in Lightroom and avoids seams in editing.  Ordinarily, applying edits such as adjusting highlights, clarity or dehaze will result in a seam between the left edge and right edge of the 360 photo.  With this workflow, the stitching is applied after the edits, thus reducing the possibility of a seam in the stitched photo, compared to a photo that is stitched first and then edited afterward.

Step 0. Install Ricoh Stitcher

Download Ricoh Theta Stitcher from the Theta website.  Please choose Theta Stitcher 2.10.0 or above.  In Lightroom, add Ricoh Stitcher as an external editor by going to Edit… Preferences… and then selecting Ricoh Stitcher.

Add Ricoh Stitcher as an external editor
Add Ricoh Stitcher as an external editor

Step 1: Edit your photo

Edit your photo as normal, with a few restrictions:
– never crop the photo or change the aspect ratio;
– never apply lens distortion corrections.  You can however apply lens corrections for fringing;
– if you make a local change to the left edge, you should do it to the right edge as well (because the photo will wrap around).

Step 2: when you’re ready to stitch, launch Ricoh Stitcher

After the file is edited in Lightroom, use the Ricoh Stitcher as an external editor (right click on the photo, select Edit in… and choose Ricoh Stitcher).  You can choose to stitch the original file, a copy of the original file, or a copy of the file with Lightroom edits.

Step 2: launch Ricoh Stitcher
Step 2: launch Ricoh Stitcher

Step 3: adjust Ricoh Stitcher settings

When Ricoh Stitcher launches, it will show a low-res equirectangular stitched preview of your DNG photo.  You can then adjust the pitch, yaw, or roll to straighten the image.  Remember that whatever part of the image is in the middle of the frame will be the ‘front’ of the 360 image, i.e., the first thing that your audience will see when they open the photo in a 360 viewer.  You can also adjust the stitching distance from the default.  When you save the file, it will be automatically added to your Lightroom library.  By default, the photo will be stacked with the original.  If you don’t

PTGui Raw DNG stitching without Lightroom

In addition to Lightroom, it is now also possible to stitch the Z1 DNG Raw photos with PTGui, which added a Z1 stitching template in version 11.3.   PTGui supports a variety of imaging formats for import, including TIFF, PNG, Photoshop PSD format, OpenEXR, HDR Radiance, and of course JPG.   In addition to supporting more formats than Ricoh Stitcher, I also found that PTGui’s stitched files have a higher nominal resolution, although in my comparisons, the Ricoh Stitcher photo yielded slightly more detail.

Theta Stitcher mobile DNG workflow

A third way to process the Z1’s DNG photos is through the Theta Z1 Stitcher app and the Theta DNG Transfer app. Both were made by Yoichi Hirota (developer of the Mi Sphere Converter and other apps), and both apps are currently available in beta for Android.  iOS versions may be possible, depending on demand.

With this workflow, DNG photos can be stitched directly (DNG to DNG), but for best results, DNG photos should be edited first and converted to JPG or TIFF before stitching.  Here is a tutorial by Yuqing Guo:

Step 1.  Download Z1 DNG photos via the Theta DNG Transfer app.  Connect the Z1 to your phone wirelessly, then launch the Theta DNG Transfer app.  You’ll be able to select and download DNG photos to your phone.

Step 2.  Edit the Z1 DNG photos using apps such as Adobe Lightroom Mobile.

Edit the Z1 Raw DNG photos in Lightroom Mobile or other apps
Edit the Z1 Raw DNG photos in Lightroom Mobile or other apps

Step 3. After editing the photos, export the edited raw photo as a JPG by tapping on the upper right corner and choosing Save to Device.

Export the edited Z1 DNG photo as JPG
Export the edited Z1 DNG photo as JPG

Step 4.  Open the exported JPG in Theta Stitcher:  From your phone Gallery, ‘share’ the exported JPG to Theta Stitcher.  If this is the first time you are using Theta Stitcher, then you’ll need to calibrate the stitching (see below).  Every camera has a unique calibration.

Open the exported JPG in Theta Z1 Stitcher
Open the exported JPG in Theta Z1 Stitcher

Step 5.  If necessary, you can straighten the horizon as needed using the arrows on the upper left corner. Click on the disk icon to save the stitched file to your Gallery, complete with 360 metadata.

How to calibrate Theta Z1 Stitcher

Theta Z1 Stitcher cannot stitch correctly unless it is first calibrated.  Calibrating the Theta Z1 Stitcher works exactly the same way as calibration for Mi Sphere Converter.  It is a somewhat tedious process but you only have to do it once, and you’ll be rewarded with excellent stitching for the remaining life of your camera.

Step 1: take a calibration photo in Raw mode.  The photo must be taken at a 90 degree angle (parallel to the horizon, with one lens facing the sky, and the other lens facing the ground).  It helps to use a ballhead.  Choose a location where there is nothing within 5 meters (15 feet) from the camera along the stitch line.  Usually, it is good to choose a location with tall objects around the camera but not close to the camera.  For example, a place with buildings or trees.

Step 2: import the Raw photo into your phone using Theta Z1 DNG Transfer app.

Step 3: Convert the Raw photo into JPG using Adobe Lightroom Mobile or other apps.

Step 4: From your phone gallery, share the exported JPG to Theta Z1 Stitcher.

Step 5: In Theta Z1 Stitcher, tap on the pencil icon on the bottom right, and select Start Lens Calibration.  In the following screen, scroll down and tap on the button Proceed to begin the calibration.

Step 6: Here is the tedious part.  You manually must find 5 control points (corresponding points in each lens).  Ideally, the 5 control points should be spread evenly around the image circle.

To add a control point, tap on the + icon on the bottom right.  Then tap on any point around the image circle.  You’ll see a zoomed in view for each lens.  Move the crosshair in each lens to the same point.  Hint: you can drag anywhere in the circle to drag the crosshair.  When you are done, tap on the + icon again to create another control point.

Adding a control point in Theta Z1 Stitcher calibration
Adding a control point in Theta Z1 Stitcher calibration

Step 7: After finding 5 control points, tap on the disk icon on the bottom left to save the calibration profile.  Now all photos from that camera will be stitched correctly in Theta Z1 Stitcher.

Before calibration (left) and after calibration (right)
Before calibration (left) and after calibration (right)

HDR workflow

The Lightroom workflow also adds a new way to make HDR photos.  The Theta cameras are all capable of taking bracketed photos.  The problem is that each photo is stitched differently, so that if you try to merge them, there will be serious misalignments between the photos.

With the new Lightroom DNG workflow, it is now possible to shoot a manual HDR, with as many photos as you want, using any exposure intervals you want, and be able to stitch them in Lightroom.  The Theta Z1 can shoot a Raw+DNG bracket (with seemingly no limit as to number of shots). You can then fuse the unstitched DNG photos within Lightroom using the built-in Photo Merge, and then stitch the merged DNG photo using Ricoh Stitcher.

I have not been able to use the Ricoh Stitcher for photos that have been edited on other programs but you can stitch them on PTGui.  For example, I shot a 10-shot Raw+DNG bracket, then combined the DNG photos into an HDR photo using Photomatix HDR.  I then imported the HDR photo into Lightroom for editing.  From there, I stitched the photo in PTGui.

One drawback is that Lightroom does not have a feature for patching 360 photos (such as to remove objects or to add text).  However, Lightroom can do roundtrip editing to Photoshop or Affinity Photo, where a photo can be patched if necessary.

Dual Fisheye plugin

You can get amazing quality from the Theta Z1 using the free Dual Fisheye plugin from the Theta plugin store.  The Dual Fisheye plugin adds several modes to the Theta Z1:

  • Single unstitched file in JPG or DNG (so you can use your own third party stitcher)
  • Bracket: exposure bracketing, up to 9 shots, at 1EV intervals.
  • Burst: shoot a burst of 3, 5, 7, 9, or 17 shots, in raw or JPG.   Besides using it for fast capture, you can use this mode for stacking with software such as Kandao Raw+.
  • HDR-DNG: this takes multiple shots and merges them into an HDR photo in Raw.  It can merge up to 9 shots, at 1EV intervals.  The result is a single HDR Raw file.  This feature has deghosting, and can be used even when there is movement.

Please note all of these modes result in unstitched files (hence the name of the plugin).  The files can be stitched with Theta Stitcher plugin in Lightroom, or with third party stitching software such as PTGui.  To ensure compatibility with Theta Stitcher plugin for Lightroom, please install the Dual Fisheye plugin version 2.8 or above.  If Theta Stitcher gives you an error (“no compatible DNG files”), please use Theta Stitcher from August 2019.


Theta Z1 has much better photo quality than almost all 360 cameras with the exception of XPhase Pro S.  At the same time, it has one of the easiest workflows.  Beginners can use the built-in HDR mode, which can stitch and merge HDR photos in-camera.  These automatically stitched HDR photos look very good even with no editing.   Experienced users can get even better quality by shooting in Raw or using the Dual Fisheye plugin (see above).  Because of its excellent photo quality and easy of use, the Theta Z1 is my top choice for virtual tours and 360 photography (tied for #1 with XPhase).  If you have the time and skills for more involved photo editing, XPhase can give better quality.  But for most people, Theta Z1 will be the best 360 camera for virtual tours.

Price and availability

The Theta Z1 is available for $999.95 from Amazon or B&H Photo.  I believe the Theta Z1 is a very good value at $999.95, given the exceptional image quality.  It appears ideal for virtual tour photographers and for photographers who edit their photos.  For videos, it is not remarkable and there are several 360 cameras that are more affordable and provide better video quality.

If you’d like to get the Theta Z1, I recommend ordering from Amazon, because you can get a 4-year accident protection plan for just $66.77 with “no deductible or hidden fees,” shipping included on all repairs, fully transferable.  However, please note I have no experience dealing with claims with Asurion, LLC.  Alternatively, you can buy from B&H Photo — they will refund your sales tax if you pay using their Payboo card, which you can apply for and receive in a few minutes.  Thanks for using these links to support 360Rumors at no additional cost to you so I can do more tests and reviews.

Amazon offers a 4-yr accident protection plan for Theta Z1
Amazon offers a 4-yr accident protection plan for Theta Z1


1.  Where is the HDR mode?

From the main screen of the app, tap on the camera icon to launch the live preview.  In the preview screen, tap on the bottom right corner to choose the exposure mode and set it to Auto (HDR is available only in Auto mode).  Tap on Option Setting and swipe to choose HDR mode.  If you do not see the HDR option, tap on the settings on the upper right corner and change the format to JPEG (HDR is not available in Raw + JPEG mode).

  1. Can you use Ricoh Stitcher with other cameras?

No, not even other Theta cameras.

  1. Can Ricoh Stitcher work without Lightroom?

As of now, no.  It only works with Lightroom Classic CC.  I’ve recommended to Ricoh to enable it to be used standalone but I don’t know if they will adopt my recommendation.

  1. Can the USB Type C port be used for a microphone?  Can it be used to connect to storage?

I don’t know yet.  I’m testing it.  Theta Z1 does run on Android OS so in theory the USB Type C can be used to connect and save files directly to external storage with the right plugin.

5.  Can you charge the Theta Z1 with a USB powerbank while using it?


6.  Where can I download Ricoh Stitcher?

Ricoh Stitcher is now available for download from theta360.com.

7.  Does the Z1’s video mode have ISO invariance?

No, the Z1’s video mode is not ISO invariant.

Ricoh Theta Z1
  • 9.3/10
    Photo - 9.3/10
  • 8.5/10
    Video - 8.5/10
  • 8.6/10
    Usability - 8.6/10


Photo (9.3) – Highest dynamic range among 360 cameras tested thus far, excellent shadow recovery, ISO invariant in bright light, excellent sharpness and detail, well controlled flare, and the best workflow for photo with a unique Lightroom plugin to enable editing of DNG and subsequent stitching. Detail is almost as good as Aleta S2C.
Video (8.5) – Similar to Theta V, slightly better stabilization
Usability (8.6) – Slightly better usability than Theta V. In-camera stitching for JPEG, including in-camera HDR. Option for realtime in-camera stitching for video.

About the author

Mic Ty


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  • “I am expecting that there will be a Theta V2 in the future with 5.6K video.” A missed opportunity, the V1 should have this feature.

  • I REALLY want to get as excited as you about this camera, it could potentially be very useful for doing inside car shots and other low light, tight space, quick turn around 360 photography.

    For the samples shared so far I’m currently wondering about a) dynamic range – eg. behind the guy taking the photo / on his phone in the Leicester Square shot, and b) the softness of the flag and building edge above the girl with the red coat about to cross the road (ie. just to the right and above the traffic lights).

    I agree with others that it’s a bit noisy and a little soft for a daytime shot too.

    @Mic – I’ll send you a couple of screen grabs to show you what I mean.

    Thanks as always for the great information and heads up on new kit! Keep up the good work.

  • Unless the 4k video has game-changing low-light/dynamic range capabilities and stabilization comparable to insta360 One X, I don’t see how they can justify that price point, especially with no removeable battery or expandable storage.

    • It seems they intended the Z1 for virtual tours. For that purpose it needs to have high bit depth, high dynamic range vs other one-shot 360 cameras in this price range. If it can do that, then it can pay for itself with virtual tour jobs.

    • Usually there are diminishing returns, so even insta360 pro for example is thousands of dollars more than one X but there is not a big difference in their image quality

    • It has two 1inch sensors thats why it is very expensive. Indiecam with two 2/3 inch sensors (much smaller than 1 inch) was 9500 euros.

      • Yeah 1 inch is exciting, but still it gives less than 8K photo and Aleta S2C boosts it up-to 12k and it’s also have 8K timelapse upto 2fps so it can be used for for videography too. But I will wait with purchase until I see samples from you 🙂 It would be awesome to compare it with Aleta because they almost in same price point

      • I think some people are missing the point of this camera. It is clearly designed to be used primarily for PHOTOS, not videos…The 19gb storage, built in battery, and 3-axis stabilization are a dead giveaway that video is not the primary function of this camera.

        • Yeah it’s definitely Photo camera. But I use TimeLapse a lot which makes any photo camera usable for video production.

          By the way I’ve looked at photos in Oculus Go and I can tell these are best photos I’ve seen from camera under $1000

    • Theta V can do better only in HDR mode, which takes 3 exposures. The samples here are single exposures, and Z1 also has HDR mode. If Z1 takes an HDR photo it will exceed what Theta V can do.

      • It seams to be a poor choice to post such bad pics, as the first impression of a new $1,000 device. Definitely should have gone HDR with the low sun. I was quite excited for the camera, but much tempered now. I’ll keep watching though. I think I read the Z1 will do AEB. That’s what I am really interested in, to get some dynamic range indoors. No dark spots, and no blown out windows, is what I am on the hunt for in a prosumer 360 camera

        • It can do a 19-shot bracket (you can customize the bracket settings for each one) so I have no doubt it will have enough DR for any situation 😀

  • The Z1 looks like a solidly well built and possibly great camera, but mainly for stills. Video can benefit from the Z1’s bigger sensor, higher DR, bettter low-light and also (hopefully) from better optics, but the resolution is just not there. At this time in technology, the biggest issue with 360 cameras and one of the reasons pro’s can use them as much as they could otherwise, is the lack of resolution. With better sensors, processing and HDR capture, even smaller 2/3″ sensors can bring great DR to the table and perform very well. What NO sensor, big or small, can improve upon, is providing better resolution if the pixel count is not there. before there is 12K-16K video 360 video capture, all cropped, flat, VR footage from 360 video will never look anywhere like acceptable 4K. Ive used consumer, prosumer and pro 360 gear extensively and by the end of the day the breakdown of quality is as simple as this:

    – 1080p captured 360 video looks like SD
    – 4K captured 360 video looks like something between DVD and 720p
    – 8K 360 video looks just about like 1080p
    – 16K 360 video capture will hopefully look something like 4K

    My hopes are to see someone release a 360 prosumer camera under $1000 that can shoot (at least) 8K allied to fast processing and HDR.. and I DONT care about the sensor size, I dont care about battery life and I dont care about how many other tricks it can do as long as its pocketable. All I care is about video that doesn’t look worse that 2 decades ago when “HD” started becoming mainstream. We need get out of out this “4K” 360 cameras groundhog day.

    All this said (and I applaud the efforts of Ricoh), the Z1 is a small step forward for stills, a big step backwards for video and a huge step up for price.

  • Smart strategy. 1-inch sensor is rather camera-tech product than smartphone-tech product. Only Ricoh, which is traditional camera company, could handle 1-inch sensor and complicated optical system among 360 camera companies at this time. As a first-generation theta user, I’m very excited about z1.

    • yes i think they had a great idea, and no doubt they came up with it because of their camera expertise! my first DSLR was a pentax k100D 😀

  • An expensive toy. The video bitrate is appalling, looking at the rate most likely 8-bit 4:2:0. Squeezing 4K into that bitrate is a huge mistake.
    I expect at least 4:2:2 or even 10 bit with a 200-400kbit compression, depending on HEVC or H264. Also not impressed by the dynamic range. No proper LOG either. Who in gods name is this for?

    Secondly 4K is nice but still not a lot. These manufacturers need to accept the fact 360 video failed and the primary use is going to be a flexible camera for post production (crop to regular video). For that 6-8K resolution is needed. For a tiny 1” chip it should be possible to read the entire sensor without pixel binning.

    $900 gets you a Fuji XT-30, a proper ASPC camera. No 360, but at least the image quality is great.

    • Hi Jeroen. As you said, the question is “who is it for?” It is not for videographers. It is for virtual tour photographers, that’s why its specs don’t meet videographers’ expectations.
      BTW for 360 cameras, it is very rare to have 10bit video until you get to pro level cameras such as the $15,000 Insta360 Titan, or if you create your own rig (and deal with the workflow nightmare).
      Analogizing to a Fuji XT30 is not really appropriate because they have completely different purposes. It’s like saying why would I buy a Ferrari if I can buy a Cadillac Escalade, which can carry more people for much less. Fuji XT30 can take a 360 photo with a panoramic head but you’ll never be able to capture a 3rd person view with it.

    • I never had a matterport so i’m not sure, but matterport is 134mp, so it’s probably much better than z1, but also much more expensive and much slower.

  • Does anyone notice in the sample with 3 people on the beach, the girl image is definitely less sharp compare to the other 2 guys. It is like dropping back to the “theta sc” 12-14mp level. My guess is the girl is very close to the stitch line that is optically much worse in lens resolution. Looks like this will be a inevitable result when a fish-eyes lens is accompanied with a high mp sensor especially when there is subject in close range!! 🤔🤔

  • Things are moving on – great to have such good news and so frequently ! Thanks, Mic !

    Please advise how the Ricoh stitcher is distributed – can’t see it on their download page.

    Cheers!, Roy

  • please, post some original samples for download unstitched inside a room with windows, and close to objects (on the stitching zones), outdoors everything is easy. Thank you!!!

  • Hi Mic Ty

    for the HDR with in-camera stitching, do you how many shots the camera does?

    it’s a 3-shot HDR?
    6-shot HDR?
    9-shot HDR?


  • Hi, Mic,
    Thank you for posting valuable articles.
    Would you suggest how can I get the Ricoh Theta Stitcher Lightroom Plug in (to download)? I could no find in anywhere.
    Thank you.


    • Hello Yoshiki! The stitcher plugin is going to be available on theta360.com. But right now it is not yet public and they asked me not to post it… 🙁

      • Mic,
        Thank you. I received Z1 unit yesterday from Ricoh official site and tried to find the LR plug in. Now, I understand that Ricoh does not post the plug-in downloadable software yet. I will wait for official release. Thank you very much for your support.


          • Mic, I am using Mac. I asked to Ricoh USA and they said it will be posted soon, but not specify when. Thank you.

          • Mic, Rocoh just posted Download section for Z1. I’ve successfully downloaded and installed their Stitcher Plug-in. I tested one DNG image file and it worked very well creating excellent quality image.
            Thank you for your help and support.

            I am looking forward to viewing your post.


    • Thanks Dieter, but according to my contacts at Ricoh, there are currently no plans to create an underwater case.

  • Having a hard time deciding between this and the Aleta S2C. I will be shooting Virtual Tours and probably 90% photos. Thinking of buying both and testing them out. The RAW on the Z1 has me questioning the most. Thoughts?

    • hi John. Yes it’s a tough choice. For detail, go fro Aleta S2C. For dynamic range, workflow, etc. I recommend Z1.

      • Could you please tell
        – what is min-max interval
        – can it shoot raw in timelapse
        – can it shoot HDR timelapse

    • This info is not readily available. If you want, you can download test files and try to find the bit depth.

  • You really need to test Z1 camera in a field. It comes with all this crap that also present in their V model with recording GPS position with precision.

    I have just bought Z1 and tested out of the box taking 5 panos over a 15 meters long path. All 5 have came out with exactly the same location recorded.

    After I place them on google maps they are just all mounting in one spot. There is no way it’s designed for a people working with Google Maps. Anyone who is using it for a commercial work should quote their clients not just for shooting and making a tour but also double their time spent of a client because they will spend a lot of time finding a correct spot on a map for each pano.

    So it is exactly the same problem I have with their V model. Shoot 330 panels in 9 hours then spent 8 just to place them on Google Maps, what a nonsense considering million of apps are using GPS at full available precision without cutting corners in it because some idiots used the wrong varible type or less precision in decimal numbers than needed.

    If Ricoh does not care to fix it and even made Z1 model with the same bug as V that will be the last Ricoh camera I have even bought.

  • I am getting error pop up msg in LR when doing an Export to the Ricoh Theta Stitcher. The message pop reads “The images could not e processed successfully: 0x00010505” .

    Anyone else have this problem?

  • I currently have a One X and am attempting to record an underground coal mine tour for a virtual reality experience for a small mining museum (playback on an Oculus Go). My first trials look pretty awful without additional light. Wondering whether the additional sensor size in the Z1 might be worth the investment. The setting is much more extreme than your example video: generally very dark coal mine, with periodic bright lights along the roof and the mine leader’s headlamp.

    In this sort of setting, with the 5.7 vs. 4 k difference factored in, is the Z1 likely to be able to provide a better end product to justify getting one?

  • On Ricoh website there’s a suggestion that a new Ricoh Theta 360 is coming.
    Here what is written on the news
    Shoots 360° 4K 30fps video
    A built-in 4-channel microphone that can record spatial audio to link to 360° videos
    360° 4K live streaming
    An Android-based operating system which makes easy function expansion possible. Does it mean an expansion card and other features to rival Insta One X

    • Thanks Samuel! I think those specs are referring to Theta V. Both Theta V and Z1 can use Android plugins that add features such as being able to view your photos and videos on compatible TVs.

  • Thank you for the great review.
    I have got the Z1 and wonder if there is a way to disable to preview and copy images to my smartphone when using the DNG mode?
    It is wasting my time, I even don`t need JPG images using when shooting in RAW mode.
    I don`t get it, why is there no option to use RAW mode only without this useless JPG mode???

    • Hi ET! Yes iirc, you can go to the smartphone app settings and disable the image review. As for the raw+jpeg, I think they did that because if it’s only raw, then you couldn’t review it in your phone, and some users want to review the photo.

  • Has anyone shoot in just one EV setting on the Z1 and just work your DNG photos from there with your software? What EV setting would you use?

  • Hi,

    currently, I work with a Nikon reflex and a samyang 8mm and I am interrested by the Theta Z1 for the speed of work.

    You writed in your review “The problem is that each photo is stitched differently”.

    I prefer to work with the equirectangular pictures with the exposures blending method on layers.
    It’s more easy for me to work on the equirectangular picture.

    I would like to know if it is possible to take 5 or 6 exposures Raw format, to stitch all picture with Ricoh Stitcher and after to edit it with Photoshop ?

    Do you have an example of a sequential raw ex : -4 -2 0 +2 ?

    After to stitch with ricoh stitcher, do you have a equirectangular Raw file ?


    • Hi Chris!

      > I would like to know if it is possible to take 5 or 6 exposures Raw format, to stitch all picture with Ricoh Stitcher and after to edit it with Photoshop ?

      Yes it is possible to do this. But please note you will be editing a JPG or TIFF file, not the DNG file.

      > Do you have an example of a sequential raw ex : -4 -2 0 +2 ?

      Sorry not for Z1

      > After to stitch with ricoh stitcher, do you have a equirectangular Raw file ?

      The stitched file will be in JPG or TIFF, not Raw DNG.

      best regards,

  • We’ve got Ricoh Z1 nearly 3 months ago (from a well known German shop). I don’t do it often but its time to share my experience with this one.

    This camera is my biggest waste of money ever.
    I choose Z1 over 2 other cheaper competition models because its longer on market and it should have more stable firmware and better customer support than the chinese one.All above were very wrong assumptions!
    First about support: I know its Corona virus time but for over 2 months from emailing Ricoh customer support to all possible addresses around internet with simple questions about Z1 there is no any help at all.

    Ricoh Europe – no reply at all from any emails!

    Ricoh USA – sent me link to same third party looking website with the suggestion that there are same good information there. Not even trying to help with the issue! Well at least they replayed!

    Ricoh on FB was the only answering (every few day) Ricoh person… it tried to pass me support contact details … None of them works till today however.

    Camera issues in bullet points:
    1. Wifi disconnects all the time. With no reason I can’t get it to work longer than minutes even within 1 meter distance from the camera.

    When II manage to switch wifi Off (to not drain battery as it is useless anyway) when you activate plugin and use camera manually WIFI gets ON and drains battery but is can’t be use when Plugins are in use even if it works
    There is no regular manual or PDF available at all for Z1.
    Instead there is online “guid” where you have to click back and forward going in a circle (i’m too old for that time wasting form)
    Obvious basic general instruction there but not really simple information like: the difference between green and what blue color lights on front and side of the unit.. How to be sure and recognize: when wifi is Off is ON and when is searching and how to be sure its properly connected you need to play with it to find out and it’s more fun when Screen is too small to see the wifi icon all the time and you need to press buttons which may do other things instead of showing you wifi status…

    When Camera works it may produce good photos especially when used with third party plugins.
    It drains battery very quickly especially with wifi ON which cant be used nor disable in my unit.
    If you need support it does not exist.
    Wifi disconnecting makes this unit useless to me.

    In short it is the most frustrating thing for the money spent.. ever.

    I can’t use it and will never even look on Ricoh again.

    This one is collecting dust on my shelf and it will remind me about this.

    • Hi Kon. I’m sorry you regret getting the Z1. Re WiFi its range isn’t super far, but definitely more than 1 meter. I can go as far away as another room and it still connects. I wonder if the issue might be your phone trying to change wifi networks to connect to your home network?

      Re plugin wifi yes the dual fisheye automatically turns it on so you can use it with the dual fisheye remote app. But you can’t use the normal app to shoot when the dual fisheye mod is activated.

      Re wifi on or off, look at the LED. If there is a wifi symbol, then it is on. Yes the symbols are a bit small.

      If you don’t like the Z1, you can probably sell it at full price. You can post it here: facebook.com/groups/360buysell or facebook.com/groups/virtualtournetwork

      Best regards,

  • Great job done in your site. What is your opinion on using Panono for Virtual Tours. Do you see advantages of this cheap pro cam, or should be better to chose a Theta Z1 on an Aleta S2C. From Panono I see two cons: Stitching in the cloud, and problems stitching in little spaces, but also I see better quality image and details. What are your thoughts?

    • Thanks Carlos. I used to recommend Panono, but now it’s been superseded by the XPhase, which is superior in every way: detail, stitching quality, usability, workflow, price, literally any criterion I can think of other than being more well-known. And moreover, fact that Panono now charges for stitching each photo became a total dealbreaker. You can see my XPhase vs Panono comparison here: https://360rumors.com/xphase-review/#comparison

    • Hi Matt. I connect my Z1 to my PC and from there I can access the Theta Z1 like a drive, including erasing files or moving them.

  • I beg to differ on the low light quality – my first DSLR Nikon D90 had better low light performance with a slow lens. Secondly PTGUI – also not living up to the hype – yes it can stitch the photo well be obliterates the colours beyond repair. In my opinion its a lemon

  • I apologize for the request.
    Maybe someone can send several panoramas of an apartment or house? I want to learn how to do interior tours, but I don’t have a camera.

    • hi Azat. If you just want to show your prospective client what a virtual tour looks like, you can show them virtual tour websites such as Kuula or Teliportme or Cloudpano. But you should be very clear that the virtual tours were not shot by you. The better way is to get your own 360 camera and learn how to shoot before you start selling. Some people advocate selling tours before you have a 360 camera and I’m not in favor of that approach. It is like someone offering you to eat at their restaurant when they’ve never cooked food themselves, or someone offering to cure you when they are not doctors. It is borderline unethical.

      • I understood. For some reason I cannot communicate with clients and I was thinking of doing a panoramic photo processing business for photographers. Because I think it is more convenient for someone to take photos and send them for processing than to do it yourself.
        Thanks for your answer anyway. I really like your videos.