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New ‘DualFisheye RAW’ plug-in is released for THETA Z1!ーAn interview with Ichi Hirota about the story behind its development!

Posted date : 2021.06.18

The RICOH THETA Z1 and THETA V 360-degree cameras support plugins, which can extend their functionality. In the RICOH THETA PLUG-IN STORE, there are all kinds of plugins developed by people around the world in addition to genuine RICOH plugins.

Among the many THETA plugins, the most downloaded one in the world* is the DualFisheye Plug-in . It was personally developed by a Japanese THETA user, Ichi Hirota. The HDR-DNG mode in Dual Fisheye Plug-in allows easy generation of a single HDR-DNG image in THETA Z1, enabling 360-degree image editing with a wide dynamic range. So, it gets a lot of attention, especially from panoramic photographers all over the world.

This time, new version of Dual Fisheye Plug-in, ‘Dual Fisheye RAW’ has been released! With the new ‘DualFisheye RAW’ plug-in, the shooting efficiency is improved by reducing the time from 20 seconds to less than 1 second for 9 shots.

Besides Dual Fisheye Plug-in, Ichi Hirota has developed many other THETA apps by himself. We interviewed him about how he first encountered THETA and his secret thoughts on plugin development!

*As of June 2021

Ichi Hirota and THETA

How did you first hear about THETA?

I work as an engineer in research and development. I also like hiking, and I wanted to capture the panoramic views I would often see in the mountains. So, I would often shoot with a fisheye lens. I first heard about THETA when it was released in 2013. I was so shocked by its ease of use and after purchasing my first one I became a lifelong THETA user.

Ichi Hirota and THETA

Since the first THETA didn’t have a self timer, the finger pressing the shooting button was always in frame. I wanted to take a picture of the scenery as beautifully as possible using a selfie stick, so I modified my THETA with a ‘wired shutter.’ That was what hooked me and then I kept developing more functions that I wanted for THETA.

Oh, you’re an engineer! Now I see why you’re so good at it! You have been developing a lot of original apps and plugins for THETA. You must be busy at work, so what drives you to do that?

I’m just creating the functions I would like to have. Regarding THETA, I continue to create apps and plugins to seek mobility and convenience as much as possible. THETA is one of my hobbies, and I hope THETA is around for a long time. Also, I’m purely curious about what professional photographers in the world need.

Photo by Sam Rohn – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Taken with the Dual Fisheye plugin

Photo by Sam Rohn

What’s the appeal of THETA to you?

THETA is the world’s first one-click 360-degree camera, and it has an impressive still image quality despite the compact body. In particular, I think that the stitching accuracy of 360-degree images sets THETA apart from competitors. Also, since THETA V and Z1 are compatible with the SDK for plugins, we can customize them to our own preference, which, for an engineer like me, is a lot of fun!

Pursuing the perfect mobile workflow

So what appeals to you about THETA is that it’s easy to shoot and edit even on the go, right?

Right. I have developed so many apps and it’s because I enjoy shooting and editing my THETA photos purely on mobile, without a PC, while still getting high quality results. I created two unique apps called ‘meta360’ and ‘edit360’ to deal with some problems when editing with an unofficial app.

App:meta360

This app is for re-adding 360-degree image metadata ↓

App:edit360

This app is for adjusting 360-degree images tilts ↓

Officially, in order to edit the THETA Z1 raw data a PC is required. I assume you had a strong desire to edit THETA Z1 RAW images on mobile.

Exactly. THETA Z1 was released in 2019, and it was the first THETA model to support RAW. However, THETA RAW data (DNG files) cannot be read by smartphones. We had to export the files to a PC, develop them with a PC app, such as Lightroom Classic, and stitch Dual Fisheye images into 360-degree images with the official plugin, THETA Stitcher.

RAW data taken with THETA Z1

It’s a tedious process, so I wanted to create an app that can complete this flow with only a smartphone. So, I developed ‘Z1 DNG Transfer’ for transferring DNG files directly to a smartphone via WiFi, and ‘Z1 Stitcher’ for combining the Dual Fisheye images on a smartphone. Although the DNG files are quite large in terms of data, I devised ways to transfer them as fast as possible.

App:THETA DNG Transfer

This app is for transferring RAW data from THETA Z1 straight to a smartphone ↓

 

App:THETA Z1 Stitcher

This app is for stitching Dual Fisheye data edited on a smartphone in Lightroom↓

Stitching requires dynamic connection processing. I developed and implemented the algorithm for the process in Z1 Stitcher. I am quite proud that the accuracy of the stitching is close to the official one.

HDR-DNG mode for DualFisheye Plugin

The ‘HDR-DNG’ mode for THETA Z1 in the DFE Plugin that you developed has become popular among panoramic photographers all over the world over the past year. What do you think was the breakthrough for them?

HDR is a shooting and image processing technique that can generate images with a high dynamic range even in high contrast situations.
Since 360-degree cameras capture one image in all directions, the contrast tends to be high. For example, when shooting indoors, windows may be overexposed, or the area below tables may be underexposed. The HDR technology reduces contrast with proper tone-mapping.

Taken with the Dual Fisheye plugin

*Photo by Toyo Fujita

Generally, it is necessary to combine multiple images taken with different exposures into one image. THETA also has an HDR rendering mode with fully automatic processing, but we can’t edit images. Also, there’s more freedom in ‘multi-bracket’ mode, which is manually set to multiple shots, but we have to set everything ourselves depending on the situation and combine the images on a PC. It takes so much time and effort and on top of that panorama photographers must do this with DSLR cameras.

The HDR-DNG mode of Dual Fisheye plugin, the plugin I developed, makes the process, from shooting to rendering, quick and semi-automatic. And it can be set with only the buttons on the THETA Z1.

*Click here for a how-to guide and more detailed notes!

In HDR-DNG mode, I was surprised that the original data is so dark but it has such a wide color adjustment range!

I sometimes see comments that the image is so dark when displayed in Lightroom Classic, but this is normal. You’ll see the wide dynamic range when you edit it properly after importing it.

Also, it seems that thumbnails turn pink when downloaded to Mac and Mac cannot display HDR-DNG correctly. It seems that the OS is not keeping up with the camera, but I hope it will improve in the future.

Before editing HDR-DNG data:

After editing HDR-DNG data:

Also, there is the app called DualFisheye Plugin Remote that only supports Android. By using the app, you can set GPS, aperture value, EV offset, etc. all on your smartphone.

Unfortunately, this app is only available on Android, however, it is very convenient for those who care about image quality and ease of shooting.

Amazingly, it seems that some panoramic photographers buy cheap Android devices just for this app. By the way, is HDR-DNG data considerably heavier than normal DNG data?

The HDR-DNG mode in Dual Fisheye Plug-in combines up to 9 DNG files into a single HDR-DNG file. Even so, the file size is no more than about 20% larger than a normal DNG file. If THETA Z1 has nothing saved in the internal memory, it can shoot up to 150 shots at a time.*

*For the conventional 19GB model. With the recently released 51GB model, it is possible to shoot even more RAW data, including the HDR-DNG mode in Dual Fisheye Plug-in .

New easier ‘Dual Fisheye RAW’ Plug-in released!

A new version of Dual Fisheye Plug-in, ‘Dual Fisheye RAW’ has been released!

THETA Z1 was updated for its firmware, so I released a new version of Dual Fisheye Plug-in that takes advantage of this.

I originally developed the HDR-DNG mode to finish processing within 1 minute in total; a few seconds for metering, 20 seconds for shooting, and 30 seconds for saving. A maximum of 9 shots are taken one by one, so THETA cannot move for about 20 seconds. But now with the new plugin, I hope usability will greatly improve.

Photo by Sam Rohn – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

*Photo by Sam Rohn

For example, in cases such as shooting for virtual tours, you might need to shoot many places in a short time and ideally without much fuss, or you might care about people or cars moving outside the window while shooting. I’m sure shooting efficiency will greatly improve by reducing the time from 20 seconds to 1 second for 9 shots.

This plugin was released as a completely new plugin instead of an update to the existing plugin. Why did you choose to do so?

There are 3 main reasons:

– The new plugin supports only the Z1, specializing in RAW.
– It prioritizes speed by being operated simply with the buttons on THETA.
– I expect to add more functions through user feedback in the future.

The current Dual Fisheye remote app cannot be used with the new Dual Fisheye Plug-in. I’d like to consider developing a new remote app for the new plugin as well. I recommend trying the new Dual Fisheye Plugin as you can immediately feel the reduced shooting time!

Thank you! We are looking forward to more functions to come!

Note: The update mentioned above requires both the firmware update of THETA Z1 and the installation of the ‘Dual Fisheye RAW’ Plug-in.

Click here for how to update THETA Z1

Click here to install the ‘Dual Fisheye RAW’

The mobile workflow

How do you usually shoot with THETA Z1?

I usually don’t shoot in JPEG. I have kids and they move around so I normally shoot in Single DNG. But once in a while I activate the Dual Fisheye Plug-in with THETA Z1 and shoot in HDR-DNG mode from the Android app. By developing the mode, I was able to make a flow for shooting high-quality images and editing purely on mobile.

After shooting, connect THETA Z1 and your Android phone with a USB cable and save the HDR-DNG file to the smartphone, then develop it in Lightroom Mobile.

I have presets in Lightroom, so I can develop the image with just one touch.

Then, use the Stitcher app to create a 360-degree image with a wide dynamic range all on your smartphone.

I suppose people who use HDR-DNG mode basically edit using Lightroom Classic on PC. I often edit on my smartphone because it’s easy. When I’m with my kid, I often shoot with Single DNG, but sometimes while letting my child play in the park, I also shoot and develop the photos in the meantime.

Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

HDR-DNG image edited with a smartphone

Single DNG image edited with a smartphone

I can feel intimacy in your shots. By shortening the shooting time with the new plugin, it will be even easier to shoot in HDR-DNG mode, even with young kids around.

Thoughts for the future

What kind of functions do THETA Z1 users from around the world request?

For now ‘DualFisheye Plugin Remote’ only supports Android. And I have received many requests for the Dual Fisheye app for iOS. RICOH also cooperated in the development, but we have given up because Apple didn’t approve it. I hope people understand that I develop plugins purely as a hobby.

I often hear that people want the HDR-DNG mode from DualFisheye Plugin to be compatible with THETA Z1 by default. However, since the plugin is for very specific use cases, I think it’s difficult to release it as an official plugin. But that’s a part of the reason why it’s a pleasure to create 3rd party plugins.

Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

The place where Ichi first tested out HDR-DNG mode

Lastly, what do you want to try in the future?

Well, I’m happy to say that I could achieve most of what I set out to do when it comes to developing THETA plugins and apps. If some interesting functions come out in the future, I’m sure I would like to create something again.

After all, by developing THETA apps and plugins, I widened my world and connected with a lot of people in 360 degrees, just like THETA. Meeting various people got me started developing THETA plugins actually. It’s also fun to interact with the users in the Facebook community. The Dual FisheyePlugin has been introduced to many overseas, especially on YouTube, and 99% of contacts I get are from overseas. THETA is a Japanese product so, I would be happy if more Japanese users would also use my apps and plugins so that I can interact with them too. Thank you!

Thank you! We are looking forward to new functions to come!

For more details, please visit the product page on theta360.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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