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London Street View Summit with THETA Z1!

Interview

Posted date : 2020.08.19

My name is Toyohisa Fujita, but you can call me Toyo. I have been publishing 360-degree images taken with THETA SC, V, and Z1 to Street View on Google Maps ever since I purchased my first THETA SC in autumn of 2016.
An image I took with THETA Z1 on a large monitor at the Street View Summit

I arrived at Heathrow Airport and headed to Pancras Square in the center of Kings Cross. I was secretly excited to visit the Google UK office, which is one of the largest Google bases in Europe. I calmly reached in my bag for my THETA Z1… And so my 360-degree adventure began!

What is the London Street View Summit?

The summit was held over September 24th and 25th, 2019 in the Google UK office in London. Select Google Street View Trusted Photographers from all over the world were invited to the event. Except for a select few affiliates, most participants had to pay for their own travel and accommodation expenses. It was a great opportunity for me to improve my skills and knowledge by getting to meet so many other passionate individuals. Actually there are many photographers who hope to participate in the summit.

When I took part in the summit in 2017, which was held in Tokyo, I saw a prototype at the Ricoh booth before it was in stores. (It would eventually be released in September 2017 as the THETA V.) I couldn’t help but stare at a particular image—a video of cherry blossoms–and be impressed!

How I became a GSV Trusted Photographer

When I first saw a 360-degree photo, I couldn’t even display it on my PC because it was not powerful enough. I didn’t think I could get the most out of this technology at that time, which was around 2014. But I found that I could take 360-degree photos with a smartphone app (Photosynth by Microsoft), and since then, I’ve been absorbed into the 360-degree world. When Photosynth was discontinued I moved to Street View. In those days, all the mainstream pros shot with DSLRs and fisheye lenses, but that didn’t discourage me. I knew the only way forward for me was with a smartphone and the motto “easier and faster.” So, I joined the Street View Certification Program* and forged ahead.

*Registration for the Street View Certification Program is paused due to preparations for a new program.
Getting information about the new program from a Google representative at the summit.

An opportunity to learn about and gain interested in THETA

The first Street View Summit in Amsterdam in 2016 became a major turning point for me. Until then, the only Street View certified camera capable of shooting in one click was the Iris 360 from NCTech,but it was heavy and wasn’t affordable at all. On the other hand, handy one-click cameras such as THETA, Samsung, and LG were treated as toys.

“THETA is a Toy”

I’ve heard this phrase in the overseas forums many times. To be honest, at the time I was on their side saying, “I agree with you.” However, I thought I would surely be able to utilize the “one-click” feature in narrow spaces or touristy spots with a lot of people. And finally, THETA was certified as a compatible product at the summit in Amsterdam, so I decided to purchase THETA SC in 2017.
Shooting at Pancras station in the Eurostar terminal.  Link for Google Street View

360 degree photos in London taken with THETA Z1 in RAW

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At Kensington Gore, RD Residential, charging Z1 and Velbon Cube

Before and after the summit I shot in 360 degrees while wandering around London. I used a Velbon Cube tripod and a TM-2 selfie stick. Both are handy and light so that I could take them out quickly and capture moments in time. Whenever I come across Wifi hotspots such as at airports or train stations, I develop the images on the spot and publish them to Street View right away.

1) Heathrow Express

Free Transfer Train Termnal4 to T2-3 #findpegman #thetaz1 Single DNG #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

It’s been my dream to travel to England for many years. I’ve been to Europe many times, but never stepped into the UK except for transit. England is the birthplace of the railway, so I really wanted to travel by train around the country if I had the chance. It is said that the Japanese Railway was based on the British Railway.

The Heathrow Express is a comfortable train that connects terminal 1, 2, and 3 with Paddington station in about 15 minutes. It is also operated as a Free Train Transfer to terminal 4 and 5. By the way, this Street View image has amassed 50,000 views since I posted it.

2)The Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9 3/4

The Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9 3/4 #thetaz1 #thetaのある生活 #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

This popular shop in the corner of the modern Kings Cross station is an imitation of the “9 and 3/4 platform” from the Harry Potter movie. I wanted to capture the atmosphere of a popular spot so I took a shot in front of the entrance, not inside the store. Needless to say, I had to get permission to shoot here.

3) Red telephone box

Phone Box in Red クラシカルな赤い公衆電話 #thetaz1 #thetaのある生活 #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

After getting into RAW development with THETA Z1, I was always looking for something interesting to shoot. I found “Phone Booth” in the work of a famous photographer in Tokyo, then imitated his works. I shot payphones wherever I found them.

Nowadays people don’t talk as much on the phone, so I expected phone boxes to become rare, but surprisingly they still survive in London. Also they are trashed and dirty just like the ones in Japan. However, there are not many classic red ones left. On top of that, the black phone boxes are very precious to me because they’re said to exist only in the City of London.

4) The Booking Office, social gathering after the summit

The Booking Office #thetaz1 #thetaのある生活 #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

After the two-day conference, an after party was held at a luxury restaurant. I wouldn’t have been able to shoot the interior without such an opportunity. I got permission from the bartender and took photos in a space with fewer people. I tried Time Shift Shooting but I couldn’t shoot with the quick shutter speed because of the lack of light. So, I compromised with some blur in the shot.

5) Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall #thetaz1 #thetaのある生活 #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Have you heard of a music festival called “BBC Proms”? It’s the world’s largest classical music festival. Originating in Britain, it culminates in the Last Night of Proms which is set in the Royal Albert Hall. It marks the end of an eight-week summer concert tour. The day I visited was shortly after the Last Night, and I felt the energy still lingering there. It was also the Last Night of my London Trip and I shot the place holding THETA Z1 as I dragged my suitcase.

The difference between Z1 and other THETA models

The image quality has definitely improved over the THETA S, SC and V. However, there is still inevitable blur at the joints (horizontal part) around the lens and the red dots generated by reflections. However, with the Z1 and HDR mode, it became possible to shoot high quality images for many purposes including street views without a lot of unnecessary work. Both the horizontal bokeh and the red dots are reduced thanks to improvements in the camera.

The previous 5 street view images were shot in “RAW (DNG) format” which is a new option available in the Z1. Then, I installed the THETA Stitcher plug-in provided by RICOH for Adobe Lightroom Classic, converted the images to JPG format, and finally edited and published them.

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Adobe Lightroom Classic developing screen

The good point about RAW is that you can shoot with one click and one shot. If you shoot in HDR, motion blur is inevitable because the photo is composed from multiple images into one 360-degree photo. On the other hand, RAW works so well because it only takes one image. This means I can get high image quality and wide dynamic range similar to HDR at busy event venues and touristy places.

 

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This article was written by Toyohisa Fujita, a THETA user.

Toyo Fujita|GSV Trusted Photographer(@ToyoFujita)

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