My top choice for a photography 360 camera: Ricoh Theta Z1
Keep reading to find out why
A question I get asked a lot is “which is the best 360 camera if I only want to take photos“. It’s a valid question, because when most people review and judge 360 cameras they tend to focus on video and don’t pay much attention to the 360 photo capabilities. There are plenty of people with no interest in shooting 360 video but want an easy to use all in one solution for shooting high quality 360 images.
Until recently the only way to create 360 images was to use a DSLR and panoramic tripod head to take multiple photos and stitch them together manually. This results in very high quality panoramic images, but takes a long time and the cost of the equipment is high. The cameras I’m going to show you won’t be able to match up to the quality of a DSLR, but in some cases they come close and are way easier to use.
So let’s get started, I’ve picked out four of the best 360 cameras for photos (out of the 10 that I own) and taken photos with them in different locations. Let’s see which one turns out to be the best
Which 360 Camera is Best for Photography?
The cameras I’m going to be looking at today are the Ricoh Theta Z1, Insta360 One X, Ricoh Theta V and Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere. I chose these specific cameras because they have all been vying for the position of “best 360 camera” at some stage and all of them have manual photo controls.
Here are some of the basic specs for each camera:
Ricoh Theta Z1
- 1 Inch Sensors
- DNG RAW Images
- Variable Aperture
- Auto HDR Mode
- Full Manual Control
- 23.8 Megapixels (6912 x 3456)
- Manual Exposure Control
- Time-lapse mode up to 1/60sec
- ISO 100-1600
Insta360 One X
- 23 Megapixels
- Full Manual control
- DNG Raw Photos
- ISO 100-6400
- Also Excellent for Video
Ricoh Theta V
- 15 Megapixels (5376 x 2688)
- Manual control
- Instant HDR Mode
- ISO 100-3200
- Shutter Priority (1/25,0000 to 60 seconds)
- Cheaper Option
Let’s take a look at the top contender in this comparison, the Ricoh Theta Z1. The Z1 is by far the best 360 camera for photography, mostly due to its dual 1 inch sensors which allow it to take in much more light and therfore produce better looking 360 images. The Z1 is the only all in one 360 camera with this feature, however it also makes it the most expensive. The other great feature of the Z1 is its ability to shoot DNG RAW photos; this combined with the large sensors allows the camera to shoot quality close to a DSLR.
The Z1 is also the only 360 camera in this comparison that can shoot excellent images in low light conditions. This is again thanks to those larger sensors as well as its ability to change aperture size, the only 360 camera able to do this.
What if you want something cheaper?
While the Z1 is definitely the 360 camera best designed for photography, it’s by far the most expensive. If you are looking for a cheaper option then there’s a camera I can recommend that isn’t too far away in terms of quality.
The Insta360 One X is a much cheaper camera that can also shoot DNG RAW images, allowing you to get the maximum quality from each shot. The One X doesn’t have 1 inch sensors so it won’t work as well in low light or indoors but it does a decent job, and in good lighting conditions the photo quality can be very good for such a cheap camera.
Left Ricoh: Theta Z1. Right: Insta360 One X
Flat image comparison
The image below features shows a section of a photo shot with four of the best 360 cameras for photography. Each camera can shoot DNG RAW photos and have been edited in lightroom to get the best overall quality. In the first image I focus on the sunlight as this is the toughest challenge for 360 cameras; as you can see each camera handles the direct sun with different results.
As you can see the size difference between the various cameras is quote large. Megapixels are important for 360 photos because the image has to wrap all the way around you, so the more pixels the better. But that’s just one consideration, the quality of the lenses and the manual options available are also an important factor to consider. The Theta Z1 doesn’t shoot the largest photos but the quality of the lenses means the final image is superior to any other camera.
The older (but cheaper) Mi Sphere is probably the weakest here due to the huge overexposure caused by direct sunlight as well as the beams of light that interfere with the rest of the image. In more overcast conditions this wouldn’t be much of an issue/
Lets take a look at another photo comparison, this tiny in the tiny planet format which is popular on instagram. These images were take each camera at the same time and location.
All three cameras do a great job, but we end up with very different looking images. The Theta Z1 is again the most impressive overall thanks to those 1 inch sensors capturing excellent dynamic range and reducing overexposure. The Insta360 One X does a pretty good job too considering the much lower price of the camera; it’s certainly the one I would recommend for anyone who just wants to shoot casual 360 photos rather than professional.
Each camera actually does very well and I think most people would be happy with any of these, but there are some subtle differences.The Ricoh Theta Z1 is a big upgrade from its predecessor and its 360 photo capabilities are excellent, but for some reason Ricoh decided not to upgrade the video resolution so you are stuck at 4K. If you are not interested in video then the Z1 is definitely the one to choose for absolute best quality. The next best is the One X which does an excellent job considering it’s under half the price of the Z1. You’ll need to edit the DNG RAW photos in a program like lightroom if you want to get the quality you’ve seen in these examples, which may not be an option for some people.
Theta Z1 vs Insta360 One X
Shot with Z1
Shot with One X
These two images reveal the primary difference between these two cameras. Both can shoot similar size images in terms of megapixles but the lenses they use are completely different. In areas of darkness, or when there isn’t much light in general the One X struggles. While the Z1 image is not as bright overall the end result is that more detail is revealed, especially in darker areas and around the edges. Remember extra light can be added in post production.
There is also the issue of color grading. The Insta360 seems to constantly produce photos that are more at the more saturated end of the color scale and no setting seems to change this. One advantage that the One X does have is a much more comprehensive video mode, but as this comparison is primarily focused on photography I’ve not given this any attention.
After considering all the features and having examined any side by side comparisons from both camera, I’m going to declare that the Theta Z1 is the best 360 camera for photos. Why? It consistently shoots sharp, clear images at a high enough resolution to not look blurred in the 360 format. In handles light well and have a range of full manual controls. It’s the only 360 camera with one inch sensors and that really gives it an edge over the competition, but you have to pay a lot for this privileged. If you are a casual user then the Insta360 One X will suite you just fine and for the price is can take awesome photos.