The Ricoh Theta is a camera with a single purpose: it takes 360-degree panoramas and stitches them into spherical, navigable files within a few seconds. But there's no screen on this device, just two protruding wide-angle lenses that make it look like the camera equivalent of an Amazonian frog.
When we were on our way to visit Ricoh at the dedicated Theta stand at the IFA electronics show we couldn't shed the word "gimmick" from our minds. But when we got there and spent just a couple of minutes messing around with the camera we totally changed our minds. Why? Because it's fun; it made us smile.
Switch the Theta on and even though you can't see what you're shooting, it doesn't matter because it fits everything all around you into the frame. One tap of the large shutter button emits a whizz noise to confirm the shot's taken and then the camera holds the data on its internal 4GB of data. No memory card slot is a bit of an oddity, but files can be extracted over Wi-Fi or by plugging into a computer via the mini USB socket.
To get the most out of the system you'll need to sync to a smart device via Wi-Fi - we were using an iPod Touch - whereby files are transferred and can be loaded into their navigable 3D forms. The results are fully stitched spheres that include you in the shot, thumbs and all, so it's definitely a personal device that takes selfies to the next level. Ideal for using in crowds or similar. Alternatively you can set up the Theta on a tripod and use the app to act as a remote shutter instead.
It's possible to two-finger pinch the screen to zoom in and out, or thumb around to "look around" the shot. The stitching looks top notch too - we didn't spot any issues in exposure or overlap. Clever stuff.
The Theta may have limited application - it's a case of using Photosynth online, in-app Ricoh propriatery viewer, or "flat" JPEG files extracted from the camera - but it does what it sets out to do with minimal fuss and it's fun. However it's not fun to the tune of £320 - and given that's how much it will cost when it lands in October, we don't foresee great success.