Experimenting with Spherical photographs

I was in Spain with the Ricoh Theta S last week so I took the opportunity to experiment with the Ricoh Theta S in a number of locations. What I like about such a device is that it takes a click to get pictures. I experimented with a manfrotto monopod and a smaller monopod. The Manfrotto base was clearly visible in shots so the immersive experience is degraded. With the smaller monopod the base is the same width as that of the camera. This means that at least the support was hidden.

runners in Denia, Spain – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

The first image was taken at Denia port, showing two runners running along the port wall/promenade. You can look around and see that the sea was flat, that the car park is relatively full and buildings behind the scene. It provides you with context.

Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

The second image is taken with the monopod fully extended so that it is among the branches of the trees. You can see a light house ahead and you can look at the tree at the same time.

theta archaeology. 🙂 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

It would be interesting to experiment with archeology and 360 pictures and video. Instead of placing the camera to one side and having the camera operator choose what you see the action could take place around the camera and the viewer, sitting in a swivel chair could turn and look at where the most interesting thing is happening next. You can zoom in and out within reason, to see details or to see a wider picture.

Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

At the Denia Marina part of a bar is floating on the water. it has a sphere of sun shades around with speakers and lights. You can sit in comfortable seats and look up. A conventional image would show the dome from outside but with a spherical camera you can capture the feeling of being in the centre of the structure.

my camera and I, between shots. 🙂 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

This image was taken in Basel during a recent trip. This location is ideal for 360/spherical images because each wall is covered with paintings, the clock is decorated and more. As it surrounds you the subject lends itself well to 360° photography.

a rock outcrop – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

For the last image I went to sea level and photographed the view from a headland and beaches on either side. One of those beaches has bars and a number of people whereas the other beach is nice and quiet. It is nice to look at these images and get a feel for the place.

The challenge in taking these photos is how to get the camera in to an interesting place and hide yourself or the support for the camera. I usually knelt down and tried to stay directly below the camera. The other option is to find a system to stand the camera at the right height but make the monopod invisible. With multi-camera setups parallax makes hiding tripods and other objects easier. The next step is to find a base that makes hiding the stand simple.

Vlogging on a Via Ferrata with the Theta S

Vlogging on a Via Ferrata with the Theta S by Ricoh is not only feasible but interesting. Earlier today I went to the Via Ferrata du Fort L’Ă©cluse in the French Region of Ain. This Via Ferrata goes long the nice rock face next to the climb. The purpose of this video is to bring you with me so that you can experience the sounds of Via Ferrata without the climbing experience or a head for heights.

The Theta S by Ricoh is a 360° camera with two lenses. One lens is looking at the person taking video and the other lens looks at what the holder of the camera sees. When the two signals are combined you can export the video as a 360 video to be shared.

The device has a mini HDMI out, a USB port, enough memory for 45 minutes of video at 1920X1080 with a 30FPS shooting range. It is currently one of the more affordable and intuitive devices to use. You can keep it with you at all times and getting material ready for editing takes seconds. The beauty of such a simple and light solution is that it allows for a very quick turnaround time.

You can review the footage instantly
Reviewing footage is simple and intuitive

I was hanging off a cliff when I was taking my videos today but if you’re a normal person you will probably be sitting in a cafĂ© or some stairs to review the footage. When device wifi is activated and when you download the app you can use your phone as a remote to take videos or pictures and even to watch back the video you have taken in 360° vision. If you’re not happy with the shot then you can repeat it until you are happy. This system is a simple, elegant and all in one solution that is quick and intuitive to use.


The Immersive Video market is coming of age

I see this as a good, not a bad thing. It means that 2016 is the year where we can experiment on what content and story types work best for VR. It gives us time to establish workflows and intuitions about what subjects will work in VR and which ones are better left to UHD HDR.

People did speak about how VR is more demanding, how short content currently works better than long form content. I think that adventure sports will fill the demand. Climbing videos are five to ten minutes long. They’re ideally suited for VR goggles because content is usually short and the content is dynamic. Base jumping, rock climbing, windsurfing, kayaking, snowboarding and other sports are well suited to the format.

Immersive videos are coming of age with dozens of headsets being made available. Samsung Gear VR costs 109 CHF, the Homido 79 CHF and the tepoinn around 19 USD. HTC Vive and the Oculus rift in contrast cost hundreds of CHF each and can be driven by one percent of computers currently on the market. (source)

Gopro Omni
The Gopro Omni will be sold for 5400 CHF.

The Gopro Omni, currently available on Pre-order is being launched at 5400 CHF. Contrast this to the Ricoh Theta S, available from about 390 CHF and you see why I settled for the cheaper solution. The Theta S is ideal to have with you at all times to experiment with whereas the Gopro Omni is ideal for facilities to rent out with an experienced camera operator. Software has been written specifically for this hardware solution which will simplify the workflow.

I look forward to when this technology comes of age, when people feel normal about watching certain types of content via VR goggles. I could easily see events where there is a VR goggles experience available. I also see content and goggles being made available at climbing gyms and sports shops to inspire people to make purchases based on the experiences they would like to experience themselves.


Rock Climbing in Virtual Reality

Rock Climbing in Virtual Reality has an interesting future because some people are afraid of heights, others don’t have the muscle tone to climb and yet more live too far away from climbing locations to enjoy the sport. Virtual reality is a great way of enabling people to get some of the sensations of rock climbing without the safety concerns.

As I watched this video I was curious to see whether it was a passive experience and then noticed the playstation controller. That’s a nice enough way to go “rock climbing but it it was up to me then I would pair this with the HTC Vive and it’s related controllers. Ideally I would go a step further. I would develop a conveyor belt system, place it vertically and program it to put handholds where the climber has somewhere to grip. As he or she climbs they would place their weight on the hand hold and it would slide down as the person climbs.

We have seen demonstrations of equipment that can emulate 3d shapes and textures. The challenge would be to take this from being flat on a table to being vertical and strong enough to hold someone’s weight. Tests should be carried out on near vertical and vertical “climbing routes” before being rotated to allow for the climbing of overhanging routes. You would definitely get a workout from such a configuration. Gamers would go from their current physiognomy to being toned and healthy. The next generation of gamers are going to be fit thanks to Virtual reality workouts.

This could also be attempted for sports like Via Ferrata, via cordata and others. Via Ferrata is a simplified form of rock climbing and via cordata is walking around a nice landscape where safety gear is available to keep you safe in case of a slip or fall whilst hiking.

I really look forward to when this gaming/fitness training experience comes of age.

Archery with the HTC Vive

Virtual Reality is a great opportunity to practice skills and keep fit at the same time. It’s fun to watch people play these immersive games and get carried away. In Holopoint you’re an archer shooting at targets and they shoot back at you. You need to dodge out of the way to avoid being hit.

At first you’re given enough time to shoot and avoid the arrows but as you progress in the game you need to react faster and dodge more arrows. From level 10 onwards you’re shooting at Samurai warriors and dodging arrows from boxes. The game looks both fun and physical. This game looks as though it could be addictive.

If I had an HTC Vive I think I would pull the cable so that it is hanging from the ceiling rather than from the headset down my back and on to the floor. From my experience of the HTC Vive in Crans Montana and from the comments he makes during the video it seems logical to get the cable out of the way. It would be a shame to trip and break the device or injure yourself.

The beauty of VR is that the graphics don’t need to be photo realistic for the application to be fun. As with Altspace you’re immersed in an environment and you know that you can interact with objects and talk with people in other programs. At first I was unsure about socialising via Virtual reality but after experiencing it I changed my mind. You are in a virtual environment and you can play with objects and move towards and away from groups. A friend was playing basketball in Altspace and I had fun piling mugs of beer until they fell to the floor.

Virtual reality is as much about the environment as it is about having fun. The ability to play in a virtual environment is entertaining. I look forward to seeing how these environments progress and become more realistic. I was thinking about how sailing and other simulators would be possible with such technology. That would be a lot of fun. It would make a change from car driving and flying games.

The Immersive Video Experience


I was at the World Virtual Reality Forum in Crans Montana this weekend as a volunteer. During this time I was able to try many of the demonstrations and get a real feel for the potential of 360° and immersive videos. I was also able to listen to people comment on what they appreciated about the experiences and what they did not like.

Vulkane in 3D und 360

One of my favourite experiences was Vulkane in 3D und 360. I worked at this exhibit two out of the three days helping two people at a time every three minutes experience this. I had watched a number of videos before this one and when I watched this one I said Wow because the experience was so beautiful. The quality is excellent and there are some vistas that are spectacular. We are familiar with watching volcanic eruptions but with this experience we are watching the scene as if we are there. As the volcano erupts we can see the projectiles and follow their course through the sky. This is a novel experience for many of us.

Chernoby VR project – 360

Another experience that I got to try and received good feedback from was the Chernobyl 30th Anniversary experience. In this case you launch an app on the mobile phone and you can see a number of videos. You have interviews, videos of locations and interactive content. With this experience you can listen to an interview with a woman who still lives in Chernobyl. As she talks you can look around the room in which she lives. This provides you with a better understanding of whom she is.

Immersive reality - Chernobyl
This experience was in a room with green light, a smoke machine and some jerrycans. Two people at a time could spend about 15 minutes going through the interactive content.

Reframe Iran

Reframe Iran is another 360° immersive documentary experience. This experience was appreciated by some and disliked by others. If you study documentary making you are familiar with CinĂ©ma VeritĂ©, direct cinema and the fly on the wall concept. In this documentary a 360° camera was put in between the journalist and camera crew and the artist whom is speaking. As the artist speaks you can look around the room. You can look at the journalist, at the artist’s work, the couch in one corner or the bookshelf. You are in the room with them, like a fly on the wall. If you appreciate direct cinema and CinĂ©ma VeritĂ© then you will enjoy this documentary.

DEFROST – The Series

Defrost was filmed using the Nokia Ozo and puts you in the place of a woman who was cryogenically frozen and then reanimated. For this experience we wore Samsung VR headsets and sat in a wheel chair. We were the re-animated woman. The experience was interesting because it allows you to feel empathy for whom you, as the viewer are meant to be.

The Difficult People Project.

The difficult People project has as it’s aim to provide people with an immersive experience in to the world as perceived by people with a different perspective on the world. In the first film we saw the world as someone would with hyperactivity. A second video was produced for the World VR forum and showed the world as someone with OCD would see it. This is a project that I personally contributed to with sound recording. The aim of the video was to provide you, as the viewer, with an experience of what it is like to go shopping with the disorder. You see the coping mechanisms via her interior monologue. You hear her worry that people are watching her, that people will see that she buys three of everything and that she may steal if she is alone in the aisle.

On the first day of the conference I was helping people with this experience and as I received feedback I started to see 360° or immersive videos as literature because of the way in which it enables people to feel empathy for the subject of the video. Some people said that they were curious to see whether they suffered from the same problems.


Viens can be translated as either “come” or “follow me”. I saw this as art, as an experiment which took advantage of what 360° videos have to offer. The camera is hanging from the ceiling and you see a group of people standing around the camera. At first they are hidden behind plastic but as you get further in to the video you see nude people standing. As the film progresses the camera changes position. At one point the camera is lower and you are looking up at giants. At another moment you seeing the action from above.

In each sequence you have the choice of which action you most want to watch. In this experience you choose what you want to see, rather than the camera operator or director. You are in control. You are the camera operator. This video really demonstrates the power of 360° videos. It demonstrates how immersive film making is an opportunity to think about what works well as an immersive experience and what works well as conventional video content.

The new role of camera operators

Immersive video content requires the content maker to think as a camera operator, to think about what is in front of the camera and what is behind it. It requires a new way of lighting a scene and a new way of recording sound. Wireless technology makes this much easier. In hallway conversations I heard people speak about how important it is to think as much about what is going on in front of the camera as much as behind it. If there is nothing interesting to see behind the person then normal video is enough.

Content duration is also relevant. Virtual reality and immersive experiences are still new to people. The experience can be tiring so short content is best, for now. When people get used to immersive story telling program length can grow.

The challenge now is to find subjects that lend themselves well to immersive story telling.


Springwatch – Some Swiss bees

Spring is finally back and the fun sports are about to start again. Via Ferrata, Rock climbing, hiking and other sports will be possible and we will see what new places I explore. While waiting for the season to start properly I took some time to film bees pollinating a form of apple tree. The images were captured with a Sony PMW-200. This camera records high quality images.

Springwatch – some swiss bees from Mainvision on Vimeo.

This summer I will work on projects and share them.I hope to realise my documentary about via ferrata at last. I have acquired some new skills but need to find people with whom to collaborate with.

The High Tech World is not making us weak and weird.

The High Tech world is not making us weak and weird. I believe that the opposite is true. According to Patrick Mustain in his article “Welcome to the Devolution: The High-Tech World Is Making Us Weak and Weird” for The Daily Beast he worries that modern technology and conveniences have taken the physical aspects out of our daily routine. We don’t need to clean clothes by beating them against a rock and we no longer need to clean dishes manually. We take the car from point A to point B and we take a lift to go up a floor or two.

“We find ourselves interacting with chairs and doors and walkways, and as a result, we get used to bending only forwards. Almost never backwards, never to the side, we don’t really rotate our hips very much.

This premise is false. This article ignores that there are a growing amount of climbing and bouldering gyms. This article ignores that there are an increasing number of via ferratas being built and that crossfit gyms are common. “But our evolutionary drive for acquiring cheap energy also makes us loath to unnecessarily spend it.” is a fallacy. Look at Strava, Sports Tracker, Movescount, Runkeeper, fitbit, Withings and other products. Each one of these not only tracks the effort that people are making on a weekly basis but congregates that data so that people can compare their workout to that of others. This implies that technology is encouraging people to move, to compete with friends, family or other sports enthusiasts.

strava stats 2016
Strava stats so far for this year

There is some humour in the article. “I think any change in the direction of just moving more is better. You don’t have to take off your shirt and go climb a tree to get value.” It is not simply about moving more but about moving more energetically, more enthusiastically. If you’re walking down the street increase your stride length just a little and you will increase your heart rate and energy expenditure. When I walk up to the base of the Val De Tière via ferrata and when I walk up to the base of the Tour D’AĂŻ via ferrata I am usually the first one, leading the way. I love endurance training so I forget about the group and I enjoy the hike. Once I am at the base I relax, I look at the landscape and I take photographs.

As a camera operator/photographer I need to be at least as fit as everyone else and if possible I need to have more energy. By having more energy I can go ahead of the group and document their effort as they make their way up or down a mountain.

Since I owned the Nokia N95 8GB model I have tracked more than a thousand sports activities. I have tracked skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, hiking, cycling, climbing, via ferrata, indoor training, sailing and swimming. It is thanks to the high tech world that I can track my progress and assess how well I am doing. It allows me to set goals and exceed them and it allows me to evaluate when to take breaks and when to continue pushing forwards.

I love technology but I still walked up five floors to get to my office. I almost never sit in public transport and I usually take the stairs or walk up escalators rather than stand around. Movement is an integral part of my daily routine so I do not accept the premise that high tech world makes us weak and weird.


Montagne en Scène Genève

Au Vieux Campeur held the summer mountain film screening event at the Batiment des Forces Motrices in Geneva. They introduced the event as being the opportunity for them to share the passion of the mountains with people who may not be aware of the activities that are possible. They then went on to say “but as we’re having the screening in Geneva we know that you’re just half an hour from the mountains so many of you are practitioners and today we may even have participants from the cancelled Patrouille Des Glaciers.

Mountain film screening
Montagne en Scène, four films screened at the BFM buildling in Geneva

Four films were shown at Montagne En Scène. The films shown were A Line Across the Sky, a documentary following two less experienced climbers as they attempt the Fitzroy traverse during a rare good weather window, Chasing Niagra, a documentary about Rafa Ortiz and his preparations to shoot the Niagra Falls in a Kayak. The third film is Mont Rebei Project, a documentary looking to achieve a new Rope Jump record.

The Last film, and my favourite is Valley Uprising. It takes a look at the American climbing scene from the fifties up to the Modern day. This documentary is great because it provides us with a deep understanding of the American climbing psyche. Mountain climbing is a sport of passion and so to see how different groups helped this passion progress over the years is interesting.

Film screenings are in Switzerland, France and Belgium