Ricoh has announced the world’s first commercially available spherical camera — no, it isn’t shaped like a sphere: It captures spherical photos that take in the entire scene, in a 360 degree arc around you, and also from floor to ceiling (or ground to sky). Called the Theta, the camera is capable of taking both spherical panoramas that can be viewed in a Flash applet or dedicated smartphone app, or the scene can be compressed down into a standalone one-dimensional image.

The Theta is essentially a small (95-gram), candy bar-sized device that has an ultra-wide-angle lenses on either side. When you push the shutter button, two images are captured and immediately stitched together, creating a complete view of the camera’s surroundings. If you look at the sample images below (the Flash applets), or the demo video, it isn’t entirely clear how the Theta deals with rendering the camera, and the person/tripod holding it. In some of the samples below you can see a tripod beneath the camera — in others, the camera appears to be hovering in midair. If there’s enough overlap between the two images, the camera might be able to perform some clever computer vision/object tracking to remove your monstrously and spherically aberrated body from the photo — but I doubt it.

Other than a couple of lenses and a shutter button, the Theta only has two other buttons — a power button, and a button that turns WiFi on and off — and a tripod mounting hole on the bottom. It is a very, very simple device with a single purpose: taking spherical photos. Via WiFi, though, you can connect the camera to a companion app that runs on your iOS device (Android coming soon) that lets you view, edit, and share the photos you’ve taken. Microsoft is partnering with Ricoh to provide Theta support in the Photosynth app, too.