By Jamie Carter
Are you in the real world yet? Forget the 3:2, 4:3 and 16:9 camera formats, and embrace the world as it is – a 360-degree landscape in which anything can happen, anywhere. That’s the selling point for a new breed of 360-degree cameras that usually put two fisheye lenses back-to-back in a variety of designs to let you capture the world in a whole new way.
However, do be careful about claims of high resolution; 4K may sound a lot for a standard video, but when those pixels are shared around a 360-degree landscape the end result won’t look as detailed as you might expect.
In the emerging genre of 360-degree cameras, anything goes
In the emerging genre of 360-degree cameras, anything goes, and the product you choose will depend as much on what kind of activities you want to capture as the quality of the camera itself. Is the 360-degree format still a novelty? Yes, probably, but standards are being raised quickly, with 4K, livestreaming and post-crop editing features now to the fore.
Did GoPro just change the 360° game? Possibly, though this highly innovative spherical camera will be too rich for most people’s blood. The Fusion can capture 360° video in 5.2K resolution video at 30fps (or 3K at 60fps). Nice, but its real trick isn’t 360 at all; an ‘over-capture’ mode films in 360°, but only to allow the creation of standard 16:9 video from the footage – so, much like post-focus on modern cameras, the Fusion allows post-framing. Why did no-one think of this before? Now add GPS, a compass, accelerometer, gyroscope, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3D audio, and compatibility with existing GoPro mounts, and the waterproof (to a depth of 5m) Fusion could be a semi-pro videographer’s dream.
It was Ricoh that put 360° video creation into the mainstream with its Theta S a few years ago, but for all the brilliance of its form factor, it produced barely 25 minutes of rather soft video on one charge. The souped-up follow-up looks the same, but is capable of 4K video recording, 4K live streaming, and even records 360° spatial audio thanks to its four microphones – and for 80 minutes. Android-based and Qualcomm Snapdragon 625-powered, the Theta V vastly increases the ISO and has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so can be operated remotely via an app. Thankfully, it retains the standard tripod thread its forbear had.
There’s something to be said for creating a product that apes a market leader yet slashes the price, but this budget effort from Detu only just manages to make the grade. Stylistically very similar to the Ricoh Theta S, the Detu Twin has less resolution, but goes beyond being simply a handheld 360 camera by including a standard tripod thread on its undercarriage. The results are basic, and the app will only share videos of 30 seconds or less, but the biggest issue is its drastically short battery life. However, it’s easy to use, and one of the most affordable 360 cameras around, so may suit those looking to dip their toe in the genre.
Read our in-depth Detu Twin review
With a similar form factor to Ricoh’s Theta 360 cameras, this pocket-sized dual-lens shooter has been brought down a peg or two in terms of specs since Samsung decided it needed to help justify the existence of its own Gear VR. For example, while the original Gear 2016 captured 15MP still images, this new version achieves barely half that. It’s also got a smaller battery, which means you’re going to have to carry around a USB-C-compatible portable charger. Has Samsung gone off the whole idea of 360° cameras? Perhaps, but the cute, splash-proof Gear 360 remains very easy to use, with plenty of free editing software, so if nothing else it helps make the new medium accessible.
Read our in-depth Samsung Gear 360 (2017) review
If you’re a semi-pro videographer wanting to experiment with 360-degree video, the Yi 360 VR gives you most of the tools you need. A serious-looking product that’s more about core quality than novelty features, its standard tripod thread lends versatility, while its 5.7K resolution, consistent color and endless manual tweaks are all plus points. Those looking for waterproofing, over-capture and a 24fps mode – albeit at a slightly lower maximum resolution – should consider the GoPro Fusion, but there’s no doubt that the Yi 360 VR is a highly ambitious, great value 360 camera that semi-pro videographers will love.
Read our in-depth Yi 360 VR review
Do you actually need to shoot in 360°? Sometimes, 235° is more than enough (such as for this all-sky video of a solar eclipse ), which is why Kodak created the PixPro SP360 4K, which has only one spherical lens. Shockproof, freeze-proof, dust-proof and splash-resistant, this Wi-Fi and NFC-connected camera comes with dozens of mounting accessories, which may help to explain the high price. And while it may be solid and pocket-sized, as if one of these wasn’t pricey enough, if you want to shoot in 360° you’ll have to by this product twice (Kodak thoughtfully sells a Dual Pro two-pack). You can operate it remotely from a phone, upload to YouTube and Facebook, and make use of a lot of bundled editing software, but we’re still not convinced about the absence of true 360° capture.
No one in their right mind thinks 360° video is going to take over from regular video. Why else would the Insta360 One include FreeCapture, a mode that allows users to film in 360° before transforming the results into a traditional 16:9 aspect ratio? It’s a little like the feature on the similarly 4K-capable GoPro Fusion, although that’s where the comparison pretty much ends. A reliable 4K 360° camera for video and stills, the Insta360 One proffers another advanced tool in the shape of Bullet Time, a fast frame-rate slow-mo mode that, rather bizarrely, requires users to wave the camera rapidly around them on… a piece of string. It’s odd, but effective – the slow-mo effect you can add this footage looks like something out of The Matrix. It comes with a tripod thread for remote shooting, too.
It might be known mostly for its sat navs and sports watches, but Garmin has produced a whopping-good 360 camera. The feature that catches the eye on the VIRB 360 is its ability to capture in maximum 5.7K resolution, and there’s a very simple reason for that awkward figure: 4K doesn’t cover a 360 landscape well. Better yet, you can now stitch 5.7K footage using Garmin’s free VIRB Edit software. Its four microphones produce wraparound sound, too, while waterproofing, GPS, a gyroscope and an accelerometer give it a notable Garmin feel (it collects data about your adventures as you go, which you can overlay onto your 360 videos).
Here’s an ambitious effort – not at popularizing the new video format of 360°, but at creating a does-it-all action cam. Dust-proof, shockproof and water-resistant, the 360fly 4K does that rare thing of capturing video in both wide-angle 360º and first-person POV modes. With just one lens, and an app with a clear layout, you can shoot, upload and share stunning and immersive 360º video just as easily as with any other action camera. It’s also got an accelerometer, compass, GPS and gyroscope for oodles of data. The drawbacks? The video is soft around the edges, and the audio is basic.
LG’s effort at 360° – and a definite alternative to the Samsung Gear 360 – is worth looking for if you want a simple and thoroughly affordable way to enter the world of wraparound video. Equipped with dual fisheye lenses that are flush with the body of the camera, the well-designed LG Cam 360 lets you toggle between 360° and 180° photos with a long press, and is generally a breeze to use. It comes with a handy protective case and has a standard tripod thread, enabling you to mount it on most supports. The only downside is the lack of a decent microphone, although it does pick up audio clearly enough if the source is close. It’s just been discontinued by LG, so grab it while you can.
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