360 Video Buyer's Guide

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When I was younger, 360° films/video meant a huge rig with nine cameras pointing outward in a circle. 360 divided by 9 gives you 40, so each camera had a 40° angle of view, horizontally. The film would be made using these monstrous rigs, sometimes slung from helicopters to get travelling shots of packs of animals hunting in Africa. Of course, you would only have the chance to see this if you were at an exhibition or theme park of some kind. 360-degree movies represented this incredible undertaking that was out of the reach of anyone not making a ride film or other presentation.

But now, all is different. 360° cameras of all kinds and affordability abound. For an introduction to 360-degree shooting, you may want to check out this video from B&H that proves 360° video is alive and well, and note how hiding the camera support in the stitch line can make it appear that your camera is free floating. When choosing a 360° camera, three points to consider are:

1. Quality

Here, resolution isn’t the full story. 360° video is going to be manipulated quite a bit to be viewable, so you do want to consider resolution, but how is the quality of the image, what is the dynamic range, how is the image going to look?

2. Field of View

Is this a single-lens system, or does it use multiple lenses and sensors to create your 360° video? The more lenses/sensors, the less distortion you are likely to encounter as you stitch the images together, although the more lenses and sensors you have, the more stitch lines there will be.

3. Ease of use

Essentially, does the camera stitch your footage together for you? Is stitching done in post, and is it automatic, or can you adjust it, or use the stitching software of your choice? Once stitched together, how easy is it to share the footage? Most cameras will have an app so you can view and control it from a mobile device, but there are a few that allow for live streaming. For the professional who is shooting the highest-quality images, to the consumer shooting home movies, there is a 360° camera to suit everyone. To find out which cameras suit your needs, read on.

Home Movies

Well, after years of avoiding the 360 craze, I’ve gone and bought a spherical 360° camera. I’m partial to fisheye images for stills, and I think that home movies are where I’ll be doing most of my 360° shooting. We have a range of consumer 360° Video cameras here at B&H. Here is one that I recently bought, the Kodak PIXPRO SP360 Action Camera with Explorer Pack. It shoots HD, and looks to be a camera built for rough and tumble—you can bet I’m going to hand it off to my daughter as she does somersaults and cartwheels; should be fun. It’s also available with an Extreme Pack that allows you to go down nearly 200' underwater.

Kodak PIXPRO SP360 Action Camera with Explorer Pack

For iPhone users, might I recommend checking out the PanoClip line of snap-on accessory lenses for a variety of iPhones? There’s no need to buy a dedicated camera—just snap this onto your iPhone. If you have an Android device, the GIROPTIC iO Spherical Video Camera and the Insta360 Air attach to your Android device to turn it into a 360° camera. The Ricoh Theta SC series of cameras captures 360° video at HD resolution, comes in four colors, but its strength lies in its ease of use, and how it handles the stitch lines. For 4K capture, Ricoh has released the Theta V, and you can check out more on that camera in this “In the Field” article. The 360fly 360° HD Video Camera (First Generation), looks like a ball and has a 240-degree field of view, but captures 360° footage to 32GB of internal storage. It can stream 360 video live. Also available is the 4K version that features 64GB of internal storage, and still streams live. Insta360 features two cameras that shoot 4K, stream live: the Insta360 ONE, which works with an iOS app and has an included wire to create a “Bullet Time”-like effect with you at the center of the action, and the Insta360 ONE X (on pre-order at the writing of this article).

Insta360 ONE X

Professional

The professional world of 360-degree video, is a little bit more demanding than the consumer world. Here you will find few single lens/sensor cameras. Single cameras with multiple lenses and sensors or rigs that take multiple cameras are the order of the day. You can get pre-made rigs, or assemble your own using these camera holders, some of which are great for creating the “Bullet Time” effect. Of course, you’ll need to make sure that you can sync the cameras together for best results. Built-in cameras or a single camera with multiple lenses become much simpler to work with. Z Cam offers five choices of 360° cameras, and is so invested in 360° video that the company has released these cameras before releasing the Z Cam E2 camera (which is the follow up to its 4K video camera). The Z Cam K1 Pro is primarily a stereoscopic 3D camera, although it supports the VR 180 format. Moving on to 360-degree cameras, Z Cam offers the S1 and the S1 Pro, both of which can shoot 6K at 30 fps and feature manual and automatic post stitching. The V1 Pro Cinematic VR Camera supports 8K mono and 7K stereo and has four directional microphones and supports auto-stitching using the Z Cam WonderStitch software. The soon to be released Z-Cam V1 Spherical VR 360 Camera features ten 190° fisheye lenses.

Z CAM V1 Pro Cinematic VR Camera

In general, professional 360° cameras are either cylindrical or round, with the exception being the Volt Janus 360 VR Quadcopter. Cylindrical shaped 360° video cameras tend to be slimmer than their round counterparts, so you can get them closer to your subject. This form factor includes cameras made by Panasonic, Samsung, Kandao, Detu, and 360Precision LTD. Additional offerings have a round form factor, and each one provides different advanced features. Insta360 features a camera that is available by itself, or in a kit with media and other accessories including GPS modules. Jaunt is what you could call overkill, because it features 24 cameras and a control system that organizes footage from each camera. The Jaunt Starter Kit contains everything you need to start shooting with the Jaunt system, including 24 media cards.

JAUNT ONE VR Camera System with Starter Kit

Conclusion

The number of 360 video cameras available today is staggering, even if a few aren’t strictly 360-degree video. The uses for these cameras seem almost limitless—from home movies to films, to VR and AR productions. Do you have a favorite 360 video camera or application? Please feel free to share below, and thanks for reading.

13 Comments

We bought the Theta S through B&H as our intro to VR. For photos, we LOVE it. Stupid simple to use, good quality and quick and easy to post on line. To address the problem of always seeing what's "under" the camera (the tripod, a table of what have you), we created a small cardboard disk with our company name and logo. So, if you "look down" while in the 360 experience, you always see who shot it.  Video is terrible. We never use it. We're hoping Rocoh comes out with a 4K version for video or we'll step up to something more professional if we feel the need. I have to admit, we haven't had any compelling reasons yet to use VR. It's mostly been just for fun.

You missed out the Panono Camera. Ex-Kickstarter and the one of the funkiest looking cameras, it's an excellent choice for high resolution stills.
Super simple to use with really quite amazing results. 

Sorry, Ex-Indiegogo. Made in Germany.

We sell the Panono, but it doesn't belong on this list because it is very explicitly not a video camera. If someone just wants to take pictures, it's probably a fine choice, but I don't really know what the market for a stills-only spherical camera is.

What about the Samsung Gear 360 camera? From everything I've seen it's got better IQ than any of the other single camera solutions you mentioned.

I haven't gotten a chance to play around with it, in large part because I don't have a Samsung Galaxy phone. That requirement bothers me a lot, even if there are app hacks that allow some level of broader compatibility. I wouldn't really be surprised, though: Gear VR is objectively better than its smartphone headset competition (though I haven't gotten a chance to really play around with the Pixel or Daydream yet), but it's also Samsung-only, so... that kinda doesn't matter.

If you've got a Galaxy phone, though, it may well be the way to go. I can't really say one way or another.

Thanks for reading!

This article is definitely helpful, thank you for posting.

You're great.

Thanks for the article. Any thoughts on tripods or mounts for the camera ?

Well, thank you for reading. With regards to mounts: you want a monopod, not a tripod. A tripod is wide and will be all up in your shot, requiring more time in post or meaning you have to cut out part of your shot or whatnot. Monopods, on the other hand, often disappear entirely in the stitch.

As far as specific recommendations: Freedom360 is pretty legit, and they've got a small but very heavy tripod base that will add some good stabilization. The fact that it's small is key to that post thing (it can also be hidden in grass or sand or whatever, depending on where you're shooting; worst case scenario: minimal rotoscoping or you just allow for a little bit of stabilizer in your shot). They've also got a suction-cup mount that is very sturdy.

I noticed that you didn't mention the Nikon Key Mission 360. Sure it hasn't seen great reviews from buyers initially, but a lot of the intial bugs have been ironed out, and most tech sites consider is better than the Theta S, and in fact call it the best sub-$1000 or sub-$500 spherical video action camera out there. So, what is your take on the KM 360?

The Nikon product needs to go through more iterations.  The app that you must run it with on your phone is next to impossible at this point and is highly non-user friendly and unrelaible - two conditions no one should have to think about with a Nikon product.  There are other issues with it such as poor stitching and seams and less than acceptable quality footage.  I am sure Nikon will fix this product but right now stay away.  I am used to paying professional prices and thought that this minor 500.00 invstment would be  good introduction to the format but the software was so poor that I returned it...It is hard to understand why Nikon rushed out such a poor product.

True story: I had originally wanted to put that one here, because the Nikkor glass excited me, but after getting some hands on time, I walked away with a similar impression to Auggie. The biggest issue is really with the app. If you've got an Android phone, it's just annoying. If you've got an iOS device, though, it's a straight-up nightmare. They're working on it, and it's better than it used to be, but the whole point of that kind of product is that it's simple and user-friendly, and the process for controlling the KeyMission, at this point in time, is anything but.

The Theta, on the other hand, is genuinely easy to use. Even if it doesn't have the best image quality and its seam lines aren't perfect, it's a really good intro to the tech.

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