When it comes to 360 cameras, not every camera is equal in this space, much like the mirrorless and DSLR segments. But, considering 360 is such a new addition to the world of visual content creation, many are unfamiliar with its wonders and what it could potentially add to their productions.
With that, let’s explore some of the best practices when shopping for a camera in this space, things to look out for, and cover, which is ultimately the best all-rounder on the market today.
First. Why should you even get a 360 camera in the first place?
While 360 cameras are unlikely to replace your primary camera, they provide a creative perspective that traditional cameras cannot easily replicate. And they offer unique options for exciting photos and videos. Whether you’re an aspiring videographer, an admirer of virtual reality, or looking to show off your creation in a new way, the images captured with a 360 camera are far more immersive compared to other forms of visual media. And it gives viewers the freedom to enjoy the full 3D space along with the feeling of being physically present at the moment, for better or worse. While creating compelling 360 images is quite challenging, the results are worthwhile. And it’ll free you from the confinement of the standard 16:9 view of a regular camera.
Additionally, many of the cameras in this space now output standard 1080p videos, allowing you to use only the best clips in the final video. When we couple this with the excellent stabilization these cameras provide, built-in timelapse zooms, and pans, creating professional content is easy. In this industry, making things easier is what it’s all about, so we can focus on composing, not the technicalities. And the truth is, replicating these kinds of effects and results with a traditional camera isn’t nearly as easy.
Another reason to consider 360 degree cameras is that they make it more straightforward to film action. With a traditional camera, we have to intentionally focus the camera on the point of interest or desired subject. With 360 cameras, however, all we do is set it up in the environment, and it records in all directions—no more pointing or handling the camera. Then, in post-processing, we pick and choose the most exciting parts of the recording and frame as we desire. This workflow is known as Free Capture or Over capture, and it simplifies this kind of workflow considerably.
What kind of software do you need?
Adobe Photoshop offers 360-degree photo editing, and editing works mostly the same as a traditional 2D photo. You can retouch, adjust colors, HSL, to name a few. But the full suite of editing options in Photoshop is available for use.
Adobe Premiere, if you want to edit the video on the desktop. However, most of the cameras come bundled with a smartphone app, some of which offer a desktop client as well. So Premiere isn’t completely necessary in every situation. However, Premiere does make editing this type of footage very easy if you do choose to use it. And it also outputs in a format that’s readily usable on Facebook or Youtube.
Do I need a VR headset to view 360 content?
In short, no. But having a headset does add another layer of realism to the experience. Most smartphones and even viewers on YouTube or Facebook can navigate the 360-footage with a mouse or by touch. So, a headset isn’t necessary for users to consume the content.
What sites support 360 videos?
Well, sadly, 360 video is still rather new, and not every platform supports this kind of content. The biggest players are YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, and Vimeo. All of these platforms support 360 content, be it photos or videos. Recent smartphones also support this content, and some even use their gyroscopic sensors to allow you to move around in the space. But much of the value in 360 comes in the form of the creative re-framing this platform affords. Re-framing the 360 capture into a standard 16:9 format, and cropping the highlights with various points of view is a compelling way to create content. And publishing the footage as a normal 16:9 video also increases its compatibility, as you can embed the video anywhere you would like a standard video.
What should I look out for when purchasing a 360 degree camera?
You want to make sure you’re getting a camera that offers at least 4K UHD video. The reason is that the final output resolution is not as sharp as the footage from a traditional camera. So at a bare minimum, get a camera that offers 4K to maintain detail. But, the truth is judging based on resolution alone is more complicated, as the pixels have to fill the entire 360-degree space, see note below for more information. With that, an 18-megapixel sensor on a 360-degree camera is very different from an 18-megapixel point & shoot or mirrorless camera.
Full 360-degree capture
Not every camera captures a full 360 degrees. Instead, cheaper alternatives have a large uncaptured area at the button of the camera, which results in a black proportion of the frame. This blackout means these cameras aren’t as immersive and don’t deliver the same viewing experience as the competition. Stick with cameras that have two lenses. A two-lens configuration allows them to capture each side of the frame separately and merge them in-camera for a blackout-free render.
Some manufacturers lock their cameras to specific operating systems. While this a more budget-friendly alternative for users of that system, it doesn’t represent the best versatility.
The term “stitching” refers to how well the camera stitches together the captured footage to create a seamless, borderless render. How well a camera stitches directly determines how smooth the final render will be—the more precise the stitch, the better. Ideally, you want a camera that doesn’t suffer from excessive dead zones or blackout and also stitches the footage internally on its own.
Insta360 One X – The Best 360 camera around
When it comes to 360, Insta360 is the leader of the class. And they are one of the original manufacturers who pioneered the category initially. Not only have they developed the innovative hardware, but they’ve also created the software to complement. And thus, their One X makes the best all-rounded 360 camera around, representing a culmination of their tireless efforts. It delivers strong image quality, stylish design, along with a feature-rich and well-designed app. It’s a camera that ticks the box for all qualities that create an excellent product in this space.
The build of the One is excellent and thoughtful. It offers a built-in display on the back, removing the need for taking out the paired phone to change settings. And it also provides a removable battery, a rarity on camera in this segment. While it’s on the smaller side for a camera of this class, the thin design works in its favor to push the sensors closer together, resulting in better stitching.
The design also makes it incredibly portable and quite convenient to stow away into a jacket pocket. On the bottom plate, it features a standard tripod socket to mount the camera on a tripod or selfie stick. And the controls are incredibly straightforward, a single record button and another button to cycle the menus. Outside of this, it provides an SD card to save content, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, and a host of cables to connect to compatible devices directly for faster transfers.
it’s 1/2.3″ sensors deliver less resolution than some of the competitors. However, despite that, the results remain sharp, with excellent dynamic range and ample contrast. And it provides a wide range of resolution and frame rates: 5.7K video at 30 fps, 4K at 50 fps, and 3K at 100 fps with bit rates up to 120Mbps. These frame rates allow you to get not only pro-level resolution and quality, but also provide super slow-motion video as well.
And it shoots these formats in the highly-compatible and easily edited MP4 H264 format. For stills, the camera shoots 18MP images in the DNG RAW format, for easy editing in post. It’s 6-axis FlowState image stabilization system is also class-leading. The stabilization offers motion-stabilized video, which smooths out even the harshest movements. And the camera also has a host of accessories available for use, including: waterproof cases, selfie-sticks, a throwable Drifter sealing, and GPS remote.
iOS And Android App
The complementary app is also cleverly designed and is also fully compatible with both iOS and Android. The app lets you see a full live view feed of what the camera captures, and it can even live stream for use on social media, for example. It provides a compelling feature set to include their popular Spin View to add motion to the capture, as well as TimeShift, allowing you to slow or speed specific moments in the video as desired.
And the highly-acclaimed Free Capture, which provides extensive flexibility in creating a standard 1080p video from the recording to showcase the most exciting moments.
The app also supports hyper-lapses and fast-motion video modes.
Overall, it ticks all of the boxes on what you’d want in a camera in this class. And it performs quite admirably considering its hard stacked feature set. It produces high-quality 360-degree footage in a stylish package that provides enormous value for someone looking for an entry in this space. Thus, for the money spent, it’s the best all-rounder in both technical capabilities, but software and compatibility. And for beginners to this space, it’s the strongest option by a long shot.