Atop St Michael’s Mount – Tiny Planet photo taken with a Xiaomi Mi Sphere. From my Instagram.
For a few hundred dollars you can get a camera that shoots 360-degree photospheres and videos, sometimes adding in waterproofing and the ability to cut your videos into regular square videos unlike any a normal camera can record.
But they are still a specialized niche. None can replace a regular camera, or even your phone, when it comes to day-to-day photos.
If you’re on the fence, here are some general pros and cons to help you decide if you should buy a 360 camera.
Rylo and Xiaomi Mi Sphere, two excellent 360 cameras, for different reasons.
Well, the most obvious is the ability to shoot photospheres and 360 videos. Duh. With certain phones you can painstakingly photograph a few dozen images and the phone will stich it together into a sphere. This, as opposed to one click with a 360 camera.
Friends, family, and strangers can enjoy 360 photos on several websites, including Facebook and Flickr, and videos on Facebook and YouTube, among others.
And while that’s cool, it’s what else you can do with this footage that’s the really cool part. Tiny Planet photos and videos, like what you see above and below, are a great way to uniquely show where you are. Judging from my own experience, they’re quite popular too.
Land’s End – Tiny Planet photo taken with a Xiaomi Mi Sphere. From my Instagram.
Many cameras, like the Insta360 One, GoPro Fusion, Garmin VIRB 360, and others, let you crop a spherical video to create a “normal” 1080p video using only the most interesting portions of your footage. Not only does this let you shoot everything and decide what’s interesting later, but it’s often fully stabilized in a way that most cameras aren’t. Smooth footage, smooth pans, all for a highly professional look.
Insta360 One and the Ricoh Theta V
As good as the image quality has gotten, it’s still not up to the level some people expect. In nearly every 360 video I’ve posted on YouTube, there’s always someone complaining about the resolution. I don’t fault them for not understanding. Even though nearly all the main 360 cameras are now at least 4K resolution, that’s not the same 4K that your camera or phone can shoot. A 360 camera uses the same number of pixels to show an entire sphere around the camera, not just a narrow angle in front of it. By its very nature, that means everything is going to look softer than with a traditional camera. If you’re viewing the footage on a big monitor, this lack of detail is very noticeable. On something small like a phone, less so. Some 360 cameras shoot in even higher resolution, and while this isn’t everything, it helps.
Nikon KeyMission 360
Photos, on the other hand, tend to be much higher resolution, so that’s rarely a problem. Some cameras, like the Xiaomi Mi Sphere, shoot very high-resolution, 24MP images (6912×3456). Compared to regular cameras, though, they have other issues. Color accuracy and dynamic range, or how all those pixels look, tends to lag behind like-priced traditional cameras. There are exceptions, of course, but on average, the sensors, lenses, and processing used isn’t to the level of a decent traditional camera.
They’re also quite fragile. Because there are two lenses, putting the camera down somewhere becomes a challenge. Even within whatever protective case or sleeve they come in, it’s exceptionally easy to damage a lens. I’m careful with my gear, and I’ve damaged several 360 camera lenses (including my Nikon KeyMission360, about a week before it was stolen, jokes on them, ha!).
Lastly, and definitely the least important, there’s a bit of a learning curve. I’ve written a bit about this before, but there are different challenges when it comes to taking 360 photos. Good traditional photo practices only go so far. There’s no framing in 360, only placement. That’s a new challenge. 360 isn’t right for every moment nor scene. Though I guess you could use it all the time, if your goal is to just capture your life and share it. If your goal is to take beautiful photos (and videos), then prepare to start a new learning process. However, if you’re like me,that’s fun.
Inside the Eden Project – Tiny Planet photo taken with a Xiaomi Mi Sphere. From my Instagram.
My overall thought is this: if you’re going in fully understanding the limitations of the format and devices, and it still sounds like fun and a tool you can add to your photographing arsenal, definitely check one out. I’ve been using them for several years and I love the challenge and results I can get. That said, I also still carry a real camera and multiple lenses for capturing traditional photos. I do that and I take the most photos with my Pixel 2, but I digress.
If I’ve convinced you, I also have some resources for you. You can read my other articles here on Forbes, and I also write the 360 Camera Guide for Wirecutter. Another great resource is the 360 Camera Guy, who has a great YouTube channel. Life in 360 is another solid option, especially if you enjoy an Aussie lilt.
And lastly, if you just want to check out some more Tiny Planet photos, well I’ve got you covered there too. On my Instagram I’ve saved a Story with a bunch from all over Europe and, depending when you’re reading this, elsewhere too.
Should You Buy A 360 Camera? – Forbes Now
03/06/2022 360 Photography