Tiny video cameras with multiple ultra-wide lenses capture the entire world around you—all 360 degrees of it.
As the name implies, a 360-degree camera captures the entire world around it. They were a hot ticket item for a short time, with dozens of models available, including add-ons for trendy smartphones.
The height of the 360-degree phase has passed, but there are still quality options on the market. The use case has shifted, too—in the early days it was all about delivering spherical video for viewing on VR headsets, which have since found a niche for gaming, not media consumption.
Today, creators reach to 360-degree video cameras to gets shots they can’t get with a single-lens model. Software pulls out, warps, and reframes dual-lens footage so it can cut right in with 16:9 footage.
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When you’re buying a 360-degree camera for video, think about how you’ll use it. To get the best-looking footage you’ll want a camera with better than 5K resolution. You’ll also want one with a strong software package so you can edit spherical footage to view on 16:9 displays.
Software editing tools, typically phone-based (but there’s also desktop and tablet software available in some cases), allow you to set angles of view for shots, and either pan or cut your footage to switch between them. This allows you to direct the viewer’s attention, rather than letting them explore the spherical space, so you’ll maintain control over the narrative flow of your project.
You’ll also want to consider form factor. If you’re an adventurer, you’ll want a waterproof, mountable model like the Insta360 One R or GoPro Max. For tripod work and 3D recording, a pro model like the Vuze VR or Insta360 Pro will fit the bill, and the convertible Vuze XR swaps between 180-degree 3D video and standard 360-degree recording.
The 360-degree GoPro Max camera promises an easier, more streamlined workflow than last year’s Fusion, but has more niche appeal than the less expensive Hero8 Black.
The pocketable Insta360 One X2 is a dual-lens model with 5.7K HEVC video capture and automatic video stitching. It’s waterproof, good enough for 33-foot dives, and there’s a bullet-time add-on available if you want to make Matrix-style videos.
The Insta360 One RS sets itself apart from dedicated 360-degree cameras by way of a modular design. You can use its dual-lens 360 cam to roll 5.7K spherical footage, or swap in the 4K Boost lens for digitally stabilized 16:9 at up to 60fps, 6K CinemaScope at 24fps, and 48MP Quad Bayer stills.
The Vuze VR records 360-degree footage in 3D, but you pay a premium compared with other cameras.
Production companies and VR pros will want to think about the $4,500 Insta360 Pro II. It records 8K footage, supports 3D, and can live stream at 4K quality.
While you can snap still photos with made-for-video 360-degree cameras, there are a few models that stand out for still photography.
Cameras in the Ricoh Theta family can stand up on their own, or be mounted to a tripod, to snap shots of interiors and environments. Realtors can use them to help craft virtual tours—photos transfer easily to a smartphone and can be shared using Ricoh’s Virtual Tour(Opens in a new window) software.
Specialists should also take a look at Matterport’s MC250 Pro2. It can create a 360-degree scan of environments, useful for creating virtual worlds and 3D models. It’s also a helpful tool for real estate photography.
The Ricoh SC2 snaps smartphone-quality spherical stills using dual lenses. It stands up on its own, or can be mounted to a tripod, and works with an app for remote control. The camera is offered in several fun colors.
The Theta X includes a color display for quicker, phone-free setups and image review, in the familiar, slimline Theta form factor. It snaps 60MP images, records video at 5.7K quality, and includes 46GB of internal storage. It’s a good fit for real estate and other 360-degree imaging applications, and the built-in display makes it a bit easier to use than others.
The pricey Theta Z1 uses the big 1-inch sensor size to back both of its lenses. The large sensors deliver better photos in low-light than lower-cost Theta models. You’ll get sharp 23MP photos, but for the price, it’s one for a select audience.
Realtors and 3D model makers should take a look at the Matterport MC250 Pro2. It’s a pro tool—it requires a subscription to use—but one you can reach to create 3D models and all-around photos of interior spaces.
Regardless of how you intend to utilize the footage, it’s important to look at a 360 camera as another tool in the kit. The footage you’re able to capture using the tech can be compelling, but it’s certainly not the right tool to use for every shot in a video, or even for every project. A good 360-degree camera can supplement your action cam, drone, or full-frame mirrorless video rig, but it’s not a replacement for any of them.
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