Photography and videography are usually all about careful framing before taking the shot. This new breed of 360-degree cameras flips that on its head, capturing the view in all directions and allowing the viewer to pick their angle later.
There are some big, pro-level rigs on offer such as the GoPro Omni, but 360-degree video and photos aren't just for the pros.
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The process used to involve manually stitching together shots in expensive specialist software, combining shots from a number of separate cameras. While it's possible to take that approach if you want to be able to fine tune results, the beauty of these consumer 360-degree cameras is that they do most of the work for you.
The five cameras in this lineup, while not exactly budget options, mean that you can put together your own spherical world views (along with a compatible smartphone). We find out which one is the best one to take out and about.
Kaiser Baas X360 - 5th place
A relatively little-known brand, Kaiser Baas has been pumping out budget action cameras for a number of years, but as with most other brands this is its first 360-degree camera. It's not as polished as the others – with less attention paid to styling its boxy plastic shell.
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It comes with Gorillapod-style mini tripod – a handy accessory for any camera – though it's very flimsy and while the legs were fine, the plastic tripod screw on ours broke. This was after just an hour's use wrapped around the handlebars of a bike on a leisurely cycle with no impacts.
A consumer device with a reset button sets alarm bells ringing and, sure enough, on our second use the camera froze and we had to find something small and pointy to stick in the little hole in the case marked 'reset'. Having said that we had no troubles after this.
The Kaiser X360 app has much fewer useful features than the other apps. You can get a live view and swap between video and photo, using it as a remote shutter release, but fine manual control is missing as are any methods to easily output the video and photos which were downloaded to an unnamed folder in the darkest depths of our android smartphone.
Its two 4MP cameras produce a maximum photo resolution of 3,008 x 1,504px and a maximum video resolution of 1,920 x 960 at 30fps. Both still images and video are very low on detail – this is largely down to low resolution of just 3,008 x 1,504 px for stills and 1,920 x 960 at 30 fps. However it makes good use of what it's got, producing images that, if you don't look too closely, are well exposed and not too obviously crushed in the highlights and shadows.
LG 360 Cam - 4th place
The LG 360 Cam is a highly portable snapping companion. It's tough as well thanks to the hard cover that, once removed, can be attached to the base of the camera to form a longer hand grip. There's a big shutter button for your thumb just under the lens and on the side is just a power button and power LED plus two more LEDs to show whether the camera is in 180-degree mode or full 360-degree mode using both lenses. These two modes are toggled between on the app.
Impressive manual settings are available in the LG 360 Cam Manager app – from ISO and shutter speed to colour temperature and exposure lock. It isn't possible to edit photos directly, so while you can open them up and explore all angles, you can't save a particular view or create a tiny planet. Any photos saved are displayed in rectilinear format – like a 360-degree panorama strip.
Operation of the camera is very easy, and selecting between shooting photo and video is just a matter of a long press of the shutter button, with a beeping tone letting you know you're not in Stillsville any more. The 360 Cam stores images on a Micro SD card and its internal battery is recharged via a USB C cable.
The 360 Cam captures 5,660 x 2,830 resolution still images and 2K (2,560 x 1,280px at 30fps) video. It's the cheapest camera in the test here and the image quality reflects its price. Images aren't particularly sharp with early loss of detail in the highlights and shadows and a general smearing of colours in the mid tones.
The LG 360 Cam is one of the cheapest ways to get into 360-degree photography but once the novelty starts to fade, its lacklustre image quality will quickly have users looking for an upgrade.
(Review sample provided by mobilefun.co.uk)
Kodak SP360 4K - Bronze medal
The Kodak SP360 4K is set apart from the others by two things – it's the only 4K contender here, but also it doesn't manage a full 360 degrees in all directions as it has only one lens.
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That one lens does manage an impressive 235-degree field of view though. If you want the full spherical 360 experience offered by the other cameras you'll need to buy two SP360 4Ks in the Dual Pro Pack and mount them together.
The Kodak Pixpro app is fairly limited, and while you can tweak the settings for filming, doesn't give you any options for viewing or sharing the resulting footage and pics. If you do want to go the whole hog and use two together, you'll have to stitch the videos and photos together using the desktop software later.
The SP360 4K is splashproof, so taking it into the great outdoors shouldn't pose too much of a problem. There's an underwater housing available if you want to get more adventurous.
While it seems like a serious shortcoming to only have one lens per camera, it's not as limiting as you might think. When positioned with the lens pointing skyward, its 235-degree field of view captures all of the action bar the least interesting 85 degrees that is usually occupied by the ground, some tripod legs or your hand. It does mean you get a large black void at the bottom of the image, which spoils the immersive quality somewhat.
Image quality is top notch, and as it doesn't need to join two pictures or videos together to achieve an all-round view there is no stitch line to worry about. Colours are vibrant. In Full HD mode it's similar in quality to the Samsung and then 4K takes it up a notch.
Samsung Gear 360 - Silver medal
The most futuristic-looking of the lot, the Gear 360's spherical form quickly gives away its purpose. During testing one passerby even asked what "that eyeball thing" was. While it's arguably the best-looking 360-degree camera here, its pleasing round form isn't as pocket-friendly as the Ricoh or the LG.
It uses two f2.0 fisheye lenses and two 15MP sensors to capture the full view with a maximum photo size of 7776 x 3888 px and videos of up to 3840 x 1920 at 30 frames per second. If you need a narrower view of the action, you can also use just one side of the camera at a time.
It comes with a neat little tripod which screws into its base and doubles as a – slightly slippery – hand grip. On the camera itself there are three buttons – two on the side and the shutter button on top next to the small 72 x 32 PMOLED screen.
While you can control the Gear 360 via these buttons and adjust some basic settings, the Samsung Gear Manager app allows full control and live preview. Frustratingly, the app only works with a handful of the newer Samsung Galaxy phones and tablets. If you want to be able to view and share your photos you'll need either one of these or a Windows PC on which to install Samsung's Gear 360 Action Director software. There's no Mac version of this software.
The still image quality from the Samsung is significantly better than the Ricoh and LG with a lot more detail (as you would hope for from its 30MP images) and a nice grasp on colour, producing vibrant hues that look great without creeping into the realms of unrealism.
The Samsung Gear 360 produces great results and would be an obvious recommendation, but Samsung's tight grip on compatibility will make the choice for most potential buyers.
(Review sample provided by mobilefun.co.uk)
Ricoh Theta S - Gold medal
The Theta S is the higher end of Ricoh's two 360-degree cameras – the other being the similar but lower-spec standard Theta. It's one of the most compact cameras here, sharing the slim 'stick' format with the LG 360 Cam. It's easily pocketable and comes with a simple neoprene slip cover.
There's a shutter button on one side positioned to sit neatly under your thumb. On the edge are the smaller power, Wi-Fi and photo/video mode buttons. On the bottom are a micro USB port, tripod mount and micro HDMI output which can be used for live streaming.
There's no micro SD card slot here as the Ricoh Theta S has an internal memory of 8GB. It's not huge, but photos can be quickly downloaded to your smartphone via the Theta app – something you'll find yourself doing often just to see what you've captured – so it's shouldn't pose a problem for most users.
The Theta app is well thought out and simple to use, making viewing, editing and transfer quick and easy. When sharing from the app, videos and photos are published on the theta360.com website and the link then published on Facebook. It also allows for direct linking to the files on the theta360.com site for posting to friends in WhatsApp messages which can come in handy.
If you don't want your big thumb to appear in all your photos, you can use the app as a remote shutter for the Theta S. You should also be able to set a two-second delay on the camera shutter button with a combination button press but try as we might we couldn't get this to work.
Its 5,376 x 2,688 resolution photos and Full HD video are nicely balanced with realistic colour. Detail is generally good, though overall images are a little on the soft side without drifting into blur.
For ease of use – both the camera itself and the app – the Ricoh Theta S is top of the class. It's certainly not the cheapest camera here and some may be put off by the lack of removable storage and only good, not great, image quality.
For all the fun of 360-degree photography with very little fuss, the Ricoh Theta S is the clear winner. It could be cheaper – and if your budget is tight it's worth trying out the standard Theta (£199). But it creates captivating images and video with ease while making it easy to show off your snaps to your friends. It's the one we'd take home.
The Samsung Gear 360 is the one we wanted to love. Its slick design and great image quality put it on closest terms with the Ricoh Theta S but it's tied in too tightly to the Samsung ecosystem and its buggy app makes sharing a frustrating endeavour.
If absolute image quality is the priority, the Kodak SP360 4K wins just for sheer resolution, though we do feel a bit cheated that you need two cameras to actually get a full 360-degree spherical image.
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