Making the most of 360 cameras
Not so long ago, 360-degree photography and video was the domain of super expensive specialist devices, with the footage watched through strange virtual reality headsets. Picture yourself strapping on a headset to find yourself transported to the set of a classic movie or an epic travel destination and you’re pretty much there.
Today, a host of devices let you capture full 360-degree videos and photos which can be posted to social media and other online platforms at the press of a button. Or, if you’re really keen, can be watched through immersive headsets or goggles as well.
And although there was, and still is, an element of truth to this, as with most things technologically driven 360 cameras and imagery are now available at a consumer level. What’s more, 360 cameras are perfect tools for capturing life in a fully immersive way.
The spherical progression
There are several players in the 360 marketplace, with Insta360, Ricoh and GoPro very much at the forefront of the technological sprint.
Along with the companies pushing the format further, major improvements in 360 capture have also been made in recent years. Image and video quality have improved dramatically, and the apps and software used to capture and process the files are more usable than ever.
However, it’s the superb image stabilisation that has made 360 cameras genuine action camera alternatives. Both the Insta360 One X2 (and the original One X) and GoPro MAX 360 cameras offer gimbal like stabilisation at a level previously only approachable with huge Steadicams and rigs. Shaky footage really is a nauseous nightmare of the past.
Appy go lucky
There is something of a learning curve involved is using 360 cameras and post processing the files, although once you grasp the basics it’s quite straightforward.
Essentially, a 360 camera captures everything around you through two separate overlapping fisheye cameras. Then, through apps, you select what you want to show the viewer. By re-framing the video as you edit by adding either pivot points or moving your phone around, you can create a regular 16x9, vertical or even square format video.
The joy in editing a 360-degree video comes from twisting and turning in any direction without concerns of missing shots or even needing to compose at all, with all your footage remaining silky smooth.
As with any form of photography you do need to try and work with the best light, and with a 360 camera these lighting variations are more apparent than with regular 137-degree wide action cameras. This is because the sun is almost always in shot. For best results, try to shoot in even light or try and position the camera out of direct sunlight.
I can recommend using a selfie stick for walk around shots or a small tripod for static shots. The software is very good at masking out the stick or tripod during stitching, although you will probably notice a small hand blurring or tripod impression.
The other consideration is stitch lines and exposure differences between the two cameras. To mitigate this, try to face the lenses in opposing directions. One lens facing towards the sky and the other to the ground is a good rule of thumb.
Within minutes you can shoot, download, process and post 360 images, or even covert them to tiny planet still images via your cameras inbuilt Wifi or Bluetooth. Apps such as GoPro Splice and LumaFusion will also allow you to add overlays and produce more creative edits. Both Facebook and YouTube facilitate 360 video and/or still image posting, and you will get the full 360 experience by panning around with a mouse of rotating your phone screen.
There is also an ever-growing number of other platforms for hosting 360 images such as Veer, Kuula, and Google Street View, which offer both free and paid plans that also allow you to then embed on your own websites or blogs.
In the field
- Try to line up the camera stitch line (between the lenses) with either highly contrasting scenes or with something neutral (like a wall) so as to minimise the seam line.
- Always be sure to cover your lenses when not using the camera, as they protrude. One drop or scratch can mean a very expensive repair or the end of your camera.
- If the scene has highly contrasting light or bright window light then be sue to try both HDR mode and to also bracket, just in case the highlights are blown.
- Avoid the sun getting into shot if at all possible as it can blow out and band the image. Look for shelter under a tree or similar, and always check the image on your mobile before shooting.
- Using the native mobile apps is fast and easy, and you can easily remove the tripod legs or artefacts in a flash by using the TouchRetouch app.
The odd ones out
There are some cameras that don’t quite fit into specific categories, or even slot roughly into both. The Insta360 One R is one such camera. It’s a unique modular camera that can be either a regular 360 camera, a 4k-action camera, or a 5.3k action camera with a 1-inch sensor (and Leica optics). The camera can be a little fiddly if you need to swap mods, but if you can work with that then its potential is huge – especially for photographers.
Another misfit is the DJO Osmo Pocket (and Pocket 2), which is essentially a 4k drone derived camera built onto a palm sized three-axis mechanical gimbal. It shoots still images in the same way that DJI’s Mavic drones do – with standard DNG/JPEG options plus four and nine shot panoramic options.
It’s probably not robust enough to be considered an action camera, but it makes for an ideal walk around option that can shoot decent stills when needed, and all without anyone noticing it.