Thinking about buying a 360-degree camera? Well, you’re not alone. There are thousands of people like you out there who want to see what if the world around them be captured by a tiny camera. Hopefully, the list I’ve compiled below can enlighten you as which 360-degree camera suits you the best.
Before you rush out buying a new 360-degree camera, you need to be sure first of what you want to use it for. Several models can be well classified as action cameras, which mean they offer sturdy construction that can withstand more abuse in harsh condition. Their design allows them to be mounted on various places such as on a surfing board, on top of a helmet, etc. For those reasons, they generally boast a higher price tag.
Now if you think that you’re not going to use the camera outdoor frequently, it’s better that you buy the regular model. They’re more inexpensive and assuming you’re looking at the right direction, you will likely get similar results. Some cheaper 360-cameras only deliver what the money is worth, though; so-so image quality, awkward editing software, and the like. In other words, you also have to be realistic. You can’t expect an entry-level camera to give you the same quality footage the premium one does.
That being said, here are my top pick of best 360-degree cameras for the money.
- Top 10 Best 360-Degree Cameras of 2017
- Guide to Finding the Best 360-Degree Cameras
Top 10 Best 360-Degree Cameras of 2017
Ricoh Theta S
For your information, Ricoh is the company that pioneers the development of 360-degree cameras. It’s not very surprising that two of its cameras make it on this list. The Ricoh Theta S, being the more expensive model, brings pleasant improvement from the original Ricoh m1, most notably in video and still photo quality. The camera comes in candy bar design with nice button layout on its side. It’s not necessarily rugged, so you can look somewhere else if what you want is more outdoorsy type of camera. The battery is, sadly, non-removable. Likewise, you can only count on the camera’s internal storage (8GB) to save your photos and videos as it has no slot for external SD card.
Ricoh Theta S comes with a mobile app for both Android and iOS devices, which you must download if you want to send the videos and images to your smartphone. Sharing is only viable through the Theta360 cloud service. If you want to upload it to Youtube or other video sites, you’re going to need the desktop software. The camera sports a 12MP CMOS sensor, but the still images it captures will have max resolution of 14MP thanks to the digital processing. The image quality is comparable to that taken by a simple point-and-shoot camera, which I believe is not really an issue considering you’re not going to print it. As for the video quality, I found the footage to be rather soft, even on its highest resolution of 1080p – 30fps. Most likely, it’s because in spherical view, only a small portion of the video frame is displayed at a time. All in all, I believe Ricoh Theta S is a solid answer for anybody looking to have some fun for the first time with spherical imagery.
Ricoh Theta SC
As everybody has their own preferences, manufacturers can choose to put more emphasize on a certain functionality of their products. The Ricoh Theta SC, while may not be able to set a standard for impressive 360-degree videos, appears to be a better option for taking spherical images. Its ergonomic design helps for the camera’s overall usability to take pictures. Simply put it on a flat surface, or attach it to a small tripod, then activate its shutter. You can do it either by pushing the provided button or via the remote control app on your smartphone. It’s that easy!
There are three apps that accompany Ricoh Theta SC. One of them is to control the camera remotely while the other two are for editing purposes. You’d wish the apps are integrated into one, wouldn’t you? Well, I do too but I guess it’s a minor issue. Two main differences between this camera with its more expensive sibling are first, it lacks HDMI output and live streaming support and second, continuous video recording is limited to only 5 minutes. Everything else is entirely similar, except for the color choices. The battery, the lenses, and the memory are all the same parts. So, if you think the Theta S is too much for your wallet, Theta SC is a good alternative.
If you own a recent generation of iPhone (iPhone 6 or above), Insta360 Nano can be an ideal option for you. This tiny camera acts as an add-on to your iPhone and connects via the Lightning connector. Do not worry about it draining your iPhone’s battery because it has its own (800mAh lithium battery claimed to last 70 minutes for one charge). The camera can also be used independently to accommodate those who are not iPhone users. There’s only one button on the camera, push it once to take photo and twice to record a video. Wi-Fi connectivity is not available, though, so forget about using it remotely. File transfer must be done via microUSB cable too.
Attach Insta360 Nano to your iPhone, on the other hand, will give you a number of conveniences. First, you can share your photos and videos to any social networks instantly. Second, you’ll be able to create a live streaming of your 360-degree footage on Facebook and Youtube. Maximum resolution for both photos and videos are 3040 x 1520, which equals to 4+MP. In a very bright setting, your footage might also show quite notable color fringing. Certainly, it’s not the best in image and video production. However, if you’re looking for tiny portable 360-degree camera that’s very easy to use, Insta360 Nano is your thing.
Unlike the Nano, Insta360 Air is built to cater Android users. The design resembles a small spherical ball with two lenses, on the front and on the back respectively. You can’t use the camera on itself as it doesn’t have any battery and when you plug it to your device, it’s going to sap its juice. Bad? Well, it depends on how you see it. Some people like it this way because it doesn’t require them to charge the camera separately. Anyway, there are two different versions of this camera: one with microUSB connection and the other with USB-C. Make sure you choose the one that’s compatible with your phone’s port.
The nitty-gritty features on Insta360 Air are almost similar with the Nano. It still allows live streaming on Facebook and Youtube as well as real time sharing on multiple social media. Still images resolution is 3000 x 1500 pixels. Depending on your smartphone, footage may be recorded in the same resolution as still photos at 30fps. However, if it’s too taxing on your device, the resolution will be dropped to 2500 x 1200 pixels. What all those numbers mean is the quality of both videos and photos you take with this small camera won’t be ideal for VR headset. You’ll notice some pixelation – that’s for sure, but at its low price range, it makes a fairly good casual 360-degree camera.
Samsung Gear 360
There are two versions of Samsung Gear 360. The one released in this year is expected to solve the incompatibility issue handicapping the older model and also to improve its video quality. On paper, Samsung seems to handle the first problem all right, considering the camera now comes with app for iPhones and Mac (the older version is only compatible with Samsung high end handheld). However, many found it to be extremely buggy. Since the stitching is done after the files are exported to your smartphone or computer, with the app being shoddy, there’s a chance you won’t get any 360-degree footage.
Samsung Gear 360 can be an outstanding camera only if you’re using Samsung smartphone. As soon as your videos are transferred to your smartphone – which can be done either by using the USB-C cable or via Wi-Fi – they will be stitched automatically. This is done without reducing the resolution. In other words, if you shot 4K video with the camera, you’ll get a nice 360-degree 4K video on your smartphone. The frame rate in maximum resolution is 24fps, which is rather low. It’s not going to make any difference if you watch the footage on your device or computer, though.
360fly 4K Video Camera
Ricoh may be the first company to manufacture 360-degree cameras, but 360fly is the first company to make such cameras with just one single 360-degree lens. That means there will be no stitching needed to turn your footage to a full 360-degree video. You will not see any strange missing parts or blurry line as you likely will with other 360-degree cameras. The 360fly 4K Video Camera is also ruggedized right out of the box. It’s shockproof, dustproof, and waterproof up to 1m, and most importantly compatible with many different GoPro mounts. It’s certainly an ideal option if you like to get a little rough outdoor.
On-camera controls are very limited, but it’s still usable without your smartphone. The app that 360fly 4K Video Camera comes with allows you to do many things; from finding the best view point, to creating a live streaming on Facebook and Youtube. You can also adjust the exposure setting to fine-tune your videos from the app. Battery is non-removable but thankfully, it lasts much longer than the competitors. Depending on how you use it, it can empower the camera up to 2 hours. Also, there’s no way to expand the storage. The 64GB internal memory will give you around 90 minutes of recording before it runs out.
LG 360 Video Camera
The most affordable 360-degree camera in this list is LG 360 Video Cam. Despite its low price, this camera promises an engaging 360-degree spherical imagery for those who are new to such technology. Featuring dual 13MP sensors and 200-degree wide-angle lenses, this camera is capable of recording full 360-degree video in maximum 2K resolution. The image quality it produces is certainly not the best, but several competing cameras offer the exact same thing for about $50 more. Sure, there are some minor differences with the supplementary features, but the thing is why do you want to pay more if you can get a camera with similar performance at lower price?
The Wi-Fi connectivity allows LG 360 Video Camera to be controlled remotely using the proprietary smartphone app. The said app has support for Google StreetView and also Youtube, making it a simple process to upload your footage. Other than those two, you can also use Google Photos and Facebook to view the spherical still images that you capture. Should you’re not happy with the default setting of the camera, the app allows you to change and adjust its exposure, shutter speed, and ISO manually. Stitching is done automatically and you’ll be glad to find it look fairly clean.
Kodak Pixpro SP360
Kodak Pixpro SP360 is armed with an advanced 16MP MOS sensor paired with a wide-angle lens. Horizontally, the lens enables you to take full 360-degree panoramic footage and still shots, but the same thing can’t be done vertically as it’s only limited to 215-degree. For that, you’re going to need to record a video from two units of this camera, and then stitch the results together using the desktop stitch software. It’s not the best way to create a fully immersive VR photos and videos, but with the said sensor, you’re going to get much better image quality. As a comparison, the majority of budget 360-degree cameras use two sensors (8MP each) in one camera, resulting in so-so images at best.
The smartphone app that comes with Kodak Pixpro SP360 can only be used to control the camera. There is no editing feature or whatsoever. Thankfully, though, it’s integrated with Facebook and Youtube. Being a sturdy 360-degree camera, this camera has the better versatility for outdoor use. It’s not completely waterproof like 360fly HD Video Cam, but with its splash resistant construction, you don’t need to panic when it rains out of nowhere. I recommend buying the camera with a bundled kit that matches your specific activity if you do want to take it outdoor. It’ll get you started more quickly, and you can pop the camera into the waterproof housing for better protection.
Nikon KeyMission 360
As the most expensive camera in this list, Nikon KeyMission 360 has a lot to offer. For starter, this camera is completely rugged with waterproof rating up to 100-feet. You do need to attach the provided lens protectors, though, if you’re intent to use it underwater. These protectors will slightly cover the lens, reducing its field of view by small margin. Also, when it comes to ease of use, this camera comes up on top, offering 360-degree spherical videos and photos that have been stitched automatically and saved in a usable format. What this means is you don’t need to spend much time converting your stills and footage to edit or upload them on Facebook or Youtube.
Nikon KeyMission 360 is grouped together with dual-lens and dual-sensor spherical cameras. Still images are taken in max resolution of 30MP and the quality is comparable to those captured by a good compact digital camera. As for videos, you have three resolution options to choose: 4K/24fps, 1080p/24fps, and 960p/30fps. If you want quality that’s good enough to share on social media, the full HD resolution will. However, if it’s for your own and your close people’s enjoyment, I strongly recommend using the maximum resolution. Even in 4K, the images are still rather soft. It’s not the camera’s fault, though. It’s just the common issue with all full 360-degree videos.
Banne 360-Degree VR Camera
Banne 360-Degree VR Camera is manufactured by some China-based company, hence, why it’s sold at low price range. However, in terms of video quality, I haven’t found any noticeable difference from other budget 360-degree camera. It could be a good option if you want to dip your toe in the realm of 360-degree capture without breaking the bank. The camera itself sports a square-ish design with two big fish eye lenses bulging out on its front and back. Inside the box are the camera, a mini tripod, a charger, a micro USB cable, and a simple remote control. The battery is non-removable and you need to buy an SD card separately because the camera doesn’t have any internal memory.
Banne 360-Degree VR Camera has two recording options: 2.7K/25fps and 960p/30fps. The latter is the default setting, which I found odd as the quality is far from good. Recording in 2.7K, however, will give you much better imagery with many details looking crisper. The stitching between the two lenses can be quite distinct on some occasions, but overall, I think it’s decent. At this price range, you’ll be hard pressed to find a 360-degree camera with better seams in between the lenses. Still images are captured in 4MP, which is not just bad but sad! It’s definitely not the go-to camera if you want to get some nice 360-degree still shots. Otherwise, it’s a reasonable choice.
Guide to Finding the Best 360-Degree Cameras
The technology of the full 360-degree capture is still on its early stage. Although the first batch of 360-degree cameras has entered the market, many of them are still rather premature. Some of them are hampered by buggy apps, some others fail to deliver video quality that meets today’s standards, and quite a few of them are pricey. Even the most basic 360-degree cameras are still sold for more than $100. Professional 360-degree cameras that utilize more than two wide-angle fish eye lenses can easily set you back over $1000.
With that regards, waiting until some new improvements on the technology rolls out seems like a good option. But who am I to tell you so? If you want to take your chances and get your hands on the technology in this early junction, you may want to familiarize yourself with these few key points.
Full Spherical Videos in 4K May Look Like Poor Footage in 480p
As you research the market for some nice 360-degree camera, you will find that some of them claim to be able to record full 360-degree spherical videos in 4K. In a way, there’s nothing wrong with that. Most 4K 360-degree cameras today are equipped with two sensors, each of which is capable of capturing footage in 2K resolution. The footage will then be stitched together, giving you a full 360-degree video with total resolution of 4K.
However, instead of being limited to 16:9 frame ratio like regular video, the pixels in 360-degree video are stretched out to a sphere. In addition, the lenses used in 360-degree cameras mostly have ultra-wide angle (more than 170-degree). Because of these reasons, you will find that even in 4K, full 360-degree videos still look soft. Any object that’s distant from the camera won’t look as crisp as in regular 4K videos. It looks as if the video was shot in traditional 480p resolution.
Things get worse with cameras that can only shoot videos in 2K or full HD resolution tops. If 4K looks like mere 480p resolution, you can guess what you will get by capturing the footage in 2K. The video will be even softer and you will very likely notice some pixelated blocks in here and there; clearly something that today’s generation can’t tolerate. The only attractive thing from such cameras is the price. The majority of 360-degree cameras with max resolution of 2K cost less than $200; some even slightly over $100. With the overall technology still underdeveloped, you will not want to invest much on the gadget, will you? You get to try the 360-degree capture technology everyone is talking about, you can share your own 360-degree videos and still photos on YouTube and Facebook, and you don’t lose out much. It’s not a very bad deal, I suppose.
Videos Vs. Still Images
Many companies build their 360-degree cameras with video recording capability in mind. Still imaging is just an additional feature. If you have a rather inverse preference – more interested in capturing 360-degree panoramic photos than creating videos – you will have better experience with Ricoh Theta cameras. Their ergonomic candle bar design makes it very easy to take a still shot. The in-camera digital image processing also helps enhance the photos they capture. On the flip side, its video recording capability isn’t overtly impressive, only giving you soft 2K 360-degree footage. Besides, I think the non-expandable memory of 8GB is too small for videos.
On-Board Stitching Vs Done-by-Software Stitching
Stitching in the world of 360-degree capture means putting together video or image that’s captured by the camera’s multiple lenses. It is largely done using the proprietary software, although in some models it’s done by the camera itself. Some cameras, like the one manufactured by 360fly, don’t even need to make any stitching for their videos and images as they only have one lens to do it all, resulting in more natural looking footage and stills.
In-camera stitching, like the one found in Nikon KeyMission 360, is better as it allows for more streamlined workflow on your end. The end-result video can be uploaded to the supported sharing websites right away or edited using the proprietary or third party software.
Contrast to that, some 360-degree cameras require the users to transfer the videos to their mobile device or desktop first, so they can be stitched using the accompanying app. Depending on the software, it can be a simple or frustrating process. That’s why it’s also important to check the reviews regarding the software. You seriously don’t want to end up with a program that gets a lot of bugs and lags, or else you won’t get any usable 360-degree videos and photos.
Speaking of stitching, you also have to know that up to this day, there’s no 360-degree camera that can do it flawlessly. You’re bound to notice some blurred lines in your videos and images. In most cases, it’s so subtle it hardly distracts you but depending on the situations, it can be quite noticeable too. Additionally, there’s some overlap in between the lenses. Make sure that the most important things in your videos or photos don’t get too close to the side of each lens. If possible, put them right in front of the lenses. Otherwise, the said blurred line may run over them or in worst case scenario, they can be completely invisible.