Virtual reality headsets and 360-degree videos have given us the ability to experience incredible events and go anywhere in the world without leaving our couches.
Until recently, creating your own 360-degree video required a prohibitively expensive camera rig and seriously advanced software. That’s where the Giroptic 360cam comes in. Starting at $500, it captures 360-degree photos and videos that you can share via your smartphone without any special software.
I’ve spent the last week using the 360cam. While it’s an impressive piece of technology, it’s definitely not for everyone.
The best word to describe the 360cam’s design is “interesting.” With its three equidistant cameras and unique locking system, it resembles an alien. Thanks to the way the lenses are angled, the 360cam can capture video and photos above and around it — but not directly beneath it.
Using the camera is relatively easy, as it has just two buttons — one for power and one for cycling through the camera’s various modes: video, photo, burst and timelapse. A small LED display shows you the camera’s power level and your current shooting mode.
Part of what makes the 360cam so unique is that you can detach its base to access the camera’s removable battery or pop in your own microSD card.
Giroptic also makes two attachments that you can plug into the 360cam’s base. One adds an Ethernet port so you can live-stream content from your camera, while the other — and this is totally strange — lets you screw the camera into a light socket so you can use it as a security camera. Unfortunately, my review unit didn’t come with either attachment.
I was able to use my review unit to record underwater. In fact, I dunked the 360cam in the fountain at New York’s Bryant Park and kept recording the entire time without issue. I had to sanitize the camera afterwards, but that’s neither here nor there. If I’d wanted to, I could have taken the 360cam down to 30 feet for 30 minutes and it still would have worked just fine.
Besides its ability to be used in a variety of situations, the 360cam is also unique in that it performs all of the necessary stitching to combine its three separate videos on its own. You can then transfer your stitched videos to your desktop or to the 360cam app for Android and iOS.
That’s seriously convenient, as it allows you to share your own 360 videos to Facebook and YouTube’s 360-degree video services from your handset. Unfortunately, wirelessly transferring videos takes a good amount of time, so in most cases it just makes more sense to transfer your videos to your desktop and upload them to Facebook or YouTube from there.
The 360cam app isn’t just for your photos and videos, though. It also provides you with a continually updated stream of 360 videos that you can watch when you don’t feel like making your own movies.
To watch 360 videos shot with your 360cam, you can use your smartphone and its built-in accelerometer to look around your videos, or plug your handset into either Samsung’s Gear VR or Google’s Cardboard viewer. Naturally, you can also view your content on your desktop computer.
So how do videos and photos shot with the 360cam look? Pretty fantastic, actually. The camera records video at 2K resolution and takes picture at 4K, and for most people those videos and shots will look amazing. Still, other 360 cameras offer sharper 4K video recording options, albeit at higher prices.
The one issue I noticed with videos I shot on the 360cam was that they weren’t always stitched together properly. As a result things like my face or hands would be cut off. Even my black shirt looked slightly different where two images met. The issue seemed to be further exacerbated the closer I got to the lenses.
That brings me to a major problem with all 360 cameras, which is that unless you can control your camera remotely, you’re always going to be in your own shot. As a result, you’re going to have to ensure that you’re at least doing something interesting when recording — or else your videos and photos will always have one weirdo just hanging out in all of them.
Should you buy one?
The Giroptic 360cam is an impressive device with a lot of promise. It’s a solid choice if you want a versatile camera, if you don’t mind a few stitching lines and if you’re okay with the fact that it can’t shoot at 4K resolution.
That said, 360 cameras are still so niche that there really isn’t any reason for your average consumer to buy one.
Sure, it’s an incredible thing to be able to share photos and videos with family and friends so they can experience the world as you did. But doing so requires that you carry around another piece of technology anytime you want to actually shoot in 360.
What’s more, most of the things people take pictures of — food, pets, their children — don’t need to be presented in 360 degrees. If you’re going on a tour of the Grand Canyon or some new major city you’ve never been to before, then sure, a 360 camera would be a great idea. But you’re probably not going to do that often enough to warrant spending $500 on a dedicated device.
In other words, if you really want a 360 camera, Giroptic’s 360cam is a quality choice. For everyone else, you’re better of waiting until your smartphone can shoot in 360 degrees.
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