At Foundry 45, many of the Virtual Reality apps we develop rely on 360 video. While we directly shoot 360 footage for some projects, other clients ask for suggestions on 360 video cameras they can use to shoot video themselves. This blog post compares 4 popular 360 rigs, on the cheaper end of the spectrum, capable of recording spherical 360 video (both vertical and horizontal).
The video below shows camera output comparisons as well as a lot of our learnings from using the different rigs. You can also directly download the 4k 360 comparison mp4 (2.5 GB!) to view the video on Gear VR headsets.
Overall, the GoPro ball provides the best output resolution, but it comes at the expense of time and money. The GoPro rig not only costs the most, but also requires a lot of extra hardware, a decent computer, expensive stitching software, and time to learn the more sophisticated stitching. Also, with seven independent cameras, there are more things that can go wrong, like a single battery dying early, an error on one of the SD cards, or one of the cameras overheating.
While certain specific use cases will alter this advice, our general recommendation is the Kodak SP360 4ks. These have better image quality than the Gear 360, especially in lower light (not outside). However, the Gear 360 has a lot of advantages over the Kodaks. It’s less than half the price, nearly 4k, incredibly easy to use (just hit “save” in the phone app), and lets you preview a full 360 from the app. And since the cameras are perfectly sync’d, you don’t run into stitching issues with moving scenes.
With either the Gear360 or Kodaks, it’s easy to orient the stitch line away from the action, avoiding some of the more difficult stitching issues entirely.
360 Video Camera Comparison Chart
Overheating and Battery Life
Sadly, we’ve had the GoPro rig, Kodak PixPros and even the Gear 360 overheat during shoots. In this regard, the Ricoh Theta seems the most reliable in our experience. If shooting with any of these rigs, we highly recommend at least one backup camera if the shoot is important. And, if at all possible, plan to only record for 5 min at a time so the cameras have time to cool off between takes. While these rigs theoretically have enough battery life for almost an hour of shooting, we’ve had fully charged GoPro batteries die in 15-20 minutes.
Parallax and Stitch Lines
Parallax is when the scene looks different from one camera to the next due to the cameras being at different locations. There is no way the differences can be blended together to recover from this, and the effect gets worse as objects get closer to the cameras.
There are parallax effects at 8-10 ft for the GoPros, Kodak PixPros and Gear 360, but there is only one line to worry about with the Kodaks and Gear 360. Even if you have issues with the one line, you can usually position the camera so that nothing important is on that line. For instance, have one camera face the performer, and the other face the audience.
The small parallax issues on the Ricoh Theta are its best feature. There are almost no issues beyond 3 feet away since the cameras are so close to each other.
You’ll see stitch lines from this parallax effect, and also from a lack of synchronization in the source files. The GoPro and Kodak remotes don’t start the cameras at exactly the same time, and there’s no electronic syncing of the start of each frame. Stitching software can line up the footage based on audio or visual motion, and is usually pretty good. But if you have lots of motion, it’s sometimes extraordinarily difficult to get rid of the lines. We just did a test shoot with the Kodak PixPros mounted underneath the wing of a plane, and one of the cameras was vibrating slightly more than the other. This led to a very obvious stitch line that would take a lot of post production to clean up. Since the Gear 360 and Ricoh Theta S are electronically synchronized at the hardware level, there’s no need to do an imperfect sync of the resulting footage in software.