As interest in virtual reality games and experiences grows, it’s natural that our attention is turning to how we might create our own.
In fact this interest is just an extension to the way that smartphones have contributed to the widespread ways in which we share ‘created’ material. We’ve learned how to create simple and sometimes complex videos or images with friends or across social media, and now it’s almost second nature for many.
So as virtual reality grows, there need to be ways to shoot your own material and easily share it. The ways to share are covered elsewhere, and fortunately there is a lot of manufacturer attention on creation.
Enter the VR camera, also known as a 360 degree camera.
By providing simple interfaces to Facebook and the Youtube 360 degree video channel, these cameras are well positioned to allow users to share their creations easily.
It’s not hard to see subjects such as travel, live sports, and real estate becoming widely filmed subjects.
Here we’ll look at the different types of 360 virtual reality cameras. Briefly at the ultra-expensive professional versions, but with a much deeper dive into what we really want to know about – the affordable consumer models which let any of us shoot our own 360 degree footage.
360 Camera Models
Able to deliver live or recorded 4k 360 degree, fully stitched footage, the 360fly is a small spherical camera.
Features include the ability to shoot video in normal forward facing single view mode, with time lapse settings, to only start filming when movement or sound is detected, when the camera itself moves, and to record items such as location, speed, and altitude and place all the data recorded over the top of the final video.
Additional clever feature give the ability to program the camera to track a specified object, and a warning of approaching danger from the rear.
Pricing sits in the region of $500.
Kodak SP360 Action Camera
Kodak have come up with a compact fixed lens camera that will let you create effective 360 degree virtual reality videos in HD.
Ricoh Theta S
Ricoh have developed their own ‘twin-lens folded-optical’ system that lets in more light through the lenses than some other models. In combination with the large image sensor and recording capability of 30 frames per second this results in some high quality footage of up to 25 minutes in length.
This is the world’s first 360 camera to be made in India.
It’s composed of a cylinder shaped base with a revolving camera unit at the top.
Not so much for the personal home use market, the device is designed to effectively map out spaces inside homes or outside locations and replay the footage as 360 degree 3D footage.
It would seem perfect for filming homes ready for sale, and travel/tourism related info like views of hotel accommodation, health clubs, and pretty much anything where you might want to see what it looks like in advance of making a booking.
VR Action Cams
There’s no denying the appeal of creating your own action type virtual reality experience. But this is one area of ‘create your own VR’ where you’ll need to be careful.
There is a whole bundle of potential to create some stomach churning experiences that will be uncomfortable to play back. It’s worth taking note here of some recommendations made in the Oculus Best Practice Guide around the use of motion in VR:
- The most comfortable VR experiences involve no self-motion for the user besides head and body movements to look around the environment.
When self-motion is required, slower movement speeds (walking/jogging pace) are most comfortable for new users.
Keep any form of acceleration as short and infrequent as possible.
User and camera movements should never be decoupled.
Don’t use head bobbing in first-person games.
Experiences designed to minimize the need for moving backwards or sideways are most comfortable.
Beware situations that visually induce strong feelings of motion, such as stairs or repeating patterns that move across large sections of the screen.
All that said, it’ll still be worth knowing the models that could give some good action-based footage if done with caution:
Nikon KeyMission 360
This ruggedly designed, dual lens model sits in the category of VR action cams, with the ability to shoot 4K UHD video and still images.
With an action cam, the protection features need to be strong. The KeyMission achieves this with the ability to be waterproof to depths of 30 metres or around 100 feet, being able to handle a drop from up to 2 metres, and resistancy to cold and dust.
Webcams start to take us into the world of social virtual reality, bringing the ability to stream footage in real time around the clock. Direct from your bedroom or office.
It’s early days for these devices, with perhaps the Panoporter likely to be the first. Early reports suggest the unit could be on sale for around $200, a low price made possible by some clever technical wizardry that lets it shoot VR type footage with just a single lens instead of multiple. We’ll only see the device come to market if it reaches the amount of funding requested on the Kickstarter campaign.
The first Webcam type VR camera to market, Webeye VR works by capturing footage with a 160 degree field of view in 3D at a speed of 30 frames per second.
We can expect to see an improvement in that FOV with technology enhancements in wide angle lenses in future, but for now it looks like that’s what the Webeye will offer provided it reaches the funding level required.
Smartphone 360 Camera Models
Yezz Sfera Smartphone
The Yezz Sfera has a 5-megapixel camera which shoots two sets of video footage via fish-eye lenses on each side of the phone. The recorded video is then stitched together using inbuilt software to end up with a piece of full 360 degree content.
To shoot different perspectives you can select by using your finger to change what’s being recorded, essentially by drain around the scene on the recording screen. There’s a full frame mode which shows the full 360 view in one window, or alternatively you can use split screen to see what’s being recorded to the front and the back at the same time.
As you’ll find with a number of 360 camera smartphones, it’s not quite as slim as many phones we’re used to. This gives it a sturdy feel, complimented by diagonal corners which help in the grip department. Not that you need to hold it to film, the back has a mount that’ll allow it to attach to a helmet for filming action type videos.
Expect to pay about $300 to get your hands on one, with first models available in May 2016.
The popularity of drone cameras – devices that fly under remote control – is sure to grow as they become more affordable. GoPro are one of the leaders in the field and have the GoPro Karma ready to take a pole position as a candidate for the top VR model.
It comes in the shape of a cube, with cameras attached to the sides which can film 360-degree images and stitch them together to create one final 360 degree video.
The main competition for the KarmaPro may come from the drone version of the 360fly, which carries cameras on the top and bottom in order to deliver its 360 results.
So there you have it. Virtual reality 360 degree cameras explained.
Maybe it’s whet your appetite to get your hands on one. Maybe you’ve already been using a camera to shoot 360 degree videos, and now it’s time to either find the best model, the one that suits your budget best, or the easiest to use.
Either way, alongside headsets, these VR cameras are destined to become one of the must-have products of the virtual reality revolution. Sure, not as a critical element to the experience of VR (you just need a headset and a smartphone or a PC for that), but as a part of the overall rise of the technology to become one of the daily facets of our lives.
Once you get one, there may not be any going back to a ‘normal’ camera again. Get filming!